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News/Press releases

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


July 11, 2018: Primates adjust grooming to their social environment
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology/ A. Mielke

Not only the attractiveness of a potential grooming partner matters to wild chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, their choice also depends on who is observing them

When humans cooperate with others they take their previous experiences with specific individuals into account, as well as their usefulness for carrying out a specific task. Moreover, they consider whether a better candidate is available, and whether the potential cooperation partner is actually reliable. Researcher of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, show that wild chimpanzees and sooty mangabeys, two primate species who live in complex social groups, choose their grooming partners based on a variety of criteria, including their social relationship with them and their potential partner’s dominance rank. In particular, individuals of both species avoided grooming group mates whose friends were among the bystanders, as grooming might be interrupted.

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Original publication

July 11, 2018: Our fractured African roots
© Yasmine Gateau/Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Humans did not stem from a single ancestral population in one region of Africa, as is often claimed. Instead, our African ancestors were diverse in form and culture, and scattered across the entire continent

A scientific consortium led by Dr. Eleanor Scerri, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford and researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, has found that human ancestors were scattered across Africa, and largely kept apart by a combination of diverse habitats and shifting environmental boundaries, such as forests and deserts. Millennia of separation gave rise to a staggering diversity of human forms, whose mixing ultimately shaped our species. Philipp Gunz of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology contributed to this study.

Link to press release (MPI-SHH)

Original publication

June 28, 2018: Chimpanzees start using a new tool-use gesture during an alpha male take over
© TCP/Liran Samuni

Chimpanzee pant hoots are longer and more salient when males combine it with the "leaf clip" gesture

Similar to humans, non-human primates combine gestures, facial expressions, and vocalizations in various ways to communicate effectively. Chimpanzees have a well-described repertoire of both gestural and vocal signals that they use to communicate naturally in the wild, some of which show evidence for cultural variation. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology investigated one such signal, the ‘leaf clip’ gesture, which re-emerged in a wild chimpanzee group during an alpha takeover after being absent for almost two years. Importantly, the gesture was produced only by adult male chimpanzees and immediately preceded their pant hoot vocalizations and was associated with acoustic changes in those calls.

Press release (PDF)

Male chimpanzee leaf clips with pant hoot and drumming (© TCP/Liran Samuni)

Original publication

June 21, 2018: Körber European Science Prize for Svante Pääbo
© Karsten Möbius

The director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig is honoured for his pioneering achievements in the field of paleogenetics

One of Svante Pääbo's most important scientific achievements is the decoding of the Neanderthal genome. His work has revolutionized our understanding of the evolutionary history of modern man, according to the jury. For example, he has shown that Neanderthals and other extinct hominids have made a significant contribution to the lineage of today's people.

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June 20, 2018: How's that grab you?
© Johanna Eckert

International research team investigates intuitive ability of chimpanzees

For decades, scientists assumed that statistical abilities were closely linked with language abilities and mathematical education. An international team of researchers from the University of Göttingen, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland has now shown that great apes are also intuitive statisticians: They are able to intuitively identify relationships between samples and populations and infer probabilities from them. The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Current Biology.

Link to press release (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

Original publication

June 06, 2018: Bridging the gap between human and animal communication
© Claudia Wascher

Researchers propose new framework to compare human and nonhuman animal turn-taking skills empirically and to shed further light on the evolutionary roots of language

Cooperative turn-taking has been suggested as an ancient mechanism of the language system bridging the existing gap between the articulate human species and our inarticulate primate cousins. An international team of researchers, including Simone Pika from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Ray Wilkinson from the University of Sheffield, Kobin Kendrick from the University of York in the UK, and Sonja Vernes from the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands now provide an overview of the state of the art and present a new comparative framework on turn-taking to unravel the evolutionary roots of language.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

May 31, 2018: Number of wild mountain gorillas exceeds 1,000
© Martha Robbins, MPI-EVA

The population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Volcanoes has more than doubled in the past three decades

