New German-Israeli center to study human evolution


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When it comes to human evolution, Europe and the Near East are crucial places: Europe has the first cave art, and the Near East has the first sightings of modern humans out of Africa, for example. Now a leading scientific body, the Munich-based Max Planck Society, is teaming up with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science to create a joint center devoted to studying archaeology and human evolution, to be based in both Rehovot, Israel, and Leipzig, Germany. 

On 11 January, Max Planck President Peter Gruss, and Daniel Zajfman, president of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, will sign a contract to create the new center, worth about €5 million over the next 5 years. It will be funded by the Max Planck’s Minerva Foundation, which has supported German-Israel collaborations since the 1960s. 

The new Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology, as it will be called, won’t have a new building. Instead, the money will fund up to 10 postdocs or graduate students in each city, says anthropologist Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. It will also support equipment and infrastructure such as the rental of additional lab space in Leipzig and the kitting out of existing space at the Weizmann Institute. Hublin and archaeologist Steve Weiner of the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science at the Weizmann will co-direct the new center. 

The center will focus on key questions such as the timing of cultural change over the past tens of thousands of years and the nature of coexistence between Neandertals and modern humans. But Hublin says no decisions have been made about specific projects. The idea of the center grew naturally from existing collaborations between researchers in Germany and Israel, says Hublin, such as a recent CT scanning study of diet and deformation in primate teeth. “We’ve been brainstorming for the past 2 or 3 years about what other kinds of collaborations we could explore,” Hublin says. 

In addition to CT scanning of bones and teeth and radiocarbon dating of previously excavated materials, researchers hope to launch new archaeological digs, possibly in Europe or the Near East. 

Author: Michael Balter | Source: Science Magazine [January 06, 2012]



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