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Press releases (archive)
Contact: Sandra Jacob (e-mail: info@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de, phone: +49 (0) 341-3550 122)
High-quality Neandertal genome provides novel insights into human origins
An international research team led by Kay Prüfer and Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has determined a high-quality genome sequence of a Neandertal woman. The genome allows detailed insights into the relationships and population history of the Neandertals and other extinct hominin groups. The results reveal that gene flow among such groups was common but generally of low magnitude. It also provides a definitive list of the DNA sequence changes that distinguish modern humans from our nearest extinct relatives.
Contrary to humans and chimpanzees bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormones well into adulthood
Despite the fact that chimpanzees and bonobos share similar starting conditions at birth they develop different behavioural patterns later in life. These differences might be caused by different hormone levels. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp in Belgium have analyzed thyroid hormones from urine samples of zoo-living chimpanzees and bonobos. They discovered that bonobos retain elevated thyroid hormone concentrations well into adulthood, whereas in humans and chimpanzees thyroid hormone concentrations decline after puberty. The late decline of thyroid hormones in bonobos might have consequences on their behaviour and might also indicate a delayed development of their mental capacities.
Max Planck researchers sequence the mitochondrial genome of a 400,000-year-old hominin from Spain
Using novel techniques to extract and study ancient DNA researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have determined an almost complete mitochondrial genome sequence of a 400,000-year-old representative of the genus Homo from Sima de los Huesos, a unique cave site in Northern Spain, and found that it is related to the mitochondrial genome of Denisovans, extinct relatives of Neandertals in Asia. DNA this old has until recently been retrieved only from the permafrost.
New world atlas of colonial-era languages reveals massive traces of African and Pacific source languages
A new large-scale database and atlas of key structural properties of mixed languages from the Americas, Africa and Asia-Pacific has been published by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, in a joint project with colleagues at the University of Gießen and the University of Zurich, and involving a consortium of over 80 other researchers from around the world. These languages mostly arose as a result of colonial contacts between European traders and colonizers and indigenous and slave populations. The Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures, published by Oxford University Press and as a free online publication, contains in-depth comparable information on syntactic and phonological patterns of 76 languages. While most of these languages have words derived from the languages of the European (and sometimes Arab) colonizers, their grammatical patterns can often be traced back to the African and Pacific languages originally spoken by the indigenous populations, as the new atlas shows clearly.
Searching for bountiful fruit crops in the rain forest, chimpanzees remember past feeding experiences
Where do you go when the fruits in your favourite food tree are gone and you don’t know which other tree has produced new fruit yet? An international team of researchers, led by Karline Janmaat from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studied whether chimpanzees aim their travel to particular rainforest trees to check for fruit and how they increase their chances of discovering bountiful fruit crops. The scientists found that chimpanzees use long-term memory of the size and location of fruit trees and remember feeding experiences from previous seasons using a memory window which can be two months to three years ago.
New finds demonstrate: Neandertals were the first in Europe to make standardized and specialized bone tools – which are still in use today
Two research teams from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands have jointly reported the discovery of Neandertal bone tools coming from their excavations at two neighboring Paleolithic sites in southwest France. The tools are unlike any others previously found in Neandertal sites, but they are similar to a tool type well known from later modern human sites and still in use today by high-end leather workers. This tool, called a lissoir or smoother, is shaped from deer ribs and has a polished tip that, when pushed against a hide, creates softer, burnished and more water resistant leather. The bone tool is still used today by leather workers some 50 thousand years after the Neandertals and the first anatomically modern humans in Europe.
During an individual’s lifetime the biomechanical requirements on his or her teeth change
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, have conducted stress analyses on gorilla teeth of differing wear stages. Their findings show that different features of the occlusal surface antagonize tensile stresses in the tooth to tooth contact during the chewing process. They further show that tooth wear, with its loss of dental tissue and reduction of occlusal relief decreases tensile stresses in the tooth. The price, however, is that food processing becomes less effective. Thus, when the condition of the occlusal surface changes during an individual’s lifetime due to tooth wear, the biomechanical requirements on the existing dental material change as well – an evolutionary compromise for longer tooth preservation.