A recent census of the critically endangered mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, conducted in the Virunga Volcanoes found a minimum of 604 individuals. In combination with the 400 individuals living in the only other population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, these new results push the total number of wild mountain gorillas in the world to over 1000. Conducting the census was a large collaborative effort among the park services of the three countries where mountain gorillas live, several non-governmental conservation organizations, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

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May 23, 2018: Chimpanzee calls differ according to context
© Liran Samuni

The need for cooperation may facilitate call diversification

An important question in the evolution of language is what caused animal calls to diversify and to encode different information. Alarm calls are important to warn group members in dangerous situations. But in which contexts are quiet calls used? An international team of scientists led by Catherine Crockford of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has now looked into the causes of call variation in less urgent contexts and found that chimpanzees use the quiet “hoo” call in three different behavioural contexts – alert, travel and rest. The need to stay together in low visibility habitat may have facilitated the evolution of call subtypes, with each call informing receivers how to respond in order for signaller and receiver to stay together.

Press release (PDF)

Original publication

May 15, 2018: Savanna chimpanzees suffer from heat stress
© Erin Wessling

Regulating their body temperature to prevent overheating is a burden for chimpanzees living in the African savanna

When humans started settling in more open and hot habitats during their evolution, they had to adapt to the new environmental conditions and, possibly, to develop protection against overheating and to find ways to consume enough food for their survival. An international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has studied the physiological parameters of savanna and rainforest chimpanzees in two studies and compared their water and energy budgets as well as their stress levels. They found that the stress of maintaining their body temperature is a tremendous burden on chimpanzees living in the savanna.

Link to press release

Original publication (Journal of Human Evolution)

Original publication (Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution)

April 25, 2018: Gorillas and chimpanzees: more than expected, but in danger
© Emma Stokes/WCS

Massive study finds more gorillas and chimpanzees than previously thought, but 80% are outside the safe havens of protected areas

A study estimates that more than 360,000 gorillas and nearly 130,000 chimpanzees still inhabit the forests of Africa approximately – one third and one tenth more than previously thought. However, approximately 80 percent of these great apes live outside protected areas, and gorillas are declining at an annual rate of 2.7 percent. Efforts to stop poaching, illegal logging, and habitat degradation and destruction are key to saving great apes. Conservationists from several organizations and government agencies gathered and analysed data on western lowland gorilla and central chimpanzee populations in the largest ever survey of these great apes that live exclusively in Western equatorial Africa. The field work for the study collectively took 167 person-years, with the researchers walking a distance longer than the north-south axis of Africa. The study was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Among the authors is Hjalmar Kühl from the iDiv research centre and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Link to press release (iDiv)

Original publication

April 25, 2018: Rhythm crucial to drummed speech
© Gaiamedia/ Aexcram

Amazonian Bora people mimic the rhythm of their language for communication over large distances using drums

How can an entire language be mapped onto beats on two drums? To answer this question, an international team of researchers, including Frank Seifart and Sven Grawunder of the former Department of Linguistics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Julien Meyer from the Université Grenoble Alpes in France carried out research into the drummed speech system of the Bora people of the Northwest Amazon. What they found was that the Boras not only reproduce the melody of words and sentences in this endangered language, but also their rhythm. This suggests the crucial role of linguistic rhythm in language processing has been underestimated.

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Original publication

March 26, 2018: New standards for ancient protein studies set forth by multi-national group of researchers
© Franziska Irmer

The new field of palaeoproteomics, harnessing cutting-edge techniques to analyze ancient proteins, is growing quickly. Researchers set out standards and precautions that aim to provide it with a firm foundation.

A team of researchers from institutions at the leading edge of the new field of palaeoproteomics have published guidelines to provide it with a firm foundation. Ancient proteins are used to study everything from extinct species to ancient human diets to the evolution of diseases, and more. The guide, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, aims to support good practices in the field and to ensure the generation of robust, reproducible results. Researcher Frido Welker of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig is a co-lead author of the study.

