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.


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.

Chimpanzees fill another’s knowledge gap
Researchers show that vocalizing in chimpanzees is influenced by social cognitive processes more
Chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys interfere with other group members’ relationships
Bystanders monitor and intervene into grooming interactions of their group members if these threaten their own status or social relationships more
Friendliness is more important in a new friend than which group she belongs to
Individual qualities matter more than group qualities when choosing a new friend from an ethnic or religious group other than one’s own more
Researchers sequence a new Neandertal genome
The genome of a European Neandertal allows more Neandertal DNA to be identified in present-day people more
How easily we tan is influenced by Neandertal DNA
Neandertal DNA influences variation in skin tone and hair colour in people living today more
Capturing the body odour of mammals
Newly adapted method allows researchers to collect body odour samples of mammals in a non-invasive manner more
Wolves understand cause and effect better than dogs
Study conducted at the Wolf Science Center in Vienna shows that dogs seem to have lost some problem solving abilities when they were domesticated more
Great apes know when they don't know
Chimpanzees and orangutans look for information to fill gaps in their knowledge more
Fossil ape skull confirms African origin of apes and humans
13-million-year-old “Alesi“, a fossil discovered in Kenya, sheds light on ape ancestry more
Anthrax: a hidden threat to wildlife in the tropics
Researchers illuminate the epidemiology of a cryptic pathogen more
<em>FOXI3</em> gene is involved in dental cusp formation
The teeth of hairless dogs teach researchers about the development and evolution of mammalian teeth more
Ancient DNA sheds new light on Neanderthal evolution
Genetic evidence suggests further migration to Europe 220,000 and 470,000 years ago more
For a chimpanzee, one good turn deserves another
Apes only provide food to conspecifics that have previously assisted them more
Scientists discover that three-dimensional liver buds grown in a dish from stem cells mimic the molecular signatures observed during the natural development of human liver more
Eye to eye with the Neanderthal

Eye to eye with the Neanderthal

News June 13, 2017
Scientists are reconstructing the relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals more
The first of our kind
Scientists discover the oldest Homo sapiens fossils at Jebel Irhoud, Morocco more
Genetic study shakes up the elephant family tree
Using state-of-the-art methods researchers decipher the DNA of ancient elephants and discover their family relations to be quite different more
Extended analytical methods facilitates species conservation
Researchers develop new analytical methods that help them estimate the size of wild animal populations from a distance more
Warfare may explain differences in social structures in chimpanzees and bonobos
Researchers found that chimpanzees associate more with partners of the same sex while bonobos of either sex associate preferentially with females more
DNA from extinct humans discovered in cave sediments
Researchers have developed a new method to retrieve hominin DNA from cave sediments – even in the absence of skeletal remains more
Bushmeat consumption decreases during the Ebola epidemic
Household income and knowledge about health risks drive the consumption of wild animal meat in West Africa more
'It’s a miracle that there are still chimpanzees at all'
Interview with primate researcher Christophe Boesch who has been researching chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast for over 35 years. more
Oxytocin enhances social affiliation in chimpanzee groups
In violent intergroup conflicts between chimpanzee groups the hormone oxytocin enhances the social affiliation among members of the same group more
With a little help from my friends
Support from family and friends significantly reduces stress in wild chimpanzees – during conflicts with rival groups and during everyday affiliation. more
Apes understand that some things are all in your head
Bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans understand that others can be convinced of something that is not true more
Shape and function of Neandertal ear ossicles
Scientists find the greatest number of small ear ossicles known from Neandertals so far and compare them to the ossicles of modern humans more
Palaeoproteomics helps differentiate between modern humans and Neandertals
Researchers decode ancient proteins of Châtelperronian Neandertals more
Voice control in orangutan gives clues to early human speech
Orangutan Rocky could provide the key to understanding how speech in humans evolved from the time of the ancestral great apes more
Homo erectus walked as we do
1.5-million-year-old footprints provide window to the life of Homo erectus more
Female bonobos send mixed messages to males
Sexual swellings are unreliable signals of fertility in female bonobos more
Our closest relatives were born with wide bodies and robust bones more
Children also gossip

