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New Kenyan Fossils Shed Light on the Evolution of the Genus Homo

Exciting new fossils discovered east of Lake Turkana confirm that there were two additional species of our genus – Homo – living alongside our direct human ancestral species, Homo erectus, almost two million years ago. The finds, announced in the prestigious scientific journal Nature on August 9th, include a face, a remarkably complete lower jaw, and part of a second lower jaw. They were uncovered between 2007 and 2009 by the Koobi Fora Research Project (KFRP), led by Meave and Louise Leakey. KFRP member Fred Spoor of the Department of Human Evolution at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig coordinated the scientific study of the fossils. Most of the analyses were performed in Leipzig, including virtual reconstruction of the new finds using sophisticated computer technology.

Link to press release


Founding of the Max Planck-Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot, Israel

Weizmann Institute A new element is being brought in to the already well-developed and multifaceted cooperation between the Max Planck Society and Israel's Weizmann Institute: on 11 January 2012, Max Planck President Peter Gruss and Weizmann President Daniel Zajfman signed the foundation treaty for the new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology.

Link to press release


Inaugural Meeting "European Society for the study of Human Evolution", Leipzig, 23-24 September, 2011

Humankind has always been fascinated by the question of where we come from. Historically this quest for our evolutionary origins started in 19th century Europe with the discovery of Neanderthal fossils in several countries. Despite this long research tradition there has never been a Europe-wide forum supporting and promoting the study of human evolution. In Leipzig, 23-24 September, 2011, this will now change with the formal inauguration of ESHE, the "European Society for the study of Human Evolution", and its first international scientific conference. ESHE will promote research into human biological and cultural evolution by stimulating communication and cooperation between scientists and by raising public awareness and understanding.

As part of the ESHE meeting there will be a free public lecture on Friday evening 23 September by Professor Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig on "Exploring the Genomes of Archaic Humans". The lecture will be held at 19:00 at the University of Leipzig, Universitätsstraße 3, Hörsaalgebäude, Lecture Hall 9.

The host of this year's meeting is the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Download press release here.


Handier than homo habilis?

The versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin than the hand of Homo habilis. Hand bones from a single individual with a clear taxonomic affiliation are scarce in the hominin fossil record, which has hampered understanding of the evolution of manipulative abilities in hominins. An international team of researchers including Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany has now published a study that describes the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record, the hand of a 1.98-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa. The researchers found that Au. sediba used its hand for arboreal locomotion but was also capable of human-like precision grips, a prerequisite for tool-making. Furthermore, the Au. sediba hand makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin hand than the Homo habilis hand, and may well have been a predecessor from which the later Homo hand evolved.

Link to Press Release


Early hominin landscape use

So far ranging and residence patterns amongst early hominins have been indirectly inferred from morphology, stone tool sourcing, comparison to living primates and phylogenetic models. An international team of researchers including Sandi Copeland, Vaughan Grimes and Michael Richards of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig/Germany have now investigated landscape use in Australopithecus africanus (with fossils from sites dating between 2.8-2.0 million years ago) and Paranthropus robustus (with fossils from sites dating between 1.9-1.4 million years ago) from the Sterkfontein and Swartkrans cave sites in South Africa using strontium isotope analysis. This method helps identify the geological substrate on which an animal lived during tooth mineralization. (Nature, June 2nd, 2011)

Copeland, S.R., Sponheimer, M., de Ruiter, D.J., Lee-Thorp, J.A., Codron, D., le Roux, P.J., Grimes, V. and M.P. Richards (2011) Strontium isotope evidence for landscape use by early hominins. Nature. 474:76-78. doi:10.1038/nature10149.

Official Press Release

See the Nature News article discussing Copeland et al. Female australopiths seek brave new world.


The brains of Neanderthals and modern humans developed differently

A new study by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig published in Current Biology documents species differences in the pattern of brain development after birth that are likely to contribute to cognitive differences between modern humans and Neanderthals. Whether cognitive differences exist between modern humans and Neanderthals is the subject of contentious disputes in anthropology and archaeology. Because their brain size ranges overlap, many researchers previously assumed that the cognitive capabilities of these two species were similar. Among humans, however, the internal organization of the brain is more important for cognitive abilities than its absolute size is. The brain’s internal organization depends on the tempo and mode of brain development. Based on detailed measurements of internal shape changes of the braincase during individual growth, a team of scientists from the MPI has shown differences in the patterns of brain development between humans and Neanderthals during a critical phase for cognitive development.

Gunz, P., Neubauer, S., Maureille, B., Hublin, J.-J. (2010). Brain development after birth differs between Neanderthals and modern humans. Current Biology 20(21):R921-922.

