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

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.

New special edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showcases multidisciplinary approaches to exploring human impacts on tropical forests and their associated earth systems.


Already in the Bronze Age, pastoralists covered long distances across the Eurasian steppes - presumably thanks to their consumption of milk


New research shows that over the last 400,000 years, multiple pulses of increased rainfall transformed the generally arid Arabian Peninsula into a hospitable route for human population movements across Southwest Asia.


Dating to 78,000 years ago, the burial was found by archaeologists in Panga ya Saidi, a cave site on the Kenyan coast


Investigating historical climate-society interactions can help tackle current challenges


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.

Postdoctoral position | Epidemic dynamics of ancient disease outbreaks

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena July 14, 2021

PhD position | Transeurasian historical comparative linguistics

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena July 14, 2021

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.


Humans have been altering tropical forests for at least 45,000 years

2017 Roberts, Patrick

Evolutionary Biology Genetics Infection Biology Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

For at least 45,000 years, humans have been altering tropical forests using techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting and the establishment of urban centers. This is the finding of a recent review, which for the first time brings together data from studies all over the world. These findings counter the common view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. They also have implications for today’s conservation efforts.


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

2016 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.

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