Children also gossip

News May 02, 2016
Five-year-olds affect the reputation of others through gossip more
Hominins may have been food for carnivores
Tooth-marks on a 500,000-year-old femur from Morocco indicate hominin hunting or scavenging by large carnivores more
More local adaptations in European genes were contributed by Stone Age hunters than farmers more
400,000-year-old fossils from Spain provide earliest genetic evidence of Neandertals
Analysis of nuclear DNA from Sima de los Huesos hominins provides evidence of their relationship to Neandertals more
More Sumatran orangutans than previously thought
More Sumatran orangutans live in the wild than previously thought, yet continuing deforestation is likely to substantially reduce their number more
Why do chimpanzees throw stones at trees?
Newly discovered stone tool-use behavior and accumulation sites in wild chimpanzees reminiscent to human cairns more
‘Cocktail’ orang-utans leave researchers shaken and stirred
Reintroduction of genetically distinct subspecies has led to hybridization in an endangered wild population more
Researchers find evolution of human teeth to be much simpler than previously thought, and can predict the sizes of teeth missing from hominin fossils more
Early gene flow from modern humans into Neanderthals
Researchers find first genetic evidence of modern human DNA in a Neanderthal individual more
Fleeting fruit in a tropical forest

Fleeting fruit in a tropical forest

News January 21, 2016
To find energy-rich food, like tropical ripe fruit, is a challenge for chimpanzees more
Chimp friendships are based on trust

Chimp friendships are based on trust

News January 14, 2016
Max Planck researchers found that our closest relatives, too, trust their friends more
The mixing of archaic human forms played an important role in shaping the immune system of modern humans more
Food-leftovers in the dental calculus

Dental calculus provides insight into chimpanzee diet and behaviour

The oldest case of decapitation in the Americas
A 9,000 year-old case of human decapitation has been found in the rock shelter of Lapa do Santo in Brazil more
Female bonobos: Pointing it out

Female bonobos: Pointing it out

News September 11, 2015
In order to communicate their intentions wild bonobos use referential gestural communication more
Homo naledi - our new relative

Homo naledi - our new relative

News September 10, 2015
Researchers discover a new species of fossil human in a cave in South Africa more
Orang-utan females prefer cheek-padded males
Dominant, cheek-padded orang-utan males are significantly more successful at fathering offspring – except in times of rank instability more
Chimpanzees coping with forest loss
A genetic survey finds an unexpectedly large population of chimpanzees in forest fragments more
Kiwi bird genome sequenced

Kiwi bird genome sequenced

News July 23, 2015
The kiwi, national symbol of New Zealand, gives insights into the evolution of nocturnal animals more
Old world monkey had a tiny but complex brain
Victoriapithecus had a small brain relative to its body size with an olfactory bulb about three times as large as that in present-day monkeys more
An early European had a close Neandertal ancestor
Genetic analysis of a 40,000-year-old jawbone from Romania reveals that early modern humans interbred with Neandertals when they first came to Europe more
<p>Three-year-olds help victims of injustice</p>
Young children are just as likely to respond to the needs of another individual as they are to their own more
Climate change: boating in the desert
Lake Mungo may have inspired Australians to reinvent boat use in the middle of the desert 24,000 years ago more
Modern human dispersal into Europe came from the Levant
Modern humans occupied the Near East 45,900 years ago and colonized Europe from there more
<p>Mountain gorilla mamas sidestep having inbred offspring</p>
Genetic study shows that dominant males never sire the offspring of their daughters more
Deciphering the demise of Neandertals
Members of our species Homo sapiens belonging to the Protoaurignacian culture may have been the ultimate cause for the demise of Neandertals, according to new research more
Participation sought: new citizen science project

Volunteers will screen video footage filmed by camera traps and identify wild African animals

