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Research Report

Contact: Sandra Jacob (e-mail: info@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de, phone: +49 (0) 341-3550 122)

Activity report

2015: The evolution of the human brain [full text - German]

2014: A world atlas of contact languages [full text - German]

2013: Competition, cooperation and hormones in chimpanzees and bonobos [full text - German]

2012: Collaboration in Young Children [full text - German]

2011: What we can learn from spit [full text - German]

2010: The Ravages of Time [full text - German]

2009: Words as Migrants [full text - German]

2008: New insights into the tool-using behaviors of wild chimpanzees [full text - German]

2007: Do chimpanzees know what others see - or only where they look? [full text- German ]

2006: The evolution of mRNS expression in humans and chimpanzees [full text - German]

2005: Proteomics and human evolution [full text - German]

2004: Diversity and universality of human language [full text - German]


Research Report 2015

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.

Research Report 2014

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.

Research Report 2013

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.

Research Report 2012

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.

Research Report 2011

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.

Research Report 2010

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.

Research Report 2009

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.

Research Report 2008

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.

Research Report 2007

A variety of recent studies suggest that apes know what other individuals do and do not see. The results of each study may be explained by postulating some behavioural rule that individuals have learned that does not involve an understanding of seeing. The patchiness of coverage gives this kind of explanation a very ad hoc feeling, especially since there is rarely any concrete evidence that animals actually have had the requisite experiences to learn the behavioural rule – there is just a theoretical possibility. It is thus more plausible to hypothesize that apes really do know what others do and do not see in many circumstances.

Research Report 2006

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.

Research Report 2005

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.

Research Report 2004

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.