Tracking human evolutionary history
Foundation of the Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot/Israel
A new element is being brought in to the already well-developed and multifaceted cooperation between the Max Planck Society and Israel's Weizmann Institute: on 11 January 2012, Max Planck President Peter Gruss and Weizmann President Daniel Zajfman signed the foundation treaty for the new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot.
"In founding the joint Max Planck Center, we are intensifying the historically evolved cooperation between the Max Planck Society and the Weizmann Institute that has so far spanned more than fifty years," emphasised Max Planck President Peter Gruss. "This is a coming together of two research institutions that are excellently positioned in basic research, in a bid to gain new, ground-breaking knowledge both in the field of archaeology and anthropology."
The new Center will be headed by Professor Jean-Jacques Hublin, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and Professor Steve Weiner from the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel.
How do ideas spread? Why and how do lifestyles change? How can we explain the different stages of development in different parts of the world? Why do groups migrate from one geographical location to another? These are the key questions that will form the first of the new Center's research focuses: "The Timing of Cultural Change". The researchers are interested above all in the time at which cultural change takes place, but also in the spread of cultural traditions in a region. High-resolution radiocarbon dating can offer answers to these questions. Mass spectrometry can help to date findings with a precision of +/- 20 to 40 years. And the radiocarbon calibration curve makes it possible to delve up to 50,000 years into the past, thus enabling researchers to document cultural change over this vast period.
The Max Planck Weizmann Center plans to combine work at archaeological digs with lab work and analysis based on radiocarbon dating to obtain reliable results.
The second area of research at the Max Planck Weizmann Center will be concerned with bone and tooth structures and their functional significance.
The Levantine region at the border between Africa and Eurasia is one of the key locations in the history of human evolution. The researchers are particularly interested in the coexistence of Neanderthals and early modern man. Normally, traditional research of fossils is based on the descriptive morphology of bones and teeth. However, for some time now 3D computer reconstructions based on CT scans have been seeing increased use. The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology is world leading in this area. A new high-resolution µCT machine at the Weizmann Institute is able to provide additional detailed information on tooth and bone structures. In the Biomaterials Department, headed by Professor Peter Fratzl, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam-Golm, scientists are investigating the relationship between structure and function in modern bones and teeth. Professor Steve Weiner from the Weizmann Institute is also working on this topic.
Research findings on the relationship between structure, morphology and function in modern bones and teeth can serve as a basis for studying this relationship in fossilised humans, of who hardly anything is known at this point in time. Scientists are hopeful that the new approach will deliver new findings which could mark a radical change in anthropology.
"The Kimmel Center in Rehovot, Israel, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig are two of the world's most innovative research centres in the field of archaeological science and the study of bone development. Furthermore, the two sides complement each other marvellously, thanks to their two different areas of expertise," reported Professor Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. He goes on to say, "I am very excited to be sharing in the experience of these two institutions as they begin their new, collaborative scientific project."
The Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology is the first Center to be established by the Max Planck Society in conjunction with Israel's Weizmann Institute. Ten Max Planck Centers are currently being planned or established at nine locations across the globe.