Oldest evidence for the use of mushrooms as a food source
Analyses of old dental calculus show that humans consumed plant foods and mushrooms as early as the Upper Palaeolithic more
Protein is the clue to solving a Darwinian mystery
Bone collagen sequences prove that South American native ungulates are closely related to horses, rhinos and tapirs but not to elephants more
Eavesdropping on the forest to monitor wildlife
Researchers develop a novel passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) method for the automated detection of chimpanzees and two monkey species more
Handy man reborn

Handy man reborn

News March 04, 2015
Digital makeover of iconic human fossil sheds light on human origins more
Early human ancestors used their hands like modern humans

Pre-Homo human ancestral species, such as Australopithecus africanus, used human-like hand postures much earlier than was previously thought

Tonal languages require humidity

Tonal languages require humidity

News January 22, 2015
Languages with a wide range of tone pitches have primarily developed in regions with high levels of humidity more
Cracking the case

Cracking the case

News January 02, 2015
Wild chimpanzees select nut-cracking tools taking account of up to five different factors more
Don't be an outsider!

Don't be an outsider!

News November 04, 2014
Very young children imitate their peers to fit in, while great apes tend to stick to their own preferences more
The early chimp gets the fig

The early chimp gets the fig

News October 27, 2014
Wild chimpanzees plan their breakfast time, type and location more
Earliest modern human sequenced

Earliest modern human sequenced

News October 22, 2014
Researchers discover fragments of Neandertal DNA in the genome of a 45,000-year-old modern human from Siberia more
Changes in the social environment can nevertheless speed up the development of a language's lexicon more
Early modern human settlement in Central Europe
Modern humans may have migrated into Austria around 43,500 years ago during a period with a cold steppe-like climate more
Chimpanzee males more likely to kill and be killed
Lethal aggression in chimpanzees and bonobos is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts more
Female bonobos start up early

Female bonobos start up early

News July 28, 2014
Onset of puberty in female bonobos precedes that of chimpanzees more
Dogs follow human voice direction to find hidden food
Max Planck researchers found that dogs and puppies can locate hidden food by using human voice direction referentially more
Max Planck researchers reveal relationships between rare languages in the Colombian Amazon more
One of the last strongholds for Western chimpanzees
Liberia is home to the second largest chimpanzee population in West Africa more

The neanderthal in us

News April 01, 2014
Contemporary Europeans have as many as three times more Neanderthal variants in genes involved in lipid catabolism than Asians and Africans more
Mixed genes

Mixed genes

News February 13, 2014
An interactive world map of human genetic history reveals likely genetic impacts of historical events more
New large population of chimpanzees discovered
Several thousand chimpanzees inhabit a remote forest area in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo more
Friend or foe

Friend or foe

News February 05, 2014
Chimpanzees keep track of other group members’ bonding partners and use this knowledge in conflict situations more
The way to a chimpanzee's heart is through its stomach
Chimpanzees who share their food with others have higher levels of the hormone oxytocin in their urine more
Piecing in the puzzles of human evolution
Neandertals, Denisovans, modern humans: who descended from whom? What researchers have discovered so far - a chronology of the key research results more
Neandertal genome project reaches its goal
Researchers compile definitive list of the DNA sequence changes that make us human more
Chimpanzees are rational, not conformists
Chimpanzees flexibly adjust their behaviour to maximise payoffs, not to conform to majorities more
Bonobos stay young longer

Bonobos stay young longer

News December 16, 2013
Contrary to humans and chimpanzees bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormones well into adulthood more
Oldest hominin DNA sequenced

Oldest hominin DNA sequenced

News December 04, 2013
Max Planck researchers sequence the mitochondrial genome of a 400,000-year-old hominin from Spain more
Grammatical structures as a window into the past
New world atlas of colonial-era languages reveals massive traces of African and Pacific source languages more
Long-term memory helps chimpanzees in their search for food

Searching for bountiful fruit crops in the rain forest, chimpanzees remember past feeding experiences

Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe
Standardized and specialized bone tools made by Neandertals are still in use today more
An evolutionary compromise for long tooth preservation
During an individual’s lifetime the biomechanical requirements on his or her teeth change more
Attractive and successful

