Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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Street view of the Institute

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (German: Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie) is a research institute based in Leipzig, Germany, founded in 1997. It is part of the Max Planck Society network.

The institute comprises five departments (Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Evolutionary Genetics, Human Evolution, Primatology and Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture) and several Junior Scientist Groups, and currently employs about three hundred and thirty people. The former Department of Linguistics, which ran from 1998 to 2015, was closed in May 2015, upon the retirement of its director, Bernard Comrie.

Well-known scientists currently based at the institute include Svante Pääbo (genetics), Michael Tomasello (psychology), Christophe Boesch (primatology), Jean-Jacques Hublin (evolution) and Richard McElreath (evolutionary ecology).

Neanderthal genome[edit]

In July 2006, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and 454 Life Sciences announced that they would be sequencing the Neanderthal genome. Results of the study were published in the May 2010 journal Science detailing an initial draft of the Neanderthal genome based on the analysis of four billion base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. It was thought that a comparison of the Neanderthal genome and human genome would expand our understanding of Neanderthals, as well as the evolution of humans and human brains.[1] The study determined that some mixture of genes occurred between Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans and presented evidence that elements of their genome remain in that of non-African modern humans.[2][3]

DNA researcher Svante Pääbo tested more than 70 Neanderthal specimens and found only one that had enough DNA to sample. Preliminary DNA sequencing from a 38,000-year-old bone fragment from a femur found in 1980 at Vindija Cave in Croatia shows that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens share about 99.5% of their DNA. It is believed that the two species shared a common ancestor about 500,000 years ago. Nature has calculated the species diverged about 516,000 years ago, whereas fossil records show a time of about 400,000 years ago. From DNA records, scientists hope to confirm or deny the theory that there was interbreeding between the species.[4]

World Atlas of Language Structures[edit]

In 2005, the World Atlas of Language Structures, a project of the institute's former Department of Linguistics, was published. The Atlas consists of over 140 maps, each displaying a particular language feature – for example order of adjective and noun – for between 120 and 1370 languages of the world. In 2008 the Atlas was also published online and the underlying database made freely available.

Early childhood language acquisition[edit]

Researchers at the institute have developed a computer model analyzing early toddler conversations to predict the structure of later conversations. They showed that toddlers develop their own individual rules for speaking with slots into which they could put certain kinds of words. The rules inferred from toddler speech were better predictors of subsequent speech than traditional grammars.[5]


  1. ^ Moulson, Geir. "Neanderthal genome project launches". Associated Press. Retrieved 2006-08-22.  External link in |work= (help)
  2. ^ Green RE, Krause J, Briggs AW, et al. (May 2010). "A draft sequence of the Neandertal genome" (PDF). Science. 328 (5979): 710–22. doi:10.1126/science.1188021. PMID 20448178. 
  3. ^ The Neanderthal in Us
  4. ^ Wade, Nicholas (November 15, 2006). "New Machine Sheds Light on DNA of Neanderthals". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Toddlers develop individualized rules for grammar", October 5, 2009, PhysOrg

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°19′14″N 12°23′40″E / 51.32056°N 12.39444°E / 51.32056; 12.39444