In bonobos, attractive females are more likely to win conflicts against males
Female social dominance over males is rare among mammal species. Bonobos, one of our closest living relatives, are known for females holding relatively high social statuses when compared to males; though this is puzzling as the males are often bigger and stronger than the females. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now analyzed the dominance relations between male and female wild bonobos and took particular interest in the high social status ranking of some females. The result: It is not female alliances that help females win conflicts. The context of the conflict does not seem to be relevant for its outcome either. Instead, the attractiveness of females plays an important role. If females display sexually attractive attributes, including sexual swellings, they win conflicts with males more easily, with the males behaving in a less aggressive way.
Archaeologists find traces of flowering plants in grave linings that have been dated to 13,700-11,700 BP
Plants in particular flowers are a familiar feature of human ritual in many cultures. Unfortunately understanding the early use of flowers is immensely challenging due to the paucity of remains. Robert Power of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has worked as part of a multidisciplinary team in a study published in PNAS led by Dani Nadel at the University of Haifa to understand their use at Raqefet Cave on Mount Carmel in Israel where unusual preservation conditions have allowed the survival of traces of their use.
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
Being mimicked increases pro-social behaviour in adults, yet little is known about its social effect on children. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated whether the fact of being imitated had an influence on infants’ pro-social behaviour and on young children’s trust in another person. In one study, eighteen-month-old infants were either mimicked or not by an experimenter. Later, when this experimenter or a different adult needed help, infants who had been imitated were more likely to help spontaneously. In a second study, five- to six-year-olds interacted with one experimenter who mimicked their choices and another experimenter who made independent choices. The researchers found that the children were more likely to trust the preferences and factual claims of the experimenter who had mimicked them before. These results demonstrate that already in infancy mimicry promotes a general pro-social orientation toward others and that in young children imitation is a powerful means of social influence in development.
Leipzig researchers have published new data on volcanic ash, known as the “Campanian Ignimbrite”, which covered wide parts of Europe
About 40,000 years ago Europe suffered a major volcanic eruption in the Phlegrean Fields west of Naples. Deposits known as "Campanian Ignimbrite" are still present in the region and bear witness to the event. The ash that was flung into the upper atmosphere from the CI eruption was distributed far across Eastern Europe. Computer models had predicted the ash layers in Eastern Europe to be between five and ten centimetres thick. New data from Urluia, Romania, however, demonstrates that CI ash deposits in the Lower Danube steppe are up to ten times thicker than previously thought. The eruption of the super volcano, which must have been substantially more explosive than previously modelled, impacted human evolution at a critical time - corresponding with the arrival into Europe of modern humans, and the demise of Neanderthals.
Researchers found that adult wild chimpanzees have developed a certain immunity against malaria parasites
Wild great apes are widely infected with malaria parasites. Yet, nothing is known about the biology of these infections in the wild. Using faecal samples collected from wild chimpanzees, an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin has now investigated the effect of the animals’ age on malaria parasite detection rates. The data show a strong association between age and malaria parasite positivity, with significantly lower detection rates in adult chimpanzees. This suggests that, as in humans, individuals reaching adulthood have mounted an effective protective immunity against malaria parasites.
"Chimpanzee" is not a documentary film but still provides fascinating facts about our closest relatives
Next week the Disneynature film "Chimpanzee" opens in German cinemas. An article that appeared in this week's issue of DER SPIEGEL is making waves and, for this reason, we would like to take this opportunity to make the following clear: while this film is not a documentary, its contents are not made up. The story is based on the results of more than 30 years of pain-staking research on these and other extremely exciting aspects of the lives of our closest living relatives. For practical reasons the filmmakers were not always able to capture the story in exact sequence but this is common with wildlife films.
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.
Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt together with dental technicians have digitally analysed modern human teeth using an engineering approach, finite element method, to evaluate the biomechanical behaviour of teeth under realistic loading. They report results, showing that very widespread loss of dental material (enamel and dentine) at the base of the crown might be linked to the reduction of tooth wear in our industrialised societies.
Chimpanzees use Botanical Skills to Discover Fruit
Fruit-eating animals are known to use their spatial memory to relocate fruit, yet, it is unclear how they manage to find fruit in the first place. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now investigated which strategies chimpanzees in the Taï National Park in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, use in order to find fruit in the rain forest. The result: Chimpanzees know that trees of certain species produce fruit simultaneously and use this botanical knowledge during their daily search for fruit.
