Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Leipzig, Germany

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Leipzig, Germany

The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology 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 and several Junior Scientist Groups, and currently employs about three hundred and thirty people.Well-known scientists currently based at the institute include Svante Pääbo , Bernard Comrie , Michael Tomasello , Christophe Boesch , and Jean-Jacques Hublin . Wikipedia.

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News Article | May 25, 2017

The hunter-gatherers of Zhokhov Island were a hardy folk. Nine thousand years ago, they survived frigid year-round temperatures in animal-skin tents some 500 kilometers north of what is now the Russian mainland, and they were the only people ever known to hunt large numbers of polar bears without firearms. Now it appears these ancient Arctic dwellers did something even more remarkable: They may have been among the first humans to breed dogs for a particular purpose. An analysis of canine bones from Zhokhov suggests the dogs there were bred to pull sleds, making this the first evidence—by thousands of years—for dog breeding in the archaeological record. “It’s pretty convincing and very exciting,” says Melinda Zeder, an archaezoologist at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. The finding may help explain why people domesticated dogs in the first place: to put them to work. “It fills in a missing piece of the puzzle of early human-dog relationships, and even domestication itself,” adds Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Zhokhov wasn’t always an island. When Stone Age people lived there, and before seas rose, it was connected to Siberia. In addition to polar bears, which were mostly hunted in winter, the Zhokhovians pursued reindeer hundreds of kilometers across vast plains. “They needed a means of transportation,” says Vladimir Pitulko, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg who has been excavating Zhokhov since 1989. He previously found dog bones and the remains of wooden sleds on the island, but it was never clear whether the animals were actually bred for sledding. Now Pitulko has evidence that they were. To confirm that the canines were indeed dogs, he and Aleksey Kasparov, an archaeozoologist at the same academy, compared the two most complete skulls with those of wolves and Siberian Huskies from the region. They found that two key ratios—snout height to skull length and cranium height to skull length—could reliably distinguish the two. By those measures, their samples were truly dogs—though one appeared to be a wolf-dog hybrid. To figure out what the Zhokhov dogs looked like, the team extrapolated their sizes from the fossil bones of 11 individuals. Ten of the dogs weighed between 16 and 25 kilograms and may have resembled Siberian Huskies, the team will reveal next month in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. The remaining dog—the putative wolf-dog hybrid—weighed about 29 kilograms and may have been similar to an Alaskan Malamute. Good sled dogs typically weigh between 20 and 25 kilograms, Pitulko says, as dogs of this size are big enough to pull sleds yet don’t overheat like larger dogs. He concludes that the inhabitants of Zhokhov probably bred the smaller dogs for sledding, and may have bred the larger one to hunt polar bears. “They were clearly shaping these animals to do something special.” “If this is indeed a breeding program, it would be the earliest evidence of dog breeding for any purpose,” Perri says. The next closest example, she says, would probably be herding dogs in the Near East, which were bred about 7000 years ago. But she thinks the wide range of weights of the ancient dogs argues against strictly controlled breeding. “I think there were a lot of different kinds of dogs—and maybe even some wolves—mating with each other, producing random litters of pups.” From those litters, however, humans may have selected the best sled dogs, which would still indicate some sort of focus on breed. “It’s as convincing as you’re going to get with the material they have,” Zeder says. The find may shed light on why dogs were domesticated in the first place. Though scientists don’t agree on when this happened, recent research suggests it was at least 15,000 years ago. Significantly, this was around the time when Earth was beginning to warm, with large species like mammoths disappearing and smaller migrating game like reindeer starting to dominate the landscape. Dogs could help hunt down this smaller prey and even provide a means for people to follow them. “Before then, there was no real reason to have a dog,” says Pitulko, who dedicates his paper to “Liverpool,” a 15-year-old dachshund he calls a “true friend.” “We turned to them when we really needed them.” Zeder agrees. Her own work has shown that a variety of animals—from foxes to badgers—were hanging around early human campsites, and that some may even have become tame. The reason we don’t have pet foxes today, she speculates, is that we never found a use for them. “Starting a two-way street with dogs and shaping them into the animals we needed—that was the real domestication.” Another study published last year concluded that dogs may have been domesticated in both Europe and East Asia. The new work doesn’t necessarily challenge that idea, though it suggests that early dogs may have played an important role in the Arctic as well. And Pitulko thinks dogs could have been domesticated independently in this region. “The Arctic should be a bigger part of the domestication equation,” Perri agrees. “It’s holding some secrets. Something interesting is going on there.”

