Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

How are historical events, cultural change and major migratory movements interrelated? Where do the origins of historical pathogens lie? Which factors led to the spread and diversification of the major language families? How have the development of crops and transformation of human societies affected each other? Which factors promote the spread and adoption of new technologies?

Biologists, historians, linguists and social scientists at the 2014 newly established institute work together on the development of innovative language documentation procedures, global linguistic and cultural databases, and analytical processes that link evolutionary theories and modern computational methods. They use state-of-the-art methods from the field of biomolecular science, such as, for example genome-wide DNA sequencing, to obtain detailed information from minute samples about genetic relationships, geographical origins, selection processes, and the genetic structures of extinct human, plant, animal and even pathogenic organisms. This thoroughly integrated, interdisciplinary approach will allow long-standing questions about human history that were previously deemed difficult, or even completely intractable, to be resolved.


Kahlaische Str. 10
07745 Jena
Phone: +49 3641 686-5
Fax: +49 3641 686-990
Department Linguistic and Cultural Evolution more
Possible cause of early colonial-era Mexican epidemic identified
Salmonella enterica, the bacterium responsible for enteric fever, may be the long-debated cause of the 1545-1550 AD “cocoliztli” epidemic in Oaxaca, Mexico that heavily affected the native population. more
On the leash!
Max Planck researchers discover the oldest ever images of dogs on leashes more
Shedding new light on the Ancient Mediterranean
The partners of the new Max Planck-Harvard Research Center are investing a total of five million Euros in order to understand the key processes that shaped human history in the ancient Mediterranean by using cutting-edge scientific approaches. more
First large-scale ancient genomes study from sub-Saharan African skeletons lifts veil on prehistoric populations
Genetic analyses uncover lost human populations and surprising relationships, revealing a complex history of population movements in ancient Africa more
Mobile women were key to cultural exchange in Stone Age and Bronze Age Europe
4,000 years ago, European women travelled far from their home villages to start their families, bringing with them new cultural objects and ideas more
Ancient DNA reveals origins of the Minoans and Mycenaeans
Common ancestors from Neolithic Western Anatolia and Greece more
Unique wheat discovery in Bronze Age lunch box
Container found in the Swiss Alps leads researchers to new analysis method more
The first genome data from ancient Egyptian mummies
Study finds that ancient Egyptians were most closely related to ancient populations from the Near East more
Sound of words is no coincidence
Particular sounds are preferred or avoided in non-related languages far more often than previously assumed more
In search of a golden age
The hunt for war treasure in the Philippines has hidden meanings more
Medieval plague strain sparked modern pandemics
European Black Death spread throughout the world in several waves more
‘Pristine’ landscapes haven’t existed for thousands of years due to human activity
There have not been 'pristine' landscapes for several thousands of years more
Rice and mung beans as archaeological sources
Ancient crops provide window into Madagascar's Southeast Asian settlement more
The dark side of religion
How ritual human sacrifice helped create unequal societies more
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.
PhD positions - Archaeogenetics
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena February 19, 2018
Senior Bioinformatician position
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena February 01, 2018
IMPRS Coordinator
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena January 23, 2018
Ph.D. Position and Postdoctoral Position: Epidemic dynamics of ancient disease outbreaks
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena November 30, 2017
PhD Position and Postdoctoral Positions: The “phylodynamics” of language evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena November 30, 2017
Student Assistants
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena November 29, 2017

On the trail of historical pestilences: Reconstruction of ancient pathogen genomes of infectious disease

2017 Keller, Marcel; Krause, Johannes
Evolutionary Biology Genetics Infection Biology Social and Behavioural Sciences
A project at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History is devoted to the genetic reconstruction of various pathogens of past epochs. Using innovative molecular biological methods, it has been possible to reconstruct numerous genomes of the causative agent of plague from the mortal remains of plague victims. The results help to better understand the evolution of the pathogen and open up new insights into (pre-)history. Further studies examine, for example, the origin of tuberculosis in the New World and the evolution of leprosy pathogens. more

Millet and beans, language and genes: The origin and dispersal of the Transeurasian family

2016 Robbeets, Martine
Evolutionary Biology Genetics Infection Biology Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

The question about the origin and dispersal of the Transeurasian languages is among the most disputed issues in linguistic history. The Eurasia3angle group at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History intends to address these questions by testing the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis for the Transeurasian languages from an interdisciplinary perspective. The group’s key objective is to integrate linguistic, archaeological and genetic evidence in a single approach. A method for which the group uses the term Triangulation.

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