Chimpanzee culture 'confirmed' (was Re: [Marxism] human origins)

Calvin Broadbent calvinbroadbent at
Mon Aug 22 09:28:48 MDT 2005

Chimpanzee culture 'confirmed'
By Helen Briggs
BBC News science reporter

Primate experts say they have proven that chimpanzees, like humans, show 
social conformity.

By training captive chimps to use tools in different ways, they have shown 
experimentally that primates develop cultural traditions through imitation.

This has long been suspected from observations in the wild, but has not been 
shown directly.

It suggests that culture has ancient origins, scientists write in Nature.

The study was carried out by a team at the University of St Andrews in the 
UK and the National Primate Research Center of Emory University in Atlanta, 

They presented two different groups of chimps with a problem relevant to 
their wild cousins: how to retrieve an item of food stuck behind a blockage 
in a system of tubes.

One chimpanzee from each group was secretly taught a novel way to solve the 
problem. Ericka was taught how to use a stick to lift the blockage up so 
that the food fell out.

A chimpanzee watches her mother retrieve food. Drawing by Amy Whiten.

Another female chimp, Georgia, was shown how to poke at the blockage so that 
the ball of food rolled out of the back of the pipes.

Each chimp was then reunited with its group, and the scientists watched how 
they behaved.

They found that the chimps gathered around Ericka or Georgia and soon copied 
their behaviour. By the end of two months, the two different groups were 
still using their own way of getting at the food and two distinct cultural 
traditions had been established.

"This is the first time that any scientist has experimentally created two 
different traditions in any primate," Professor Andrew Whiten of the 
University of St Andrews told the BBC News website.

"Moreover it is the first time anyone has ever done this with tool use in 
any animal."

Ancient origins

The research adds weight to decades of field studies on wild primates 
suggesting that they have rich cultural traditions unmatched in species 
other than our own.

Chimpanzees in West Africa, for example, use stones and pieces of wood to 
crack open nuts for food; but this has never been observed in chimps living 
in East Africa.

It suggests that the common ancestor of chimps and humans, living some four 
to six million years ago, probably also had a desire to conform - the 
hallmark of human culture.

"If both species have elements of culture, it is highly likely the ancient 
ancestor had too," said co-author Dr Victoria Horner, "so culture probably 
has a deep-rooted ancient origin."

The research is published in the online edition of the journal Nature.

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