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
Images with meaning
Olivier Morin investigates how communication functions across time and space more
The evolution of language? There’s an app for that!
A new app aims to shed light on the evolution of language more
Stone age hepatitis B virus decoded
Study recovers oldest viral genomes, and shows the hepatitis B virus has been circulating in Europe for at least 7,000 years more
Oldest human fossil from Saudi Arabia discovered
The first Homo sapiens fossil discovery from Saudi Arabia dates to 90,000 years ago during a time when the region’s deserts were replaced by grasslands. more
Dravidian language family is approximately 4,500 years old
The Dravidian language family, varieties of which are spoken by 220 million people across South Asia, is crucial in understanding the prehistory not only of the subcontinent but of Eurasia as a whole. more
Intensification of agriculture and social hierarchies evolve together
Computational analyses of the evolution of 155 Island South East Asian and Pacific societies reveal the way social and material factors combine to drive major transitions in human social organization. more
Scientists analyse oldest human DNA from Africa
Researchers find connections from Moroccan Stone Age dwellers to ancient Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African populations more
Ball or stuffed toy - do dogs “know” what they’re smelling?
Dogs create a mental representation of objects that they perceive through smell, a new study shows – and are surprised if what they find at the end of the trail differs from what they expected to find. more
Language continuity despite genetic replacements
Analysis of ancient and contemporary genomes confirms long-term exchange in the South Pacific 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
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.
Department of Archaeology PhD positions
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena April 04, 2018
Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Geoarchaeology
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena April 03, 2018
Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Palaeolithic Archaeology
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena April 03, 2018
Group Leader position in Palaeoproteomics
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena April 03, 2018
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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