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 Linguistic and Cultural Evolution

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Department Developmental and Comparative Psychology

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For the first time, scientists have succeeded in extracting and analyzing Neandertal chromosomal DNA preserved in cave sediments

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The chest beats given by adult male gorillas reliably indicate their body size

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Ancient genomes shed new light on the earliest Europeans and their relationships with Neandertals

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Researchers develop a low-cost and fast method to detect a COVID-19 infection from a pool of gargle lavage samples

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A new large-scale study uncovers recent genetic connectivity between chimpanzee subspecies despite past isolation events

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In many ways, our thoughts and actions are influenced by our social background, which is why people’s behavior varies so widely between different countries throughout the world. The psychologist Daniel Haun, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, has made cultural diversity a focal topic of his research. His theory is that we cannot ultimately determine what it is that makes us human until we are aware of what we have in common and what our differences are.

Roman Wittig, who heads up the Taï Chimpanzee Project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, knows what happens when a virus changes its host, and has experienced it several times in the Taï National Park in the République de Côte d’Ivoire, the last time having been four years ago, when a coronavirus that is harmless to humans jumped from humans to chimpanzees. In collaboration with Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, he is looking into pathogens that cause disease in chimpanzees and which of them could also pose a threat to humans.

To a very large degree, academic freedom as we know it today is based on the way it was conceived in Germany during the 19th century. At that time, it was not only professors who were in a position to make independent decisions about their research topics; students, too, enjoyed freedoms that seem incredible from today’s perspective. Lorraine Daston from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin has studied the development of academic freedom and its limitations.

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.

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First hominins on the Tibetan Plateau were Denisovans

2019 Hublin, Jean-Jacques

Evolutionary Biology Genetics

So far Denisovans were only known from a small collection of fossil fragments from Denisova Cave in Siberia. Together with researchers from China Jean-Jacques Hublin from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology describes a 160,000-year-old hominin mandible from Xiahe in China. Using ancient protein analysis the researchers found that the mandible’s owner belonged to a population that occupied the Tibetan Plateau in the Middle Pleistocene and that was closely related to the Denisovans from Siberia.

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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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