09.07.2020 - 16:49
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Research Focus

Research Topics

Linguistic and Cultural Evolution (Gray)
Comparative Cultural Psychology (Haun)
Human Evolution (Hublin)
Archaeogenetics (Krause)
Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture (McElreath)
Evolutionary Genetics (Pääbo)

Detailed Description of the Institute

The Institute unites scientists with various backgrounds whose aim is to investigate the history of humankind from an interdisciplinary perspective with the help of comparative analyses of genes, cultures, cognitive abilities, languages and social systems of past and present human populations as well as those of primates closely related to human beings.


The Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, led by Russell Gray, aims to answer big picture questions about human history. Its focus is on describing and explaining the major patterns of linguistic and cultural variation across the globe. To achieve this the department develops novel language documentation methods, global linguistic and cultural databases, and analyses using evolutionary theories and computational methods. This thoroughly interdisciplinary approach enables researchers at the department to combine the quantitative rigour of the natural sciences while still utilising the insights that only come from maintaining close contact with the primary linguistic and cultural data.


Led by Daniel Haun, the Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology combines approaches from developmental, cross-cultural and comparative psychology, to study uniquely human cultural diversity and the universal cognitive mechanisms that enable and constrain it.


The Department of Human Evolution, led by Jean-Jacques Hublin, primarily studies fossil hominids and aims at reconstructing their biology, behavior and cultural evolution. The department is interdisciplinary with three areas represented: Palaeoanthropologists, who study fossil material with a special emphasize on the use of 3D imaging to assess phylogenetic reconstructions, brain development and analysis of the growth processes. Archaeological scientists, who undertake biochemical analyses of fossils to study dietary adaptations and migrations, as well as dating the ages of sites and fossils. And, Palaeolithic archaeologists who study the cultural adaptation of hominids to their environment. The three groups are involved in the development of international field projects.


Led by Johannes Krause, the Department of Archaeogenetics utilizes the recent advances in molecular approaches on biomolecules, such as stable isotope research and genome wide DNA sequencing, to uncover an entirely new spectrum of information that can be retrieved from sample repositories such as anthropological and archaeological collections. It is now possible to obtain detailed information about genetic relationships, geographical origin, selective processes or genetic structure of historical and prehistorical human, plant, animal or even pathogen populations using only miniscule samples.


Led by Richard McElreath, the Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture investigates the role of culture in human evolution and adaptation. The evolution of fancy social learning in humans accounts for both the nature of human adaptation and the extraordinary scale and variety of human societies. The integration of ethnographic fieldwork with mathematical models and advanced quantitative methods is the department's methodological focus.


Led by Svante Pääbo, the Department of Evolutionary Genetics studies the genetic history of humans, apes and other organisms. The scientists are interested both in the forces that affect the genome directly, such as mutation and recombination, and in the effects of selection and population history.