Max Planck researchers find stable isotope evidence of meat eating and hunting specialization in adult male chimpanzees
Observations of hunting and meat eating in our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, suggest that regular inclusion of meat in the diet is not a characteristic unique to Homo. Wild chimpanzees are known to consume vertebrate meat, but its actual dietary contribution is often unknown. Constraints on continual direct observation throughout the entire hunting season mean that behavioural observations are limited in their ability to accurately quantify meat consumption. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now compared stable isotope data of wild chimpanzee hair keratin and bone collagen with behavioural observations and found that, in chimpanzees, hunting and meat-eating is male-dominated. These new results support previous behavioural observations of chimpanzees in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire.
Remember your first summer camp, meeting a new group of children for the first time? Who would you want to be friends with? Who would you share your breakfast with? One answer is: the ones who speak the same way you do. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have found that accent is an early developing guide to children’s social preferences. The study by Emma Cohen and Daniel Haun was published in Evolution and Human Behavior on March 14.
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, has completed the genome sequence of a Neandertal and makes the entire sequence available to the scientific community today.
In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues presented the first draft version of the Neandertal genome from data collected from three bones found in a cave in Croatia. They have now used a toe bone excavated in 2010 in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia to generate a high-quality genome from a single Neandertal individual.
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
Svante Pääbo is the recipient of the 2013 Genetics Prize of The Gruber Foundation. Pääbo is being honoured with this prestigious international award for his pioneering research in the field of evolutionary genetics. He is considered the founder of molecular paleontology, the application of genetics to the study of prehistoric life. The award will be presented to Pääbo on April 16 at the International Congress of Genetics conference in Singapore, where he will also deliver a lecture entitled "Archaic Genomics."
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
Animals which maintain cooperative relationships show gains in longevity and offspring survival. However, little is known about the cognitive or hormonal mechanisms involved in cooperation. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now found that cooperative relationships are facilitated by an endocrinological mechanism involving the hormone oxytocin, even when these are between non-kin. They collected urine samples of 33 chimpanzees from Budongo Forest, Uganda, and measured their urinary oxytocin levels after single episodes of a specific cooperative behaviour, mutual grooming. The result: Oxytocin levels were higher after grooming with cooperation partners compared with non-cooperation partners or after no grooming, regardless of genetic relatedness or sexual interest. This suggests that in chimpanzees oxytocin, which acts directly on neural reward and social memory systems, plays a key role maintaining social relations beyond genetic ties and in keeping track of social interactions with multiple individuals over time.
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
An international team of researchers including Svante Pääbo and Qiaomei Fu of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced nuclear and mitochondrial DNA that had been extracted from the leg of an early modern human from Tianyuan Cave near Beijing, China. Analyses of this individual's DNA showed that the Tianyuan human shared a common origin with the ancestors of many present-day Asians and Native Americans. In addition, the researchers found that the proportion of Neanderthal and Denisovan-DNA in this early modern human is not higher than in people living in this region nowadays.
Ancient Khoisan lineages survive in contemporary Bantu groups
An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the CNRS in Lyon, France, have investigated the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA of 500 individuals from southern Africa speaking different Khoisan and Bantu languages. Their results demonstrate that Khoisan foragers were genetically more diverse than previously known. Divergent mtDNA lineages from indigenous Khoisan groups were incorporated into the genepool of the immigrating Bantu-speaking agriculturalists through admixture, and have thus survived until the present day, although the Khoisan-speaking source populations themselves have become extinct.
Long before Europeans settled in Australia humans had migrated from the Indian subcontinent to Australia and mixed with Australian aborigines
Australia is thought to have remained largely isolated between its initial colonization around 40,000 years ago and the arrival of Europeans in the late 1800s. A study led by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, now finds evidence of substantial gene flow between Indian populations and Australia about 4,000 years ago. In addition, the researchers found a common origin for Australian, New Guinean and the Philippine Mamanwa populations. These populations followed an early southern migration route out of Africa, while other populations settled in the region only at a later date.
Study questions informative value of dental microwear for dietary habits of extinct species
Dental microwear, the pattern of tiny marks on worn tooth surfaces, is an important basis for understanding the diets of fossil mammals, including those of our own lineage. Now nanoscale research by an international multidisciplinary group that included members of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has unraveled some of its causes. It turns out that quartz dust is the major culprit in wearing away tooth enamel. Silica phytoliths, particles produced by plants, just rub enamel, and thus have a minor effect on its surface. The results suggest that scientists will have to revise what microwear can tell us about diets, and suggest that environmental factors like droughts and dust storms may have had a large effect on the longevity of teeth. In particular, East African hominins may have suffered during dust storms, particularly from particles carried in by seasonal winds from the Arabian peninsula.
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.