Stoneking M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Krause J.,University of Tübingen
Nature Reviews Genetics | Year: 2011

Genome-wide data, both from SNP arrays and from complete genome sequencing, are becoming increasingly abundant and are now even available from extinct hominins. These data are providing new insights into population history; in particular, when combined with model-based analytical approaches, genome-wide data allow direct testing of hypotheses about population history. For example, genome-wide data from both contemporary populations and extinct hominins strongly support a single dispersal of modern humans from Africa, followed by two archaic admixture events: one with Neanderthals somewhere outside Africa and a second with Denisovans that (so far) has only been detected in New Guinea. These new developments promise to reveal new stories about human population history, without having to resort to storytelling. © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.

Prufer K.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Meyer M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Science | Year: 2015

Chatters et al. (Reports, 16 May 2014, p. 750) reported the retrieval of DNA sequences from a 12,000- to 13,000-year-old human tooth discovered in an underwater cave in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. They propose that this ancient human individual's mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) belongs to haplogroup D1. However, our analysis of postmortem damage patterns finds no evidence for an ancient origin of these sequences.

Lawson D.J.,University of Bristol | Falush D.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics | Year: 2012

A large number of algorithms have been developed to classify individuals into discrete populations using genetic data. Recent results show that the information used by both model-based clustering methods and principal components analysis can be summarized by a matrix of pairwise similarity measures between individuals. Similarity matrices have been constructed in a number of ways, usually treating markers as independent but differing in the weighting given to polymorphisms of different frequencies. Additionally, methods are now being developed that take linkage into account. We review several such matrices and evaluate their information content. A two-stage approach for population identification is to first construct a similarity matrix and then perform clustering. We review a range of common clustering algorithms and evaluate their performance through a simulation study. The clustering step can be performed either on the matrix or by first using a dimension-reduction technique; we find that the latter approach substantially improves the performance of most algorithms. Based on these results, we describe the population structure signal contained in each similarity matrix and find that accounting for linkage leads to significant improvements for sequence data. We also perform a comparison on real data, where we find that population genetics models outperform generic clustering approaches, particularly with regard to robustness for features such as relatedness between individuals. © 2012 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.

Gansauge M.-T.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Meyer M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Genome Research | Year: 2014

Contamination by present-day human and microbial DNA is one of the major hindrances for large-scale genomic studies using ancient biological material. We describe a new molecular method, U selection, which exploits one of the most distinctive features of ancient DNA-the presence of deoxyuracils-for selective enrichment of endogenous DNA against a complex background of contamination during DNA library preparation. By applying the method to Neanderthal DNA extracts that are heavily contaminated with present-day human DNA, we show that the fraction of useful sequence information increases ~10-fold and that the resulting sequences are more efficiently depleted of human contamination than when using purely computational approaches. Furthermore, we show that U selection can lead to a four- to fivefold increase in the proportion of endogenous DNA sequences relative to those of microbial contaminants in some samples. U selection may thus help to lower the costs for ancient genome sequencing of nonhuman samples also. © 2014 Totoki et al.; Published by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Hublin J.-J.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Quaternary Science Reviews | Year: 2015

