Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology

Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology

Research at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology focuses on the interrelationships between the geosphere and human-made systems. One of the central topics is human-ecosystem dynamics, for which data and expertise from climate research, biodiversity research and the social sciences are brought together. Inter- and transdisciplinary research projects also deal with urbanisation, the global food system and global material, energy and information flows. The key questions range from the deep past to the distant future and include the question of how humanity has driven the emergence of the Anthropocene and can still positively influence its course.

The Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology emerged from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, which was founded in 2014. The Senate of the Max Planck Society decided to rename it in June 2022.


Kahlaische Str. 10
07745 Jena
Phone: +49 3641 686-5
Fax: +49 3641 686-990

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS for the Science of Human History

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Even the earliest human interactions with tropical forests had irreversible consequences that will continue to impact the environment well beyond the 21st century.

This picture shows Jürgen Renn, one of the directors at the MPI for Geoanthropology in Jena. He is leaning against a tree in front of the institute building, wearing a blue jacket and a blue and grey striped tie. His arms are crossed and he is looking into the camera.

Jürgen Renn, Director at the Institute of Geoanthropology, discusses the Institute’s concept, the phenomenon of the "Great Acceleration," and the Jena location


Humans started breeding chickens later than previously assumed

Sediment core lying in the snow with metre stick next to it

Researchers announce major step towards defining a new geological epoch

Three dogs fighting

Researchers showed participants videos of human, dog, and macaque pairs to determine how well humans assess social interactions

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When people find their final resting place in a mass grave, their life stories are often buried along with their mortal remains. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena have succeeded in reconstructing part of the story of three African men who lived in Mexico City in the 16th century: theirs is a story of forced migration and slavery, but also of dangerous pathogens that traveled around the world undetected.

Neanderthals and modern humans must have coexisted in Europe for several thousand years. What happened when they encountered each other and how they influenced one another are riveting questions. Jean-Jacques Hublin and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig are searching for the answers. In the process, they have found clues as to what the Neanderthals learned from Homo sapiens – and what they didn’t.

The transition to agriculture changed human society more drastically than almost any other innovation. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena are investigating this revolution from very different perspectives.

Human beings are currently changing the Earth on an unprecedented scale. But when did the transformation of our planet begin – and with it the human age, the Anthropocene? For archaeologists, the answer is clear: humans have been shaping the world’s ecosystems for tens of thousands of years. Nicole Boivin and her team at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena are using new methods to search for the earliest traces of human activity – and getting involved in current debates surrounding the Anthropocene.

Migration isn’t a new phenomenon, but new insights suggest that modern-day Europeans actually have at least three ancestral populations. This finding was published by Johannes Krause and his colleagues in September and was prominently featured on the cover of Nature. As it happens, the paleogeneticist himself is currently thinking about migrating, and will henceforth travel through time as a Founding Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena. For him, looking back millennia into the past seems to be no problem.

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Looking to tropical forests to find the roots of the Anthropocene

2023 Roberts, Patrick;  Renn, Jürgen; Winkelmann, Ricarda

Earth Sciences Evolutionary Biology Infection Biology Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

Understanding how tropical land use and deforestation affects the dynamics of the global Earth system and identifying potential tipping points are key to the future of our species on this planet. By exploring the long history of human societies in tropical forests and bringing together natural and social systems in interdisciplinary models, we can evaluate the repercussions of early human interaction with tropical environments. This historical interaction has left  irreversible imprints on the Earth, with consequences that will reverberate far beyond the 21st century.


Indian Ocean warming could weaken Summer Monsoon rainfall in South Asia

2022 Wang, Yiming V.; Larsen, Thomas 

Earth Sciences Evolutionary Biology Genetics Infection Biology Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

Klimadaten aus Sedimentkernen, die 130.000 Jahre zurückdatieren, zeigen, dass die Erwärmung im Indischen Ozean während der letzten Warmzeit die Regenfälle über dem Indischen Ozean verstärkte, die Niederschläge des Indischen Sommermonsuns an Land jedoch abschwächte. Ein nachlassender Monsun in Südasien wird unter dem derzeitigen, globalen Erwärmungsszenario zunehmend wahrscheinlicher und hätte weitreichende Folgen für die Ernährungssicherheit sowie das Wohlergehen von rund 40 Prozent der Weltbevölkerung. 


Green Arabia: 120,000 years old footprints provide snapshot of past ecology

2020 Petraglia, Michael

Cultural Studies Evolutionary Biology

With an international research consortium, we have succeeded in obtaining high-resolution information from fossilized human and animal footprints that are about 120,000 years old about the environmental conditions of that time in the interior of the Arabian Peninsula. The finds are the oldest securely dated record of humans, presumably Homo sapiens, in this part of the world. They show that human and animal migrations and landscape use were closely linked and strongly underline the importance of Arabia for the study of human prehistory.


Ancient DNA reveals: Ancestors of the biblical Philistines migrated from Europe

2019 Feldman, Michal; Krause, Johannes

Evolutionary Biology Genetics Infection Biology Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

In the laboratories of the Department of Archaeogenetics, we have examined for the first time the genetic material of people who lived about 3,600–2,800 years ago (during the Bronze to Iron Age transition) in Ashkelon, one of the most important cities of the Philistines. Analysis showed that a European gene component arrived in Ashkelon in the early Iron Age. This suggests that the Philistines' ancestors migrated from southern Europe across the Mediterranean and that the marked cultural change in Ashkelon and other cities in the region at this time was linked to the migration of people.


The spread of Christianity in Pacific societies: Using computational analyses to explore questions of cultural evolution

2018 Watts, Joseph

Evolutionary Biology Genetics Infection Biology Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

The well-documented Christianization of Austronesian societies served scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human History as a “natural experiment” to test how various factors influenced the spread of the new faith. This research provides new insights into historical processes and can help to better understand how, for example, demographic, cultural or environmental factors influence the spread and adoption of new institutions, ideologies and technologies today, and how they might spread in the future.

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