Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology focuses on matters regarding the origins of humankind. The Institute’s researchers study widely-differing aspects of human evolution. They analyse the genes, cultures and cognitive abilities of people living today and compare them with those of apes and extinct peoples. Scientists from various disciplines work closely together at the Institute: Geneticists trace the genetic make-up of extinct species, such as Neanderthals. Behaviourists and ecologists, for their part, study the behaviour of apes and other mammals.

Contact

Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig
Phone: +49 341 3550-0
Fax: +49 341 3550-119

PhD opportunities

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

IMPRS: The Leipzig School of Human Origins

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

Department Comparative Cultural Psychology

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Department Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture

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Department Evolutionary Genetics

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Department Developmental and Comparative Psychology

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Cooperation with high status individuals may increase one's own status

Long-term study of Amazonian community shows the interconnectedness of cooperation and status hierarchy

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Unexpected nut eating by gorillas

A long-term study of western gorillas in Gabon has revealed an unexpected behaviour – they use their teeth to crack open and eat nuts

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How humans and chimpanzees travel towards a goal in rainforests

Travel linearity increases in humans when they travel in increasingly large groups, while chimpanzees travel more goal-directed when they are on their own

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Finding one’s way in the rainforest

Human foragers of both sexes use the sun for finding direction from a very young age

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Chimpanzees’ working memory similar to ours

Contrary to humans, chimpanzees did not use search strategies to facilitate their task

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Family Constellations

On Location

What makes humans human? How and when did we become what we are today? How did our ancestors live? These questions are of great interest to a lot of people. The scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology use different methods to investigate them systematically. One of these methods involves extracting DNA from human fossils. Using a new procedure, Svante Pääbo and his team can isolate and sequence ancient genetic material from just a few grams of bone powder, allowing them to compare the genomes of different prehistoric humans with one another and with people living today.

“Mine!” This all-too-familiar children’s cry can drive parents to distraction. Nevertheless, Michael Tomasello from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig firmly believes that – unlike our nearest animal relatives, the great apes, who largely lack the capacity for collaboration – children are naturally cooperative and helpful.

Meet the Neanderthals

MPR 3 /2010 Biology & Medicine

Neanderthals mated with modern humans! This revelation generated great excitement among the media, but it’s old news for anthropologists. They are more interested in the genome of our closest relative.

As far as cognitive scientists are concerned, the children’s game “I spy with my little eye” is anything but child’s play. It is based on the assumption that the person whose turn it is can imagine what the other players are able to see – or not. But do dogs and apes, for instance, also share this ability? At the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, scientists study social cognition factors in different species.

Studying gorillas requires courage as well as stamina. To investigate the lifestyles of these primates, researchers track them through the rainforest of Uganda – at a respectful distance.

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A Neanderthal-Denisovan “Intermarriage”

2018 Slon, Viviane; Pääbo, Svante

Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

In prehistoric times, two distinct groups of hominins inhabited Eurasia: Neanderthals in the west and Denisovans in the east. We sequenced the genome of an approximately 90,000-year-old female individual from Russia and discovered that she had a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father. This shows that individuals from these two groups occasionally mixed. Together with previous evidence that Neanderthals and Denisovans mixed with early modern humans, this shows that throughout history, humans from different groups have always mixed.

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The first of our kind

2017 Gunz, Philipp

Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

New finds of fossils and stone tools from Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) document the origin of our species by about 300,000 years ago in Africa. These fossils are more than 100,000 years older than the previous oldest finds and document important biological and behavioural changes in an early evolutionary phase of Homo sapiens.

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Social determinants of human communication

2016 Bohn, Manuel; Stöber, Gregor

Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science

Like no other medium, language transports meaning in interactions. Recent studies highlight (1) how meaning is constituted through shared social experience in interactions with preverbal infants, (2) that different social contexts can modify the meaning of gestures in the second year of life, and (3) that young children can establish meaning in original ways when encountering cooperative contexts that limit the use of linguistic communication.

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Genetic adaptation to levels of dietary selenium in recent human history

2015 White, Louise; Castellano, Sergi

Developmental Biology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

The micronutrient selenium is an essential part of the human diet. As humans migrated out of Africa about 60,000 years ago they came to settle in environments with vastly differing selenium levels. Researchers of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have found evidence that human populations who live in regions that provide insufficient dietary selenium show signals of adaptation in the genes that use or regulate selenium.

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The evolution of the human brain

2014 Gunz, Philipp

Evolutionary Biology

The evolution of the human lineage is tightly linked to the evolution of the brain. To better understand the evolutionary changes in brain development, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology compare the cranial bones of recent modern humans to those of our closest living and fossil relatives.

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