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


May 27, 2020: In chimpanzees, females contribute to the protection of the territory
© Liran Samuni

Female chimpanzees are also important in helping to win and keep a territory

In humans, warfare and territoriality seem to be a male "business". Chimpanzees, with whom we share this propensity for out-group hostility and territoriality, are thought to follow the same gender difference. This vision may be too simplistic, as suggested by an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. They extensively studied several neighboring groups of western chimpanzees and their findings reveal that females and even the entire group may play a more important role in between-group competition than previously thought. They found that even though adult males seem important in territory increase, territory maintenance and competitive advantage over neighbors act through the entire group in this population of chimpanzees in the Taï National Park.

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May 26, 2020: Women with Neandertal gene give birth to more children
© Vadim Guzhva, 123RF Licence

Neandertal progesterone receptor has a favourable effect on fertility

One in three women in Europe inherited the receptor for progesterone from Neandertals – a gene variant associated with increased fertility, fewer bleedings during early pregnancy and fewer miscarriages. This is according to a study published in Molecular Biology and Evolution by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

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May 26, 2020: Similar to humans, chimpanzees develop slowly
© Tatiana Bortolato, Taï Chimpanzee Project

Chimpanzees need more than five years to acquire key skills

Development is slow in many primates, particularly so in humans, as key skills needed for survival and successful reproduction have to be acquired. In one of human’s closest living relatives, the chimpanzee, there is surprisingly little data on developmental processes. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have now systematically investigated developmental milestones in wild chimpanzees of the Taï National Park (Ivory Coast) and found that they also develop slowly, requiring more than five years to reach key motor, communication and social milestones. This timeframe is similar to humans, suggesting slow maturation of the brain.

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May 25, 2020: Cultural diversity in chimpanzees
© ANPN Gabon

Chimpanzee groups each have their own unique termite fishing cultures

The transmission of cultures from generation-to-generation is only found in a few species besides humans. Chimpanzees are one such species and exhibit a large diversity of cultural and tool use behaviours. Although these behaviours have been well documented at a handful of long term research sites, the true cultural repertoire of chimpanzees across populations is still poorly understood. To better understand this diversity, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, initiated the ‘Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee’ (PanAf) in 2010. Using a standardized protocol, researchers set up camera traps, collected samples and recorded ecological data at over 40 temporary and long-term research sites across Africa.

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May 11, 2020: The oldest Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens in Europe
© Tsenka Tsanova, Licence: CC-BY-SA 2.0

Major cultural transition in Europe took place earlier than previously thought

An international research team reports new Homo sapiens fossils from the site of Bacho Kiro Cave in Bulgaria. These fossils are directly dated to approximately 45,000 years ago and in direct association with stone tools, the remains of hunted animals, bone tools, and personal ornaments. The new discoveries document the earliest known Upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens and push back in time the start of this major cultural transition in Europe. Their stone tools unearthed at the site link Bacho Kiro Cave to finds across Eurasia as far east as Mongolia.

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Original publication (Hublin et al.)

Original publication (Fewlass et al.)

April 29, 2020: Study reveals rich genetic diversity of Vietnam
© hanoiphotography (123RF Licence)

Researchers genotyped more than 20 ethnic groups in Vietnam, encompassing all five major language families in Mainland Southeast Asia

The genetic diversity of Vietnam has remained relatively unexplored and previous studies suggested a largely indigenous origin of the Vietnamese. A new study led by Dang Liu and Mark Stoneking from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, with colleagues from the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, found evidence for extensive contact, over different time periods, between Vietnamese and other groups.

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April 22, 2020: Neandertals had older mothers and younger fathers
© Alexey Stiop, 123RF Licence

Researchers analyzed the genomes of more than 27.000 Icelanders to find out which parts of our genomes contain Neandertal DNA

When the ancestors of modern humans left Africa 50,000 years ago they met the Neandertals. In this encounter, the Neandertal population contributed around two percent of the genome to present day non-African populations. A collaboration of scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark, deCODE Genetics in Iceland, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have conducted the most comprehensive study to date using data obtained from 27,566 Icelanders, to figure out which parts of our genomes contain Neandertal DNA and what role it plays in modern humans.

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April 16, 2020: "In my opinion, 'social distancing’ is the wrong term"
© M. Linton

For many weeks now, social interactions have been prohibited in many countries, which has affected many people. Roman Wittig of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, has been looking into the effects of social contacts on the health of chimpanzees, and some of his findings apply equally to humans. In this interview, he explains why he prefers to speak in terms of "spatial” rather than “social” distancing, and how virtual (online) meetings can replace real meetings to a certain extent.