Download press release here.



afarensis tool useIn January of 2009, the Dikika Research Project, working in the Afar region of Ethiopia and led by Zeresenay Alemseged of the California Academy of Sciences, discovered two bones with cut and percussion marks that show that human ancestors were using stone tools and consuming the meat and marrow of large mammals nearly 1 million years earlier than previously documented. The bones date to roughly 3.4 million years ago and provide the first evidence that Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, used stone tools and consumed meat. Both of the marked bones came from large mammals. One fossil is a rib fragment, the other a femur shaft fragment. Both are marred by multiple cut, scrape, and percussion marks. These finds were published in the August 12, 2010, issue of the journal Nature.

Download press release here.

2010 "Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia" Nature 466:857-860. (Shannon P. McPherron, Zeresenay Alemseged, Curtis W. Marean, Jonathan G. Wynn, Denné Reed, Denis Geraads, René Bobe, Hamdallah A. Béarat).


The origin of Neandertals

Western Eurasia yielded a rich Middle (MP) and Late Pleistocene (LP) fossil record documenting the evolution of the Neandertals that can be analyzed in light of recently acquired paleogenetical data, an abundance of archeological evidence, and a well-known environmental context. Their origin likely relates to an episode of recolonization of Western Eurasia by hominins of African origin carrying the Acheulean technology into Europe around 600 ka. An enhancement of both glacial and interglacial phases may have played a crucial role in this event, as well as in the subsequent evolutionary history of the Western Eurasian populations. In addition to climatic adaptations and an increase in encephalization, genetic drift seems to have played a major role in their evolution. To date, a clear speciation event is not documented, and the most likely scenario for the fixation of Neandertal characteristics seems to be an accretion of features along the second half of the MP. Although a separation time for the African and Eurasian populations is difficult to determine, it certainly predates OIS 11 as phenotypic Neandertal features are documented as far back as and possibly before this time. It is proposed to use the term "Homo rhodesiensis" to designate the large-brained hominins ancestral to H. sapiens in Africa and at the root of the Neandertals in Europe, and to use the term "Homo neanderthalensis" to designate all of the specimens carrying derived metrical or non-metrical features used in the definition of the LP Neandertals.

Hublin, J.-J. (2009). The origin of Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, Early Edition.

Download a PDF of the paper here.


May, 2009: New Book:

book cover Jean-Jacques Hublin and Michael P. Richards (eds.) (2009)

The Evolution of Hominin Diets:
Integrating Approaches to the Study of Palaeolithic Subsistence

ISBN: 978-1-4020-9698-3

About the book


The origins of modern human diversity

The interpretation of genetic evidence regarding modern human origins depends, among other things, on assessments of the structure and the variation of ancient populations. In our morphometric study we find that the early modern group has more shape variation than any other group in our sample, which covers 1.8 million years, and that they are morphologically similar to recent modern humans of diverse geographically dispersed populations but not to archaic groups. Of the currently competing models of modern human origins, some are inconsistent with these findings. Rather than a single out-of-Africa dispersal scenario, we suggest that early modern humans were already divided into different populations in Pleistocene Africa, after which there followed a complex migration pattern.

Gunz et al. (2009) "Early modern human diversity suggests subdivided population structure and a complet out-of-Africa scenario."

Click here to view the abstract.


"You will give birth in pain": Neandertals too

book coverThe virtual reconstruction of a Neandertal woman's birth canal reveals insights into the evolution of human childbirth

Researchers from the University of California at Davis (USA) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) present a virtual reconstruction of a female Neanderthal pelvis from Tabun (Israel). Although the size of Tabun's reconstructed birth canal shows that Neanderthal childbirth was about as difficult as in present-day humans, the shape indicates that Neanderthals retained a more primitive birth mechanism than modern humans. The virtual reconstruction of the pelvis from Tabun is going to be the first of its kind to be available for download on the internet for everone interested in the evolution of humankind (PNAS, April 20th, 2009).

Weaver, T.D., Hublin, J.-J. (2009). Neandertal birth canal shape and the evolution of human childbirth. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 106(20), 8151-8156.

Download a PDF of the paper here.


November 17, 2008:New Book:

book cover Jean-Jacques Hublin with Bernard Seytre (2008)

Quand D'Autres Hommes Peuplaient La Terre:
Nouveaux Regards Sur Nos Origines

Éditions Flammarion
ISBN: 978-2-0812-0584-0


February 8, 2008: Dental Tissue Studies Special Issue of Journal of Human Evolution Published

The February issue of the Journal of Human Evolution, co-edited by Tanya Smith and Jean-Jacques Hublin, is now available. This issue features papers on 2D and 3D insights into human evolution that were presented at the Dental Tissues Workshop (link to: held at the MPI-EVA September 20-23, 2006 and attended by more than 30 international scholars.

Download the preface (pdf)