What is the proposition that chimpanzees have culture? Essay Topic Context: Evolutionary Anthropology
Essay Topic Context: Evolutionary Anthropology
In 1960, Jane Goodall stunned the scientific community with her observations of chimpanzees making and using tools in the forests of East Africa. Until then, most anthropologists believed that only species in the genus Homo made and used tools. Despite years of debate and further observations of complex tool use in chimpanzees, considerable controversy still exists as to whether chimpanzees exhibit culture or simply evidence of social learning. Thus, the goal of your essay is to evaluate the proposition that chimpanzees have culture.
Evolutionary anthropology provides a powerful theoretical framework for understanding how both current environments and legacies of past selection shape human behavioral diversity. This integrative and pluralistic field, combining ethnographic, demographic, and sociological methods, has provided new insights into the ultimate forces and proximate pathways that guide human adaptation and variation. Here, we present the argument that evolutionary anthropological studies of human behavior also hold great, largely untapped, potential to guide the design, implementation, and evaluation of social and public health policy.
Focusing on the key anthropological themes of reproduction, production, and distribution we highlight classic and recent research demonstrating the value of an evolutionary perspective to improving human well-being. The challenge now comes in transforming relevance into action and, for that, evolutionary behavioral anthropologists will need to forge deeper connections with other applied social scientists and policy-makers. We are hopeful that these developments are underway and that, with the current tide of enthusiasm for evidence-based approaches to policy, evolutionary anthropology is well-positioned to make a strong contribution.
Chimpanzees and humans share a surprising number of similarities. For starters, chimpanzees and people share nearly identical genetic DNA. More recently, another similarity has been discovered: the presence of culture in chimpanzees.
Culture has historically been regarded as a distinguishing feature of what makes humans unique. Culture is defined as “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” However, scientists have discovered evidence of culture in different animal species. The strongest and most diverse evidence of culture in animals has been found in chimpanzees.
Jane Goodall’s long-term research on the chimpanzees of Gombe contributed to a comprehensive study that identified almost 40 different behaviour patterns in chimpanzees that are an indication of significant cultural variation. These behaviours include differences in tool use, aimed throwing, nest building, grooming, rain dances, and courtship rituals, and were found to be customary in some communities while absent in others. Researchers ruled out the possibility of the natural environment as influencing such differences. Instead the variation in behaviour was traced to multi-generational social learning and customs — in other words, culture.
-Josep Call and Claudio Tennie, “Animal Culture: Chimpanzee Table Manners?”
Current Biology, Volume 19 (2009): R981-R983. (required)
-Kevin Laland and William Hoppitt, “Do Animals Have Culture?” Evolutionary
Anthropology, Volume 12 (2003):150-159. (required)
-Siliezar, Juan, 2020 Aging chimps show social selectivity. Harvard Gazette. Harvard Gazette, October 23. (required popular source)