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April 02, 2020: Multiple hominin genera were present in South Africa two million years ago
© La Trobe University

New fossils indicate that Homo erectus existed earlier than previously thought, at a time when also Australopithecus and Paranthropus were around close-by

In a new paper published in Science this week, an international team of scientists including a researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig described, dated and contextualized new hominin fossils from Drimolen Main Quarry in South Africa. A two-million-year-old partial neurocranium shows that Homo erectus existed 100,000 to 200,000 years earlier than thought and shared the landscape in this region of South Africa with two other types of hominins – Australopithecus sediba and Paranthropus robustus.

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April 01, 2020: Lucy had an ape-like brain
© Philipp Gunz, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Three million year old brain imprints show that Australopithecus afarensis infants may have had a long dependence on caregivers

A new study led by paleoanthropologists Philipp Gunz and Simon Neubauer from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, reveals that Lucy’s species Australopithecus afarensis had an ape-like brain. However, the protracted brain growth suggests that – as is the case in humans – infants may have had a long dependence on caregivers.

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March 30, 2020: Human ancestors may have regularly climbed trees
© Matthew Skinner

A new study has found evidence that human ancestors as recent as two million years ago may have regularly climbed trees

Walking on two legs has long been a defining feature to differentiate modern humans, as well as extinct species on our lineage, from our closest living ape relatives: chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. This new research, based on analysis of fossil leg bones, provides evidence that a hominin species - believed to be either Paranthropus robustus or early Homo - regularly adopted highly flexed hip joints; a posture that in other non-human apes is associated with climbing trees.

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February 17, 2020: Reconstructing the diet of fossil vertebrates
© Nicolas Bourgon

The ratio of special zinc isotopes in dental enamel provides information about the diet of mammals in prehistoric times

Paleodietary studies of the fossil record are impeded by a lack of reliable and unequivocal tracers, currently making it impossible to determine the exact timing of dietary changes or, often, even the species involved. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz have now tested a new method, the isotope analysis of zinc isotopes from the tooth enamel of fossil mammals. They found this method to be well suited to expand our knowledge about the diets of fossil humans and other Pleistocene mammals. The method proves especially useful when it comes to differentiating whether prehistoric mammals had mainly animal or plant based food on the menu.

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February 14, 2020: Researchers were not right about left brains
© Simon Neubauer, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Brain imprints on cranial bones from great apes and humans refute the long-held notion that the human pattern of brain asymmetry is unique

The left and right side of the brain are involved in different tasks. This functional lateralization and associated brain asymmetry are well documented in humans, but little is known about brain asymmetry in our closest living relatives, the great apes. Using endocasts (imprints of the brain on cranial bones), scientists now challenge the long-held notion that the human pattern of brain asymmetry is unique. They found the same asymmetry pattern in chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. However, humans were the most variable in this pattern. This suggests that lateralized, uniquely human cognitive abilities, such as language, evolved by adapting a presumably ancestral asymmetry pattern.

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February 06, 2020: Japan Prize 2020 goes to Svante Pääbo
© Karsten Möbius

Geneticist Svante Pääbo honoured for his work into human origins

Svante Pääbo, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, is the founder of palaeogenetics, a research discipline concerned with the analysis of genetic samples from fossils and prehistoric finds. Which of the genetic changes that occurred in the course of evolutionary history make up modern man is what Pääbo studies by comparing the DNA sequences of modern-day humans, Neanderthals and other human ancestors. His groundbreaking research has now earned him the Japan Prize, which is endowed with mit 50 million Yen (approx. 490,000 euros).

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January 07, 2020: The growing pains of orphan chimpanzees
© Liran Samuni

Mothers may be shaping pre-adult growth and offspring muscle mass even without direct provisioning

Like humans, young chimpanzees associate with their mothers all the way into adulthood. Unlike in humans, offspring no longer depend on maternal food sharing beyond the weaning age. Therefore, the reasons for and consequences of these years of post-weaning mother-offspring associations are unclear. Using long-term behavioural and hormonal data from wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest, Côte d’Ivoire, researchers from the Taï Chimpanzee Project at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, have revealed that mothers may be shaping pre-adult growth and offspring muscle mass even without direct provisioning. We compared growth of young chimpanzees with a mother until adulthood compared to those who had experienced maternal loss after weaning.

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January 03, 2020: Less offspring due to territorial conflicts
© Liran Samuni

Female chimpanzees’ reproductive success decreases in times of strong territorial conflict with other groups

Territorial conflicts can turn violent in humans and chimpanzees, two extremely territorial species. An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, has studied the effects of territoriality on female reproductive success in wild Western chimpanzees and found that high neighbor pressure at times when females typically reproduce can lead to reproductive delays with longer intervals between births. Having many males in a group, however, is of advantage and speeds up reproduction.

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