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Research Focus

Research Topics

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

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 Origins, led by Tracy Kivell, combines new fossil and archaeological discoveries with an interdisciplinary approach to reconstructing how our fossil relatives interacted with their past environments. Our goal is to uncover the emergence and evolution of the human lineage through fieldwork and analysis, studying the fossils of our early relatives and those of African apes. We aim to reconstruct the key behaviours that define humans by integrating high-resolution imaging, quantitative analyses of anatomy, experimental biomechanics and study of living primates.

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.

Led by Jenny Tung, the Department of Primate Behavior and Evolution unifies organismal perspectives on behavior, life history and evolution with molecular and genetic approaches in order to gain previously unobtainable insights. Its mission is to uncover the patterns and processes that guide primate evolution, produce applied knowledge with relevance to human health and primate conservation, and build capacity for primate research everywhere.