Attractive and successful

News July 15, 2013
In bonobos, attractive females are more likely to win conflicts against males more

The power of imitation

News June 27, 2013
Researchers show that already in infancy imitation promotes a general pro-social orientation toward others and, in early childhood, is a powerful means of social influence in development more
"Possibly more devastating than previously thought"

Leipzig researchers have published new data on volcanic ash, known as the “Campanian Ignimbrite”, which covered wide parts of Europe

Malaria protection in chimpanzees
Researchers found that adult wild chimpanzees have developed a certain immunity against malaria parasites more
The silver screen comes to the jungle
The challenge of filming wild chimpanzees more
Taï chimpanzees featured in Hollywood movie
The Disneynature production “Chimpanzee” provides us with a fascinating insight into the life of our next closest relatives, chimpanzees more
Material loss protects teeth against fatigue failure
Computer simulation shows that the reduction of natural dental wear might be the main cause for widely spread non-carius cervical lesions (the loss of enamel and dentine at the base of the crown) in our teeth more
Botanists in the rainforest

Botanists in the rainforest

News April 10, 2013
Chimpanzees use botanical skills to discover fruit more
In chimpanzees, hunting and meat-eating is a man’s business
Max Planck researchers find stable isotope evidence of meat eating and hunting specialization in adult male chimpanzees more
Gruber Genetics Prize for Svante Pääbo
Geneticist Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthroplogy is to receive the US$500,000 Gruber Genetics Prize for groundbreaking research in evolutionary genetics more
The benefits of social grooming

The benefits of social grooming

News January 23, 2013
Researchers found that in chimpanzees the hormone oxytocin is likely to play a key role in maintaining social relations with both kin and non-kin cooperation partners more
A relative from the Tianyuan Cave

A relative from the Tianyuan Cave

News January 21, 2013
Ancient DNA has revealed that humans living some 40,000 years ago in the area near Beijing were likely related to many present-day Asians and Native Americans more
Genetic admixture in southern Africa

Genetic admixture in southern Africa

News January 17, 2013
Ancient Khoisan lineages survive in contemporary Bantu groups more
Gene flow from India to Australia about 4,000 years ago
Long before Europeans settled in Australia humans had migrated from the Indian subcontinent to Australia and mixed with Australian aborigines more
Particles of crystalline quartz wear away teeth
Study questions informative value of dental microwear for dietary habits of extinct species more
Neanderthals meet <em>Homo sapiens</em>

Neanderthals meet Homo sapiens

News October 29, 2012
New high precision radiocarbon dates of bone collagen show that a cultural exchange may have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals more than 40,000 years ago. more
Khoisan populations developed differentially
Genetics reveals the shared history of southern and eastern African hunter-gatherers more
Dwindling space for Africa’s great apes
The first continent-wide perspective of the distribution of African ape habitat shows dramatic declines in recent years more
An interview with Matthias Meyer from the Max Planck Institut of Evolutionary Anthropology about the new analyses of the Denisova genome more
Ancient genome reveals its secrets

Ancient genome reveals its secrets

News August 30, 2012
Max Planck researchers describe Denisovan genome, illuminating the relationships between Denisovans and present-day humans more
Chimpanzees create social traditions
Different chimp communities display various styles of grooming behaviour more

Human evolution

News August 08, 2012
New Kenyan fossils shed light on the evolution of the genus Homo more
<em>Australopithecus sediba</em> had plant foods on the menu
For the first time, researchers have found plant remains in the two-million-year-old dental plaque of ancient hominins’ teeth more
Bonobo genome completed

Bonobo genome completed

News June 13, 2012
Max Planck scientists have completed the genome of the bonobo - the final great ape to be sequenced more
Chimpanzee cultures differ between neighbors
Despite similar ecological conditions neighboring chimpanzee groups use different hammers to crack nuts more
Majority-biased learning

