MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
A Window on the geological history of the Aegean of the last 20 million years.
The Natural History Museum of the Petrified Forest of Lesvos is a legal entity established for the benefit of the public under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. The Museum’s objective is the study, research, promotion, presentation, conservation and any sort of appropriate use of the petrified forest of Lesvos. The Petrified Forest has been declared a protected natural monument of particular environmental, geological and paleontological value.
Following a proposal submitted by the then Deputy Minister of Culture N. Sifounakis, the Museum was established in 1994 along with the foundation encharged with the construction of the new Athens Acropolis Museum.
As Prefect of Lesvos in the 1980’s N. Sifounakis prepared the way for the Museum’s construction. An 11 stremma parcel of land was granted by the Community of Sigri and its president K. Athanasiadis for planners to begin the work. An initial architectural blue print was drown up by architects S. Panto- Kikko and S. Frango with the support of special consultant architect A. Tombazi.
The Museum building promoting this unique natural monument was to meet demand and specifications on the one hand and blend in harmoniously with the surrounding environment on the other. The concept of incorporating the museum into the surrounding area was a decisive factor in the planning stage, the intent being to create a living museum, an interactive museum, reestablishing the relationship between man and nature.
In the selection of construction material, architectural choices concerning the structure ‘s hight and configuration as well as landscaping, the concepts and objectives mentioned played a decisive role.
The museum construction was co-funded by the Greek Government and the European Union by the 2nd CSF (Community Support Framework)
Museum Building and Surroundings
From the main gate, the visitor can select from three museum areas visiting choices. One can either take a walk through the herb garden with plants and shrubs characteristic examples of Greek flora, visit the smell outdoor amphitheater (which hosts cultural events) surrounded by today’s living representatives of plants found fossilized in the region of the Petrified Forest.
A third path connects the museum with the neighboring fossil bearing site excavated by the Museum. There one has the opportunity to view standing trunks with impressive root systems petrified in situ twenty million years ago. The main path leads directly to the central museum building a simple, sparing structure. This one floor stone structure is built of the gray lava which abounds in the region. Covering an area of 1597 square meters the Museum includes a permanent exhibition area, temporary exhibition hall, library, laboratory area, storage rooms, audio-visual multi purpose room, snack bar, museum shop, as well as general and special accommodation facilities for visiting researchers. These areas are all located around a central patio.
The main entry serves as an extension of the two internal patios and at the same time separates the building function wise.
One side of the building houses the Museum’s permanent exhibition (Petrified Forest Room and Aegean Room), the other includes a conference room, an audio-visual center, a tastefully designed snack bar with a magnificent view of the Aegean sea, Museum administration offices, a temporary exhibition hall, library, as well as fossil preservation and research laboratory.
Sections of glass roof and windows around the internal patios allow for ample natural lighting. In the main patio impressive petrified trunks side by side with their present day counterparts wonderfully depict the flora of the Aegean 20 million years ago.
Permanent Exhibition Area
The first exhibition room “Paleobotany-Petrified Forest” presents the evolution of plant life on earth from the appearance of the planet’s first single cell organisms 3,5 billion years ago to developed plant life and the creation of the petrified forest. The flora of the petrified forest is presented with fossil remains of over 40 different species found and identified in the broader area of western Lesvos. Petrified trunks, branches, twigs, impressive petrified leaves, leaf imprints, fruit and roots are displayed in front of large sized pictorial depictions of the plants they represent. Palm, cinnamon, laurel, lime, beech, oak, walnut, alder, plane, hornbeam, yew, pinaceae and protopinaceae, cypress, cunninghamia and impressive sequoia are just some of the species presented in the permanent exhibit. Characteristic examples from other fossil bearing sites in Greece (Kymi Evia Island, Vegora, Elassona, Aliveri, Santorini) are also part of the exhibition. This hall also houses the first proof of the existence of animals, which lived in the petrified forest. Displayed is the petrified jawbone of a dinothere, a trunked ancestor of the elephant from the region of Gavatha, Antissa dating back 20 million years. The animal’s bones, preserved in lacustrine sediments, were uncovered in the course of museum excavations. This find constitutes one of the oldest fossils of a vertebrate in Greece and is particularly rare in Europe. This fossil is the first positive proof of the simultaneous existence of this species in Africa and Europe.
In the second hall entitled “The Evolution of the Aegean” is a presentation of the various geological phenomena and processes associated with the creation of the Petrified Forest and the general geological history of the Aegean basin over the last 20 million years. Among the topics presented are the movement of lithospheric plates in the region, the subduction of the African lithosphere and the evolution of volcanic activity in the area. The exhibit incorporates impressive examples of volcanic rock and formations. Models of volcanoes and the stratigraphy of volcanic products on western Lesvos are also part of the presentation. Embedded in the volcanic rock we find perfectly preserved petrified trunks, roots, fruits, leaves and sperm. Furthermore, paleologeographic reconstruction depicting the development of the region from oceanic Tithios to the continental Aegis mainland and the creation of the Greek Archipelago is included in the exhibit. Today’s Aegean with its active volcanoes, faults and numerous geological monuments is a reminder that the numerous processes which led to the creation of the petrified forest have not yet come to an end.
Scientific research and support for the organization of the exhibit in Hall 1 was provided by E. Velitzelos, professor of Paleobotany and Paleontology at the University of Athens. D. Mountrakis, Professor of Geology at the University of Thessaloniki, provided scientific support for the exhibit in Hall 2.
The Museum offers all the necessary facilities for the study and research of the petrified forest. Fully equipped laboratories make the museum a center for comprehensive geological research.
Scientific, Educational and Cultural Activities
The Museum constitutes a dynamic force for cultural, economic and social sustainable development in western Lesvos as it hosts and organizes international conferences and symposia, cultural events, exhibitions, lectures and film screenings.
Museum educational programs attract students of all levels from Lesvos, Greece and abroad. Within the framework of research programs, the Museum has forged collaborative efforts with corresponding agencies and organizations - Museums, Universities and research institutes- in Greece and abroad.