It has long been debated whether the Châtelperronian (CP), a transitional industry from central and southwestern France and northern Spain, was manufactured by Neanderthals or modern humans. An international team of researchers led by Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now analyzed bone samples from two sites in France, Grotte du Renne and Saint Césaire, and radiocarbon-dated them using an accelerator mass spectrometer. The new high precision dates show that the CP bone tools and body ornaments were produced by Neanderthals. However since these late Neanderthals only manufactured CP body ornaments after modern humans arrived in neighboring regions, the study suggests that cultural diffusion might have taken place between modern humans and Neanderthals.
Genetics reveals the shared history of southern and eastern African hunter-gatherers
Populations in southern Africa that speak non-Bantu languages characterized by click consonants fall into two major groups that share a genetic link with eastern African hunter-gatherers. Scientists have long debated whether populations in eastern and southern Africa that speak non-Bantu languages with click consonants descend from a common ancestor. The most comprehensive survey of genetic diversity in these populations to date provides strong evidence for a genetic link between eastern and southern Africa. The research also documents genetic differentiation between forager populations living in the northwestern and southeastern Kalahari that began up to 30,000 years ago. Furthermore, there is a genetic signature of population mixture between these indigenous populations and migrants from the north beginning 1,200 years ago.
The first continent-wide perspective of the distribution of African ape habitat shows dramatic declines in recent years.
Over the last 30 years, great ape numbers have plummeted across Africa, due to increasing rates of commercial hunting, habitat destruction, and disease. A continent-wide, data-based overview of their habitats is now possible, as the results of surveys from over 60 sites have been combined through the IUCN/SSC A.P.E.S. (Ape Populations, Environments and Surveys) database (http://apes.eva.mpg.de). This information is crucial to inform global policy and donor decisions, and to predict and mitigate current and emerging threats. These threats include habitat destruction, large-scale infrastructure developments, resource exploitation projects, intensifying hunting pressure and impacts of climate change.
Max Planck researchers describe Denisovan genome, illuminating the relationships between Denisovans and present-day humans
The analyses of an international team of researchers led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that the genetic variation of Denisovans was extremely low, suggesting that although they were present in large parts of Asia, their population was never large for long periods of time. In addition, a comprehensive list documents the genetic changes that set apart modern humans from their archaic relatives. Some of these changes concern genes that are associated with brain function or nervous system development.
Researchers have revealed that chimpanzees are not only capable of learning from one another, but also use this social information to form and maintain local traditions. A research collaboration between the Gonzaga University (Spokane, Washington, USA) and the Max Planck Institutes (Nijmegen, Leipzig) shows that the way in which chimpanzees groom each other depends on the community to which they belong. Specifically, it is the unique handclasp grooming behaviour that reveals this local difference. The study was reported in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B on August 29.
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.
For the first time, researchers have found plant remains in the two-million-year-old dental plaque of ancient hominins’ teeth
The first direct evidence of what our earliest ancestors actually ate has been discovered due to a two-million-year-old mishap that befell two early members of the human family tree. Amanda Henry of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and co-workers determined the diet of these hominins by looking at patterns of dental wear and analysing tiny plant fragments on their teeth. The authors also consider carbon-isotope data derived from the skeletons, which can indicate the types of carbon source that were eaten. Notably, bark and woody tissues were found in the teeth of the two individuals; this has not been documented previously for hominins. The findings indicate that Australopithecus sediba had a diet that is somewhat unexpected compared with the diets of similarly aged early African hominins. The study was led by Professor Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Max Planck scientists have completed the genome of the bonobo - the final great ape to be sequenced
In a project led by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, an international team of scientists has completed the sequencing and analysis of the genome of the last great ape, the bonobo. Bonobos, which together with chimpanzees are the closest living relatives of humans, are known for their peaceful, playful and sexual behaviour that contrasts with the more aggressive behaviour of chimpanzees. The genome sequence provides insights into the evolutionary relationships between the great apes and may help us to understand the genetic basis of these traits.
