COGSCI 111 Whiten and Boesch - Culture of Chimps

COGSCI 111 Whiten and Boesch - Culture of Chimps - Whiten...

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Whiten Humankind's nearest relative is even closer than we thought: chimpanzees display remarkable behaviors that can only be described as social customs passed on from generation to generation As researchers quietly approach a clearing in the Tai Forest of Ivory Coast, they hear a complex pattern of soft thuds and cracks. It sounds as though a small band of people are busy in the forest, applying some rudimentary technology to a routine task. On entering the clearing, the scientists observe several individuals working keenly at anvils, skillfully wielding wooden hammers. One or two juveniles have apprenticed themselves to the work and--more clumsily and with less success--are struggling to lift the best hammer they can find. All this activity is directed toward cracking rock-hard but nutritious coula nuts. Intermittently, individuals set aside their tools to gather more handfuls of nuts. An infant sits with her mother, gathering morsels of broken nuts. In many ways, this group could indeed be a family of foraging people. The hammers and anvils they leave behind, some made of stone, would excite the imagination of any anthropologist searching for signs of a primitive civilization. Yet these forest residents are not humans but chimpanzees . The similarities between chimpanzees and humans have been studied for years, but in the past decade researchers have determined that these resemblances run much deeper than anyone first thought. For instance, the nut cracking observed in the Tai Forest is far from a simple chimpanzee behavior; rather it is a singular adaptation found only in that particular part of Africa and a trait that biologists consider to be an expression of chimpanzee culture . Scientists frequently use the term " culture " to describe elementary animal behaviors--such as the regional dialects of different populations of songbirds--but as it turns out, the rich and varied cultural traditions found among chimpanzees are second in complexity only to human traditions. During the past two years, an unprecedented scientific collaboration, involving every major research group studying chimpanzees , has documented a multitude of distinct cultural patterns extending across Africa, in actions ranging from the animals' use of tools to their forms of communication and social customs. This emerging picture of chimpanzees not only affects how we think of these amazing creatures but also alters human beings' conception of our own uniqueness and hints at very ancient foundations for humankind's extraordinary capacity for culture . Contemplating Culture Homo sapiens and Pan troglodytes have coexisted for hundreds of millennia and share more than 98 percent of their genetic material, yet only 40 years ago we still knew next to nothing about chimpanzee behavior in the wild. That began to change in the 1960s, when Toshisada Nishida of Kyoto University in Japan and Jane Goodall began their studies of wild chimpanzees at two field sites in Tanzania. (Goodall's research station at Gombe--
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COGSCI 111 Whiten and Boesch - Culture of Chimps - Whiten...

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