Majority-biased learning

News April 12, 2012
In humans and chimpanzees knowledge is transmitted within a group by means of a majority principle more
Entire genome of extinct human decoded from fossil
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, has completed the genome sequence of a Denisovan, a representative of an Asian group of extinct humans related to Neandertals. more
Bonobos' unusual success story

Bonobos' unusual success story

News January 23, 2012
Dominant males invest in friendly relationships with females more
Tracking human evolutionary history

Tracking human evolutionary history

News January 11, 2012
Foundation of the Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot/Israel more
Great apes make sophisticated decisions
Research suggests that great apes are capable of calculating the odds before taking risks more
I know something you don’t know – and I will tell you!
Wild chimpanzees monitor the information available to other chimpanzees and inform their ignorant group members of danger more
Follow your nose<em></em>

Follow your nose

News December 14, 2011
Compared to Neanderthals, modern humans have a better sense of smell more
Law enforcement vital for great ape survival
A recent study shows that, over the last two decades, areas with the greatest decrease in African great ape populations are those with no active protection from poaching by forest guards. more
Dating the world’s language families
An international consortium develops a computerized method for dating when prehistoric languages were spoken more
Born to cooperate

Born to cooperate

News November 29, 2011
The Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize will be presented to Michael Tomasello from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig on 2 December 2011. more
Understanding emotions without language
Does understanding emotions depend on the language we speak, or is our perception the same regardless of language and culture? more
Peer pressure in preschool children

Peer pressure in preschool children

News October 25, 2011
Children as young as four years of age conform their public opinion to the majority more
Children prefer cooperation

Children prefer cooperation

News October 13, 2011
Humans like to work together in solving tasks - chimps don't more
Migration: many roads lead to Asia

Migration: many roads lead to Asia

News September 26, 2011
Contrary to what was previously assumed, modern humans may have populated Asia in more than one migration wave more
Handier than Homo habilis?

Handier than Homo habilis?

News September 08, 2011
The versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin than the hand of Homo habilis more
Collaboration encourages equal sharing in children but not in chimpanzees
Children as young as three years of age share toy rewards equally with a peer, but only when both collaborated in order to gain them. more
Early hominin landscape use

Early hominin landscape use

News June 01, 2011
Approx. 3 million years ago, females rather than males moved from the groups they were born in to new social groups. more
Climate change and evolution of Cross River gorillas
Two species of gorillas live in central equatorial Africa. Divergence between the Western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and Eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei) began between 0.9 and 1.6 million years ago and now the two species live several hundred kilometres apart. more
Neither Neandertal nor modern human

Neither Neandertal nor modern human

News December 23, 2010
Genome of extinct Siberian hominin sheds new light on modern human origins more
A long childhood is of advantage

A long childhood is of advantage

News November 15, 2010
Synchrotron reveals human children outpaced Neanderthals by slowing down more
The brains of Neanderthals and modern humans developed differently
Theses differences are likely to contribute to cognitive differences between modern humans and Neanderthals more
Modern man meets Neanderthal

Modern man meets Neanderthal

News October 15, 2010
Ten years after analyzing the human genome scientists have unravelled the DNA of the Neanderthals. The result: Homo sapiens and Neanderthals intermingled. Thus, there is a bit of Neanderthal in most of us. more
Mothers matter!

Mothers matter!

News September 01, 2010
High social status and maternal support play an important role in the mating success of male bonobos more
Oldest evidence of human stone tool use and meat-eating found
New finds from Dikika, Ethiopia, push back the first stone tool use and meat-consumption by almost one million years more
The Neandertal in us

The Neandertal in us

News May 06, 2010
Analysis of the Neandertal genome indicates that, contrary to previous beliefs, humans and Neandertals interbred more
New form of human discovered

New form of human discovered

News March 24, 2010
Max Planck scientists decode the mitochondrial genome of a previously unknown hominin from the mountains of Central Asia more
Dogs can read thoughts

Dogs can read thoughts

News March 01, 2010
Dogs recognize humans as individuals having their own perceptions and feelings more
More than a jump to the left