Despite similar ecological conditions neighboring chimpanzee groups use different hammers to crack nuts
Culture has long been proposed to be a distinguishing feature of the human species. However, an increasing amount of evidence from the field has shown that in several animals, differences in behaviors between populations actually reflect the presence of culture in these species. These studies have mainly come from populations that live far apart from each other which make it difficult to exclude ecological or genetic differences as being the underlying reasons for the observed behavioral differences. Now for the first time, cultural differences between directly neighboring chimpanzee groups have been found in the wild and are reported by Lydia Luncz, Roger Mundry and Christophe Boesch of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Animals get stressed too: A new study on bonobos, one of our closest living relatives, reveals that life in the rainforest can be stressful
The results of the research show that adult bonobo males are more stressed when they are close to attractive females (those close to their ovulatory period). Because high ranking males are the ones that are more often in proximity to these females, they exhibit higher levels of stress than low ranking males. Behavioural observation by Martin Surbeck and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, indicate that the males feed less if they are close to attractive females and are also at a higher risk of being victims of aggression from other group members.
The Disneynature production “Chimpanzee” provides us with a fascinating insight into the life of our next closest relatives, chimpanzees
Oscar, Freddy and Isha star in Disneynature’s CHIMPANZEE, which opened in theaters through North America on Friday, April 20th. This marks the first time ever that a feature film was shot entirely in the wild. CHIMPANZEE includes spectacular footage of the chimpanzees living in Taï National Park, Côte d’Ivoire, and in the Ngogo area of Kibale National Park, Uganda. The three main stars, Oscar, Freddy, and Isha, belong to the chimpanzee groups that Max Planck Director Christophe Boesch and his team have been studying for the last 33 years in Côte d’Ivoire.
In humans and chimpanzees knowledge is transmitted within a group by means of a majority principle
The transmission of knowledge to the next generation is a key feature of human evolution. In particular, humans tend to copy behaviour that is demonstrated by many other individuals. Chimpanzees and orangutans, two of our closest living relatives, also socially pass on traditional behaviour and culture from one generation to another. Whether and how this process resembles the human one is still largely unknown. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that chimpanzees are more likely to copy an action performed by a large number of individuals than an action that was performed more frequently. Two-year old children consider both the number of individuals and the frequency of the action demonstrated. For orangutans, however, none of the factors play a role.
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.
In 2010, Svante Pääbo and his colleagues presented a draft version of the genome from a small fragment of a human finger bone discovered in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. The DNA sequences showed that this individual came from a previously unknown group of extinct humans that have become known as Denisovans. Together with their sister group the Neandertals, Denisovans are the closest extinct relatives of currently living humans.
Dominant males invest in friendly relationships with females
Mate competition by males over females is common in many animal species. During mating season male testosterone levels rise, resulting in an increase in aggressive behavior and masculine features. Male bonobos, however, invest much more into friendly relationships with females. Elevated testosterone and aggression levels would collide with this increased tendency towards forming pair-relationships.
Foundation of the Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot/Israel
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 will be signing the foundation treaty for the new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in Rehovot.
Research suggests that great apes are capable of calculating the odds before taking risks.
Chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos make more sophisticated decisions than was previously thought. Great apes weigh their chances of success, based on what they know and the likelihood to succeed when guessing, according to a study of MPI researcher Daniel Haun, published on December 21 in the online journal PLoS ONE. The findings may provide insight into human decision-making as well.
Wild chimpanzees monitor the information available to other chimpanzees and inform their ignorant group members of danger
Many animals produce alarm calls to predators, and do this more often when kin or mates are present than other audience members. So far, however, there has been no evidence that they take the other group members’ knowledge state into account. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and the University of St. Andrews, Great Britain, set up a study with wild chimpanzees in Uganda and found that chimpanzees were more likely to alarm call to a snake in the presence of unaware than in the presence of aware group members, suggesting that they recognize knowledge and ignorance in others. Furthermore, to share new information with others by means of communication represents a crucial stage in the evolution of language. This study thus suggests that this stage was already present when our common ancestor split off from chimps 6 million years ago.
The evolution of the brain in fossil hominins reveals improved olfactory functions in Homo sapiens
Differences in the temporal lobes and olfactory bulbs suggest a combined use of brain functions related to cognition and olfaction. This is the result of a study conducted by researchers of the Spanish Natural Science Museum (CSIC) in Madrid and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. (Nature Communications, December 13, 2011).
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.
Recent studies show that the populations of African great apes are rapidly decreasing. Many areas where apes occur are scarcely managed and weakly protected. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have carried out an international collaborative project together with field researchers and park managers. The project aim was to evaluate how the lack of conservation effort influences the extinction risk of African great apes. Records were collected over the last 20 years from 109 resource management areas. The researchers found that the long-term presence of local and international non-governmental organization support and of law enforcement guards are the most crucial factors affecting ape survival, and that they have a clear measurable impact. Conversely, national development, often cited as a driver of conservation success, and high human population density had a negative impact on the likelihood of ape survival.
