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Do Non-Human Primates Have Culture?

Do Non-Human Primates Have Culture? September 26, 2011 Andrew Baron Do non-human primates have culture? Let’s first start off by asking ourselves; what distinguishes us from other primates? It used to be said that what distinguished us from other anthropoids was our use of tools. With new discoveries in the world of anthropology, we found that other apes such as chimpanzees use tools effectively in order to sustain their everyday life. This definition then became nullified, and a search for a new distinguishing feature became necessary. To most the answer was clear; humans have culture.

But as we progress in the world of science and technology, new evidence has become more and more prominent that maybe this has been disproven once again, and maybe we aren’t the only ones in the animal kingdom with culture after all. So, what is culture? Up until the last few years, humans were supposedly the only living beings to have culture, therefore it is difficult to find a true definition as nearly all contain the word “human” or “people. ” But to some them all up, culture is distinguishing actions, attitudes, feelings, values, and behavioural patterns of a particular group or population.

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It may seem like humans are the only primates that can fit this definition, but new surprising discoveries say otherwise. As already mentioned, in 1960 Jane Goodall observed a group of chimpanzee’s use of tools. This was significant because before this it was widely known that humans were the only species to use tools. This breakthrough brought much more attention to this topic and soon many more interesting observations were made. More similarities between the culture of humans and the possible culture of chimpanzees quickly arose.

Many chimpanzees have been seen using sticks as spears to kill young lemurs, or using sticks to lure bugs out of the ground, but even more surprisingly, chimpanzees have also been noted to take part in human-like manifestations such as greetings, hugs, kisses, sighs, friendly touches on the back, and others. Are these not actions, feelings and behavioural patterns specific to a group or population? What makes humans and chimpanzees different after all? It is very interesting that, similar to us, chimpanzees have different behavioural patterns depending on where they live.

Some chimps use sticks and leaves for whipping dust, ants, or for brushing and other use leaves for individual hygiene (like cleansing themselves of blood, urine and so on). In contrast, chimps in the Tai Forest (Ivory Coast) never use leaves as serviettes, even if this is common amongst the eastern chimps. Even though this behaviour is far from the culture we as humans possess, it represents the first cultural appearances we shared with chimps since we had a common ancestor 4-5 million years ago.

In fact, 2 million years ago, human culture was not far off from that of the chimps. So do non-human primates have culture? The answer to this question is yes, as seen through chimpanzees. If looked into further I am sure more primates would also show evidence of culture as well. This just proves we are not so advanced after all. Bibliography Anitei, S. (2008) Do Chimps Have Culture? http://news. softpedia. com/news/Do-Chimps-Have-A-Culture-78956. shtml


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