More than a jump to the left

News December 14, 2009
Study on memory for dance moves discovers substantial cross-cultural diversity in human cognition more
Fish on the menu of our ancestors
Already 40,000 years ago people fed themselves to a large degree on fish more
"You will give birth in pain": Neanderthals too
The virtual reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman’s birth canal reveals insights into the evolution of human child birth more
Meat for sex in wild chimpanzees

Meat for sex in wild chimpanzees

News April 08, 2009
Male chimpanzees that regularly share their food with females are able to mate more often than their stingy fellows more
Neanderthal genome completed

Neanderthal genome completed

News February 12, 2009
Max Planck Scientists have completed a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome more
Mobile Neanderthals

Mobile Neanderthals

News February 15, 2008
40,000 year old tooth provides first evidence of Neanderthal movement more
Great Apes endangered by human viruses
The opening of gorillas and chimpanzees reserves for tourism is often portrayed as the key to conserving these endangered great apes. There are also however serious concerns that tourism may expose wild apes to infection by virulent human diseases more
Neanderthal bearing teeth

Neanderthal bearing teeth

News December 04, 2007
Tooth growth suggests rapid maturation in a Neanderthal child more
Red hair and freckles ...

Red hair and freckles ...

News October 26, 2007
Genetic studies show that some Neanderthals may have had red or fair hair and lighter coloured skin more
Fair Play in Chimpanzees

Fair Play in Chimpanzees

News October 05, 2007
Unlike humans chimpanzees do not show a willingness to make fair offers and reject unfair ones. more
Climate - no smoking gun for Neanderthals
New study on role of climate in Neanderthal extinction more
Gorillas classified as critically endangered
Newly published IUNC list based in part on assessments by experts from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology more
How Long is a Child a Child?

How Long is a Child a Child?

News March 12, 2007
Research on a Homo sapiens juvenile fossil shows that modern human developmental patterns emerged more than 160,000 years ago more
The Chimpanzee Stone Age

The Chimpanzee Stone Age

News February 13, 2007
West African chimpanzees have been cracking nuts with stone tools for thousands of years more
Hofmeyr-Skull supports the &quot;Out of Africa&quot;-Theory
Dating of skull delivers the first fossil indicator that modern humans evolved in Africa more
Ebola-outbreak kills 5000 gorillas

Ebola-outbreak kills 5000 gorillas

News December 06, 2006
Vaccination program urgently needed more
The first million have been sequenced

The first million have been sequenced

News November 16, 2006
Max Planck researchers in Leipzig decode one million base pairs of the Neandertal genome more
Meet the earliest baby girl ever discovered!
Discovery of an Australopithecus afarensis child will help to answer important questions concerning human evolution more
How did our Ancestors' Minds really work?
Max Planck researchers have used psychological research techniques to successfully reconstruct primeval cognition more
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and 454 Life Sciences Corporation unveil plan to sequence the Neandertal Genome more
Baby’s helping hands

Baby’s helping hands

News March 02, 2006
First evidence for altruistic behaviours in human infants and chimpanzees more
Chimpanzee cooperators

Chimpanzee cooperators

News March 02, 2006
Chimpanzees recognized when collaboration was necessary and chose the best collaborative partner more
In spite of ourselves

In spite of ourselves

News January 18, 2006
Humans have a strong desire to help each other, but is spite also part of the human condition? more
Ebola threatens apes in Africa

Ebola threatens apes in Africa

News October 25, 2005
Max Planck researchers in Leipzig, Germany, discover that Ebola Zaire is spreading like a wave across central Africa more
"The World Atlas of Language Structures" Published
Max Planck scientists in Leipzig unveil one-of-a-kind documentation of world’s linguistic diversity / Surprising degree of grammatical borrowing between languages. more
Oldest Fossil Protein Sequenced

Oldest Fossil Protein Sequenced

News March 08, 2005
Protein sequence from Neanderthal extracted and sequenced more
Natural selection as we speak

