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