Link to press release (MPI-SHH)

Original publication

March 23, 2018: Germany was covered by glaciers 450,000 years ago
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

New chronological data for the Middle Pleistocene glacial cycles push back the first glaciation and early human appearance in central Germany by about 100.000 years

Using state-of-the-art dating techniques researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have obtained new chronological data for the timing of the Elsterian and Saalian glacial cycles in central Germany. They found that the first Quaternary glaciation, which covered huge parts of Europe in ice, occurred as early as 450,000 years ago and not – as previously thought – around 350,000 years ago. The researcher further showed that once these glaciers had retreated, the first people appeared in central Germany around 400,000 years ago.

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March 21, 2018: New insights into the late history of Neandertals
© I. Crevecoeur

The genomes of five late Neandertals provide insights into Neandertal population history

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany have sequenced the genomes of five Neandertals that lived between 39,000 and 47,000 years ago, thereby learning about some of the last remaining Neandertals in Eurasia. These late Neandertals are all more closely related to the Neandertals that contributed DNA to modern human ancestors than an older Neandertal from the Altai Mountains that was previously sequenced. Their genomes also provide evidence for a turnover in the Neandertal population towards the end of Neandertal history.

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Original publication

March 15, 2018: Scientists analyse oldest human DNA from Africa
© Abdeljalil Bouzouggar

Researchers find connections from Moroccan Stone Age dwellers to ancient Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African populations

An international team of researchers have sequenced DNA from individuals from Morocco dating to approximately 15,000 years ago. This is the oldest nuclear DNA from Africa ever successfully analyzed. The study, published in Science, shows that the individuals, dating to the Late Stone Age, had a genetic heritage that was in part similar to ancient Levantine Natufians and an uncharacterized sub-Saharan African lineage to which modern West Africans are genetically closest. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology contributed to this study.

Link to press release (MPI-SHH)

Original publication

March 07, 2018: Homo naledi had wear-resistant molars
© MPI f. Evolutionary Anthropology

The enigmatic 300,000-year-old South African hominin ate a lot of dust, grit, or phytoliths, silica ‘plant stones’

Homo naledi’s relatively taller and more wear resistant molars enabled it to have a much more abrasive diet than other South African hominins. This is the result of a recent study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the University of Durham in the United Kingdom and the University of Arkansas in the United States. The researchers conclude that Homo naledi may have eaten a much grittier diet than other South African hominins.

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Original publication

February 22, 2018: Neanderthals thought like we do
© P. Saura

As early as 64,000 years ago Iberian Neanderthals created cave paintings

At least 70,000 years ago Homo sapiens used perforated marine shells and colour pigments. From around 40,000 years ago he created decorative items, jewellery and cave art in Europe. Using Uranium-Thorium dating an international team of researchers co-directed by Dirk Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, now demonstrates that more than 115,000 years ago Neanderthals produced symbolic objects, and that they created cave art more than 20,000 years before modern humans first arrived in Europe. The researchers conclude that our cousins’ cognitive abilities were equivalent to our own.

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Original publication (Science)

Original publication (Science Advances)

February 15, 2018: Dramatic decline of Bornean orangutans
© Serge Wich

Global demand for natural resources has reduced the number of orangutans by more than 100,000 animals in the last 16 years

Nearly 50 years of conservation efforts have been unable to prevent orangutan numbers on Borneo from plummeting. The latest data published by a team from 38 international institutions, led by researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Liverpool John Moores University in Great Britain, suggests that between 1999 and 2015 the total number of Bornean orangutans was reduced by more than 100,000 animals.

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Original publication

Video abstract

January 24, 2018: Modern human brain organization emerged only recently
© MPI EVA/ S. Neubauer, Ph. Gunz (License: CC-BY-SA 4.0)

Homo sapiens fossils demonstrate a gradual evolution of the human brain towards its modern globular shape

In a paper researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reveal how and when the typical globular brain shape of modern humans evolved. Their analyses based on changes in endocranial size and shape in Homo sapiens fossils show that brain organization, and possibly brain function, evolved gradually within our species and unexpectedly reached modern conditions only recently.

Link to press release

Original publication