Natural selection as we speak

News February 18, 2005
Shared properties of human languages are not the result of universal grammar but reflect self-organizing properties of language as an evolving system more
Prize winners are Prof. Alan Hall, Medical Research Council, London, and Prof. Svante Pääbo, Max Planck Institute for evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig more
Trip to our Ancestors

Trip to our Ancestors

News February 03, 2004
Paleoanthropology and -archaeology becomes another main focus at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig more

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. However, the first challenge consists in finding usable remains of prehistoric humans: bones normally decay in less than one hundred years; only under very special conditions are they able to survive for millennia. Important discovery sites include caves, such as the Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, shown here. Discovered accidentally by workers in 2001, the cave was examined archaeologically by a research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The excavations yielded human fossils that are around 40,000 years old, making them among the oldest remains of anatomically modern man found outside of Africa. Genetic analysis revealed that the early modern human from the Tianyuan Cave and the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans share a common origin. On the other hand, their ancestral line had already diverged from that of the predecessors of present-day Europeans. Moreover, the DNA is not the only material that brought interesting facts to light: chemical Analysis of the bone collagen from a lower jaw reveals that the Tianyuan people regularly ate freshwater fish. In other words, fish was on the menu long before the time indicated by archaeological finds of fishing implements.

The Upside of Sharing

4/2013 Culture & Society
“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.
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.

Boning Up on History

MPR 3 /2007 Biology & Medicine
If the bones won’t come to the researcher, then the
researcher must go to the bones. Using a mobile tomograph, paleoanthropologists are reconstructing fossilized skulls to investigate human development.
PhD Student Positions in Human Origins
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig October 18, 2017

Social determinants of human communication

2017 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.


Genetic adaptation to levels of dietary selenium in recent human history

2016 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. more

The evolution of the human brain

2015 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. more

A world atlas of contact languages

2014 Michaelis, Susanne; Haspelmath, Martin

A new comprehensive database on grammatical structures of 76 contact languages provides insight into the origin of these languages, which arose in colonial times, as well as into general laws of the creation of mixed languages. The original languages of the indigenous populations in the colonial areas can be recognized by the clear grammatical traces that they left.


Competition, cooperation and hormones in chimpanzees and bonobos

2013 Deschner, Tobias
Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science Developmental Biology Ecology Evolutionary Biology Genetics
The study of similarities and differences in behavior and physiology between humans and great apes allow for a better understanding of human evolution. Researchers of the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig investigate with the help of behavioral observations and the measurement of physiological parameters in the urine of free living apes how competition and cooperation influence the excretion of a number of hormones. more

Collaboration in Young Children

2012 Tomasello, Michael; Hamann, Katharina
Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science Evolutionary Biology
One of the most remarkable capacities of human beings is their ability to work together, to solve problems or to create things that no individual could have solved or created on its own. In current studies, researchers look at the early ontogeny of children’s abilities for collaboration and provide evidence that young children have species-unique skills and motivations of shared intentionality, including skills such as forming joint goals and joint attention with others, along with cooperative motives for helping others and sharing with others. more

What we can learn from spit: Diversity in the human salivary microbiome

2011 Stoneking, Mark
Evolutionary Biology Genetics Microbiology
More than 90 percent of the human body is made of bacterial cells. Studying genetic variation in bacteria has provided confirmation of insights into human population history from studies of human genetic diversity, and novel insights that go beyond those studies. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have begun characterizing variation in the human saliva microbiome. They aim to understand the factors that influence an individual’s saliva microbiome and to identify particular bacterial species that might be informative for studies of human population history. more
Due to their mineralized content, teeth are by far the most commonly preserved remains in the human fossil record. The structure of the basic modules of teeth provides clues about the development and diet of humans and their fossil ancestors as well as their relation to the environment. Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology make use of this biological source of information to find out in which ways modern humans differ from other primates and when and how the fossil ancestors of modern humans passed the threshold to anatomical and cultural modernity. more

