Planet Earth's Crossroads: Human Evolution, Animal Migration and Climate Change in Israel

Seminar Quick Facts

Location: Israel

Faculty Leader: Marcus Feldman, Department of Biology

BOSP Special Programs Coordinator: Yosefa Gilon

Arrival date in Tel Aviv, Israel: June 25, 2019

Departure date from Tel Aviv, Israel: July 15, 2019


Additional Program Requirements
1) Swim Test - Students participating on programs involving a water-based activity will be required to pass a swim test prior to program departure. The Swim Test will consist of the following: tread water for 5 minutes and swim 50 yards.
Ground Rules - In order to optimize safety during the program, students will be required to agree to and sign Ground Rules that may restrict behavior throughout the program. These Ground Rules are in addition to the BOSP Participation and Assumption of Risk, Release of Claims, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement that all students sign and agree to at the time of program application. Students’ parents/families will also need to sign these Ground Rules to confirm that they acknowledge the specific dangers of travel to the program location. 

Activity Level
Light/Moderate: Activities may include city walking tours, easy/short hikes, museum and other site visits as well as an occasional physical activity such as snorkeling, hiking, or kayaking. For a full list of program activity levels refer to the Overview page.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Information for Visitors to Israel

US State Department Country Information
Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza

Visa Information
Consulate General of Israel

General Information: Visit the Overseas Seminars Overview page

Application Deadline: October 28, 2018

General Description

Why Israel?

  • Israel, within its small land mass, is home to two opposing climatic regions (Mediterranean in the North and desert in the South), providing a unique opportunity to observe a wide variety of life-forms and climate zones in a 3-week summer seminar. During the course of the seminar, one week will be dedicated to exploring Israel’s southern desert climate and another to the northern Mediterranean climate, providing an array of lectures and observations that can only be experienced in this part of the world.
  • Israel (and the Middle East more generally) was important in the ancient migration of modern humans out of Africa. Israel, at the crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia, was also a major dispersal route for diverse plant and animal species. The Ancient DNA Lab at Tel Aviv University, a Summer Seminar partner, analyzes the DNA of ancient Israeli specimens to understand the history of animal, plant and human populations that passed through Israel. Understanding the genetic relationships between ancient and diverse populations can shed light on the history and cultural development of the region and wider world.
  • Israel is the home of the world’s great religions. 4,000–5,000 years of history in a small manageable space. The culture that developed the basis for Western law and justice.


This summer seminar will be based at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in partnership with the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. The first week will be primarily class-based learning led by TAU professors with visits to museums and laboratories. Weeks two and three will be primarily field-based learning, supplemented with lectures, so that students can experience first-hand the incredible biodiversity and range of environments that exist today and have existed in Israel.

Lecturers and Topics Covered

  • Professor Tamar Dayan, Director of the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. Students will learn the big picture of Israel’s flora and fauna as well as climatic zones.
  • Professor Arnon Lotem will lecture about the ecology of Israel, especially birds and bird migrations.
  • Professor Alon Tal, Chair of the Department of Public Policy at TAU, will lecture on the water and climate problems in Israel.
  • Professor Israel Herskovitz will lecture on physical anthropology and the importance of the Middle East for modern human evolution. Discoveries of ancient modern humans and relation to Neanderthals.


Much of the contact will be with Israeli professors, Ph.D. students, and researchers working on the ecology and environment. Also speakers on politics, religion, and development of the high-tech industries.

Learning Goals

An understanding of how the geographical location, natural history, environmental conditions, and human cultures and activities have shaped Israel, one of the planet’s most interesting countries. Appreciation of the problems faced by the residents of this area and how these problems have evolved over thousands of years.

Student Assignments

  • An essay that covers one or more aspects of the subject material that was presented in the lectures or obtained through independent research on Israel’s human-biological-ecological features.
  • Preliminary readings will be discussed at the information session.


The program will include visiting much of the country, and exploration of the different climatic and ecological zones as well as sites of prehistoric presence of hominid ancestors.

Living and Travel Conditions

Students will be in hostels or hotels. There will be some hiking and the possibility of swimming in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Kosher and/or vegetarian food is readily available at the restaurants and accommodations in Israel.


Marcus Feldman, Ph.D., is the Wohlford Professor of Biology at Stanford University and External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. He directs the Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies and is co-director of Stanford’s Center for Computational, Evolutionary and Human Genomics. Feldman’s specific areas of research include the evolution of complex genetic systems that can undergo both natural selection and recombination, the evolution of modern humans using models for the dynamics of molecular polymorphisms, especially DNA variants, cultural evolution, and the evolution of learning as one interface between modern methods in artificial intelligence and models of biological processes, including communication. He is the author of more than 600 scientific papers and ten books on evolution, ecology, mathematical biology, and demography. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He was the 2011 Dan David laureate in Evolution and was awarded the 2016 Kimura Prize in Evolution by the Japanese Suzuki Foundation. He has received honorary doctorates from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and from Tel Aviv University. He has had close contact with Israeli scholars since 1969, has mentored many Israeli doctoral students, and has headed many committees that deal with science in Israel. He has been in Israel every year since 1968. Marcus Feldman has led several research initiatives in China since 1991.

Prerequisites and Expectations

We will expect one meeting each quarter to discuss preparations. There are no other prerequisites.

Application Process

Decisions will be based on application materials. There are no interviews. The seminar capacity is 15 students.

Grading Basis

Satisfactory/no credit

Passport and Visa

Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa (if applicable). Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport please visit the State Department website.

To determine whether a visa is necessary for your program, visit the Consulate General of Israel website. You may also consult with the recommended visa service providers listed below.

VisaCentral by CIBT

VisaCentral by CIBT offers online Stanford rates, or contact the local office:

In person: 555 Montgomery St. Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By phone: (877) 535-0688

VisaBy Casto for Stanford Travel Program

VisaBy Casto offers special rates for Stanford online, or through the local office:

Address: 2560 North First Street, Suite 150, San Jose, CA 95131
By phone: (408) 553-4735
By email:

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their clinician.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students do become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical that students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to Israel. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

Students must review the U. S. State Department’s Country Information for complete information on safety and security in Israel.

As with any foreign travel, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the area in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in the country.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.

Program Modification and Cancelation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the Program before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, unavailability of facilities or personnel, or compliance with the University travel policy at