Dating the timing of the replacement of local Neandertal populations by modern humans in western Eurasia at the dawn of the Upper Palaeolithic remains challenging due to the scarcity of the palaeontological evidence and to the complexity of the archaeological record. Furthermore, key specimens have been discovered in the course of excavations that unfortunately did not meet today's archaeological standards. The importance of site-formation processes in the considered time period makes it sometimes difficult to precisely assign fragmentary remains a posteriori to distinct techno-complexes. The improvements in dating methods have however allowed for the clarification of many chronological issues in the past decade. Archaeological and palaeontological evidence strongly suggest that the initial modern colonization of eastern Europe and central Asia should be related to the spread of techno-complexes assigned to the Initial Upper Palaeolithic. This first expansion may have started as early as 48 ka cal BP. The earliest phases of the Aurignacian complex (Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian) seem to represent another modern wave of migrations, starting in the Levant area. The expansion of this techno-complex throughout Europe completed the modern colonization of the continent. The interpretation of a third group of industries referred to as "transitional assemblages" in western and central Europe is much debated. At least in part, these assemblages might have been produced by Neandertal groups that may have survived until c. 41 ka cal BP, according to the directly dated Neandertal specimens of Saint-Césaire (France) and Spy (Belgium). © 2014 The Author.

Gansauge M.-T.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology | Meyer M.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Nature Protocols | Year: 2013

This protocol describes a method for converting short single-stranded and double-stranded DNA into libraries compatible with high-throughput sequencing using Illumina technology. This method has primarily been developed to improve sequence retrieval from ancient DNA, but it is also applicable to the sequencing of short or degraded DNA from other sources, and it can also be used for sequencing oligonucleotides. Single-stranded library preparation is performed by ligating a biotinylated adapter oligonucleotide to the 3′ ends of heat-denatured DNA. The resulting strands are then immobilized on streptavidin-coated beads and copied with a polymerase. A second adapter is attached by blunt-end ligation, and library preparation is completed by PCR amplification. We estimate that intact DNA strands are recovered in the library with ∼50% efficiency. Libraries can be generated from up to 12 DNA or oligonucleotide samples in parallel within 2 d. © 2013 Nature America, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hublin J.-J.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Current Biology | Year: 2014

The bushy nature of the human evolutionary tree in the past 3 million years is widely accepted. Yet, a spectacular new fossil of early Homo has prompted some paleoanthropologists to prune our family tree. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

Hartman G.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Functional Ecology | Year: 2011

1.Mammalian species from hot and arid environments often have elevated nitrogen isotope values compared to animals from similar trophic levels in more temperate climates. This pattern has most often been explained as the result of a physiological response by animals to heat and water stress. However, a positive correlation between rainfall and the δ 15N values of plants and herbivorous mammalian species suggests that diet may be responsible. 2.This study uses the horn keratin of desert-adapted bovids (Dorcas gazelle and Nubian ibex) to test whether the δ 15N values of herbivore body tissues are determined by heat and water stress or by the isotopic composition of their diet. The δ 15N values of horn keratin are compared against several climatic factors that affect heat and water stress to determine if a relationship exists. In addition, the range of δ 15N values measured in desert vegetation is used to evaluate the contribution of the diet to the isotopic values of bovid body tissue. 3.The δ 15N values of desert bovid horn keratin were correlated against individual climatic factors that induce water stress and were not found to be significant. When climatic factors were combined, a significant positive correlation was found between the δ 15N values of Dorcas gazelles and temperature, humidity, and rainfall. This observation contradicts the physiological stress hypothesis that predicts a negative correlation between rainfall and humidity and δ 15N values. Instead, this correlation is likely attributable to denitrification processes in the soil that directly affect the isotopic values of the plants. Values for δ 15N of horn keratin fall within the range predicted by discrimination between diet and consumer (Δ=4·1‰) which supports the diet hypothesis. 4.The results suggest that the isotopic composition of the diet is the dominant factor determining the δ 15N values of herbivore body tissue. © 2010 The Author. Functional Ecology © 2010 British Ecological Society.

Paabo S.,Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Cell | Year: 2014

Research into when and where modern humans originated and how they differ from, and interacted with, other now-extinct forms of human has so far been the realm of archaeologists and paleoanthropologists. However, over the past decade, molecular geneticists have begun to study genomes of extinct humans. Here, I discuss where we stand today with respect to understanding how modern humans came to differ from Neandertals and other human forms that existed until about 30,000 years ago. © 2014 Elsevier Inc.

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