Words as Migrants

2009 Haspelmath, Martin
Cultural Studies Linguistics
Whenever languages come into contact with each other, lexical borrowing also takes place. Such loanwords can provide interesting information about historical relations. In working out the genealogical relationship of languages across long time periods, however, it is often difficult to decide whether words that sound similar are to be attributed to common ancestry or to the influence of contact. A comparative project of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology for the first time identifies general trends in lexical borrowing across the languages of the world. more

New Insights into the Tool-Using Behavior of Wild Chimpanzees

2008 Sanz, Crickette
Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science
With the exception of humans, chimpanzees show the most diverse and complex tool using behaviors of all existant species. Primatologists at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology are using new research methods to study chimpanzee tool use in the dense forests of the Congo Basin. They are discovering complex technological skills among these apes that expand current perceptions of chimpanzee cognition and material culture. more

Do chimpanzees know what others see – or only where they look?

2007 Tomasello, Michael; Call, Josep
Behavioural Biology Cognitive Science
A variety of recent studies suggest that apes know what other individuals do and do not see. The results of may be explained by postulating some behavioral rule that individuals have learned that does not involve an understanding of seeing. The patchiness of coverage gives this kind of explanation an ad hoc feeling, especially since there is rarely any concrete evidence that animals actually have had the requisite experiences to learn the behavioral rule – there is just a theoretical possibility. Thus, it is more plausible to hypothesize that apes really do know what others do and do not see. more

The evolution of mRNA expression in humans and chimpanzees

2006 Lachmann, Michael
Evolutionary Biology Genetics
Using the human genome sequence, the just published chimpanzee genome sequence, and measured expression levels of genes in several different tissues, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has been studying the evolution of mRNA expression in these closely related species. The data indicates that most of the thousands of observed changes in gene expression have not been selected due to beneficial effects. Selection against deleterious effects shows a strong pattern. Curiously, it seems that tissues differ in the level that they are affected by mutations: thus liver is least constrained, and allows most changes, whereas brain allows least. We also see indications that more changes in gene expression occurred in brain during the evolution of humans than occurred during the evolution of chimpanzees since both of them diverged from their last common ancestor. more

Proteomics and human evolution

2005 Nielsen-Marsh, Christina
Evolutionary Biology
Using state-of-the-art technology, the archaeological science labs of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology are an essential component in helping to answer key questions in palaeoanthropology. The Archaeological Science group in the Department of Human Evolution has at its fingertips a variety of methods which can provide crucial data on chronology, palaeodiet, migration and phylogenetics. In a first step the team managed to extract and sequence a bone protein, osteocalcin, from two 75,000-year-old Neanderthal specimens from Shanidar in Iraq, which failed to yield DNA. The protein sequencing was achieved using MALDI-TOF/TOF mass spectrometry, a technique which provides exceptional limits of detection. These are the oldest known proteins to be sequenced and have provided new phylogenetic and phenotypic data on the hominid line alongside osteocalcin sequences extracted from related, extant species (chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla and human). These data illustrate the potential for proteins to provide informative genetic data in the absence of recoverable DNA, and opens up the exciting possibility of applying these techniques to earlier hominids. more

Diversity and universality of human language: The Jakarta field station

2004 Gil, David
Cultural Studies Evolutionary Biology Linguistics
Only humans have the gift of language. Yet the human race has not one language, but rather five or six thousand different ones. Moreover, these languages differ from one another in myriad ways, their variegated patterns of sounds, words, sentences and meanings forming a dazzling kaleidoscope of linguistic diversity. Nevertheless, all human languages share profound structural design features which, together, form part of what makes human beings special, distinguishing them from all other creatures. Such features are a reflection of linguistic universality. The Department of Linguistics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology seeks out diversity and universality in the realm of human language. Thus, the researchers are constantly looking for patterns of variation, pushing the outer limits of how different languages can be from each other. However, when the limits of such diversification are encountered, they try to establish common properties which are then said to be shared by all human languages. By discovering such patterns of linguistic diversity and universality, the department contributes towards the broader goal of the Institute, which is to gain a better understanding of the nature and the origins of mankind. more
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