An international consortium develops a computerized method for dating when prehistoric languages were spoken
A computerized method for determining when prehistoric languages were spoken has been developed by an international group of scholars known as the ASJP (Automated Similarity Judgment Program) consortium. ASJP is anchored in the Linguistics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The method is described in the most recent issue of Current Anthropology.
Children as young as four years of age conform their public opinion to the majority
Adults and adolescents often adjust their behaviour and opinions to peer groups, even when they themselves know better. Researchers from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, Netherlands, studied this phenomenon in four-year-olds and found that preschool children are already subject to peer pressure. In the current study, the researchers found that children conformed their public judgment of a situation to the judgment of a majority of peers in spite better knowledge. (Child Development, October 25, 2011)
Humans like to work together in solving tasks - chimps don't
Recent studies have shown that chimpanzees possess many of the cognitive prerequisites necessary for humanlike collaboration. Cognitive abilities, however, might not be all that differs between chimpanzees and humans when it comes to cooperation. Researchers from the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the MPI for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that when all else is equal, human children prefer to work together in solving a problem, rather than solve it on their own. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, show no such preference according to a study of 3-year-old German kindergarteners and semi-free ranging chimpanzees, in which the children and chimps could choose between a collaborative and a non-collaboration problem-solving approach.
An international team of researchers studying DNA patterns from modern and archaic humans has uncovered new clues about the movement and intermixing of populations more than 40,000 years ago in Asia.
Using state-of-the-art genome analysis methods, scientists from Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have found that Denisovans – a recently identified group of archaic humans whose DNA was extracted last year from a finger bone excavated in Siberia – contributed DNA not just to present-day New Guineans, but also to aboriginal Australian and Philippine populations.
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.
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.
American developmental psychologist, Dr. Michael Tomasello, has been named as this year’s recipient of the Wiley Prize in Psychology, awarded by the British Academy in partnership with Wiley-Blackwell, the scientific, technical, medical and scholarly publishing business of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (NYSE: JWa, JWb).
Ugandan forest monkeys use fruiting synchrony to find food
An international team of researchers including Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, found that grey-cheeked mangabeys of Kibale National Park, Uganda, were able to use synchronous events of fruit emergence to predict the location of other producing trees. This is evidence for a flexible use of botanical knowledge in non-human primates. (Animal Cognition, Online First™, 21 July 2011)
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. Katharina Hamann with an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Harvard University and the Michigan State University found that sharing in children that young is a pure collaborative phenomenon: when kids received rewards not cooperatively but as a windfall, or worked individually next to one another, they kept the majority of toys for themselves. One of humans’ closest living relatives, chimpanzees, did not show this connection between sharing resources and collaborative efforts. (Nature, 20th July 2011)
Approx. 3 million years ago, females rather than males moved from the groups they were born in to new social groups.
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)
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. An international team of researchers including Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland and Linda Vigilant of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany found that the divergence of Western lowland gorillas and the Critically Endangered Cross River gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) occurred more recently, about 17,800 years ago, during the Pleistocene era (BMC Evolutionary Biology, April 01, 2011).
The above publication by researchers led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) now wins the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The Prize will be awarded in Washington D.C. on Saturday, February 19 at 6:00 p.m.
Composed of more than 4 billion nucleotides, a draft sequence of the Neandertal genome won the 2010 Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The Association's oldest prize, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize annually recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in the Research Articles or Reports sections of the journal Science. A Science paper by Richard E. Green, David Reich, Svante Pääbo, and colleagues will receive the AAAS prize for 2010. It was originally published online on May 7, 2010.
The sequencing of the nuclear genome from an ancient finger bone from a Siberian Cave shows that the cave dwellers were neither Neandertals nor modern humans.
An international team of researchers led by Svante Pääbo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany) has sequenced the nuclear genome from a finger bone of an extinct hominin that is at least 30,000 years old and was excavated by archaeologists from the Russian Academy of Sciences in Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, Russia, in 2008.
Census confirms increase in population of the critically endangered Virunga mountain gorillas
The analysis of a census conducted in March and April 2010 in the Virunga Massif by an international team of conservation groups and researchers, including Martha Robbins of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, confirms a 26.3 % increase in the population of mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, in this area over the last seven years, with a 3.7 % annual growth rate. When the census was conducted, there were a total of 480 mountain gorillas, in 36 groups along with 14 solitary silverback males in the Virunga Massif. Of the 480 mountain gorillas, 352 (73%) are habituated (349 in groups and three solitary males) and 128 are unhabituated (117 in groups and 11 solitary males). The last census conducted in the Virunga Massif was in 2003, when the population was estimated at 380 individuals.
Synchrotron Reveals Human Children Outpaced Neanderthals by Slowing Down
While it may seem like kids grow up too fast, evolutionary anthropologists see things differently. Human childhood is considerably longer than chimpanzees, our closest-living ape relatives. A multinational team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard University and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility found a similar pattern when human kids are compared to Neanderthals. The specialists applied cutting-edge synchrotron X-ray imaging to resolve microscopic growth in 10 young Neanderthal and Homo sapiens fossils and found that despite some overlap, which is common in closely-related species, significant developmental differences exist. Modern humans are the slowest to the finish line, stretching out their maturation, which may have given them a unique evolutionary advantage (PNAS, November 15, 2010).
Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have documented 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 the brain size range of modern humans and Neanderthals 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 that these are differences in the patterns of brain development between humans and Neanderthals during a critical phase for cognitive development.
The advantages of a spatial memory – Mangabey monkeys are less efficient in finding food when they enter a new area
Studying the ability of primates to find food during times when they are exploring new areas can provide important insights into the adaptive value of long-term spatial memory. Researchers Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Rebecca Chancellor of the University of California in Davis, USA, investigated the ranging of a group of mangabey monkeys that had been studied for 6 years in Kibale National Park, Uganda. During their studies the group started exploring a new area and being unfamiliar with the location of their favorite fig trees and places to forage and travel on the ground, the monkeys travelled longer distances per day in the new compared to the old area. The research strongly suggests that when primates move into an area in which they have no experience, their lack of long-term spatial memory of that area can decrease their efficiency in finding food (International Journal of Primatology, September 14, 2010).
High social status and maternal support play an important role in the mating success of male bonobos
Success makes sexy - this does not only apply to human beings, but also to various animals. Male bonobos appear to benefit from this phenomenon as well. A team of researchers led by Gottfried Hohmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology has discovered that the higher up a male bonobo is placed in the social hierarchy, the greater his mating success is with female bonobos. But even males who are not so highly placed are still in with a chance of impressing females. Researchers reported for the first time direct support from mothers to their sons in agonistic conflicts over access to estrous females. Martin Surbeck from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology discovered that the presence of mothers enhances the mating success of their sons and thereby causes mating to be more evenly distributed among the males. As bonobo males remain in their natal group and adult females have the leverage to intervene in male conflicts, maternal support extends into adulthood and potentially affects male reproductive success. (Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 01.09.2010)
New finds from Dikika, Ethiopia, push back the first stone tool use and meatconsumption by almost one million years and provide the first evidence that these behaviours can be attributed to Lucy's species - Australopithecus afarensis.
An international team of researchers, including Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco (USA) and Dr. Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), has discovered evidence that human ancestors were using stone tools and consuming the meat and marrow of large mammals 1 million years earlier than previously documented. While working in the Afar region of Ethiopia, the Dikika Research Project (DRP) found bones bearing unambiguous evidence of stone tool use - cut marks made while carving meat off the bone and percussion marks created while breaking the bones open to extract marrow. 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. The research is reported in the August 12th issue of the journal Nature.
Analysis of the Neandertal genome indicates that, contrary to previous beliefs, humans and Neandertals interbred
The first genome sequence from an extinct human relative is now available. Together with an international research team, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig present an initial draft of the genome sequence of the Neandertal, a human form which died out some 30,000 years ago. Initial analyses of four billion base pairs of Neandertal DNA indicate that Neandertals left their mark in the genomes of some modern humans.
(Science, May 7th 2010)
Max Planck scientists decode the mitochondrial genome of a previously unknown hominin from the mountains of Central Asia
An international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has sequenced ancient mitochondrial DNA from a finger bone found in southern Siberia. The bone is from a previously unknown form of human that lived in the Altai Mountains of Central Asia around 48,000 to 30,000 years ago. This mitochondrial genetic material, passed down through the descendants in the maternal line, is a sign of a new wave of migration out of Africa, one that is distinct from that of Homo erectus, the ancestors of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens (Nature, 24 March 2010).
The current status of the critically endangered mountain gorilla will soon be revealed through a census to determine its population size in the Virunga Volcanoes area that straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda in Eastern and Central Africa.
Max Planck researchers report 18 cases of adoption of orphaned youngsters by group members in Taï forest chimpanzees. Half of the orphans were adopted by males.
In recent years, extended altruism towards unrelated group members has been proposed to be a unique characteristic of human societies. Support for this proposal came from experimental studies with captive chimpanzees. A team of researchers with the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig/Germany) now reports 18 cases of adoption of orphaned youngsters by group members in Taï forest chimpanzees. Half of these orphans were adopted by males and remarkably only one of these proved to be the father. Such adoptions by adults can last for years and imply extensive care towards the orphans. These observations reveal that, under the appropriate socio-ecologic conditions, chimpanzees care for unrelated group members and that altruism is more extensive in wild populations than was suggested by captive studies (PLoS ONE, January 26, 2010).
Study on memory for dance moves discovers substantial cross-cultural diversity in human cognition
If your dancing instructor asked you to step left, you would swiftly comply. But how would you react of he asked you to step South? In a new study, a cross-disciplinary team of the Max Planck Institutes for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen, Netherlands) and Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) found that remembering movements of one's own body varies drastically across human cultures. (Current Biology, December 14, 2009)
In a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, Harriet Over and Malinda Carpenter of Germany’s Max Planck Institute found that priming infants with subtle cues to affiliation increases their tendency to be helpful.
The isotopic analysis of a bone from one of the earliest modern humans in Asia, the 40,000 year old skeleton from Tianyuan Cave in the Zhoukoudian region of China (near Beijing), by an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and Washington University in Saint Louis has shown that this individual was a regular fish consumer (PNAS, 07.07.2009).
More than 20 000 people from all over the world have already signed the Manifesto for Apes and nature (mAn) which was launched on 4 April 2008 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. To collect further signatures for this important conservation project for animals and nature, the initiators of the manifesto including amongst others researchers working with Professor Christophe Boesch from the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology have now published an impressive video clip.
Fossil skull fragment unveiled by Minister Plasterk (The Netherlands) in National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden
For the first time ever, a fossil of a Neanderthal has been discovered in the Netherlands. The skull fragment, over 40,000 years old, with its characteristically thick Neanderthal eyebrow ridge was found off the coast of Zeeland, dredged up from the bottom of the North Sea. Huge quantities of fossil bones have been brought to the surface from this seabed since 1874, however, this is the first time a Neanderthal fossil has been found. The unique discovery was officially unveiled on the 15th of June by Ronald Plasterk (Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science) at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities) in Leiden, where it is on display to the public starting from June 16th.
The virtual reconstruction of a Neanderthal woman’s birth canal reveals insights into the evolution of human child birth.
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 everyone interested in the evolution of humankind (PNAS, April 20th, 2009).
Wild female chimpanzees copulate more frequently with males who share meat with them over long periods of time, according to a study led by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE on April 8, 2009.
Over a period of 10 years an international team of researchers led by Karline Janmaat of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Germany) and Peter M. Waser of Purdue University (USA) have been sharing and analysing ranging data on radio-tracked male and female mangabey monkeys in Kibale National Park, Uganda. They found that unlike predicted in earlier short-term studies, group home ranges drift very little. When monkeys do move into new areas, with the exception of young males, they do so in the company of others. Individuals follow those that are more familiar with the unknown area and may use each other’s reservoir of spatial knowledge. (International Journal of Primatology, March 16, 2009).
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and 454 Life Sciences Corporation have completed a draft sequence of the Neanderthal genome
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, Germany, and the 454 Life Sciences Corporation, in Branford, Connecticut, will announce on 12 February during the 2009 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and at a simultaneous European press briefing that they have completed a first draft version of the Neanderthal genome. The project, made possible by financing from the Max Planck Society, is directed by Prof. Svante Pääbo, Director of the Institute’s Department of Evolutionary Anthropology. Pääbo and his colleagues have sequenced more than one billion DNA fragments extracted from three Croatian Neanderthal fossils, using novel methods developed for this project. The Neanderthal genome sequence will clarify the evolutionary relationship between humans and Neanderthals as well as help identify those genetic changes that enabled modern humans to leave Africa and rapidly spread around the world, starting around 100,000 years ago.
Animal species that sleep for longer do not suffer as much from parasite infestation and have a greater concentration of immune cells in their blood according to a study by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, Durham University in the UK and
the US-American Boston University School of Medicine (BMC Evolutionary Biology, January 9, 2009).