Culture in great apes: Using intricate complexity in feeding skills to trace the evolutionary origin of human technical prowess

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Abstract

Geographical cataloguing of traits, as used in human ethnography, has led to the description of 'culture' in some non-human great apes. Culture, in these terms, is detected as a pattern of local ignorance resulting from environmental constraints on knowledge transmission. However, in many cases, the geographical variations may alternatively be explained by ecology. Social transmission of information can reliably be identified in many other animal species, by experiment or distinctive patterns in distribution; but the excitement of detecting culture in great apes derives from the possibility of understanding the evolution of cumulative technological culture in humans. Given this interest, I argue that great ape research should concentrate on technically complex behaviour patterns that are ubiquitous within a local population; in these cases, a wholly non-social ontogeny is highly unlikely. From this perspective, cultural transmission has an important role in the elaborate feeding skills of all species of great ape, in conveying the 'gist' or organization of skills. In contrast, social learning is unlikely to be responsible for local stylistic differences, which are apt to reflect sensitive adaptations to ecology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)577-585
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
Volume362
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2007

Keywords

  • animal cultures
  • social learning
  • cognition
  • behavioural complexity
  • technical intelligence
  • CAPUCHINS CEBUS-CAPUCINUS
  • CORAL-REEF FISH
  • WILD CHIMPANZEES
  • TOOL-USE
  • BEHAVIOR
  • GORILLAS
  • ORANGUTANS
  • TRADITIONS
  • VARIABILITY
  • PREFERENCES

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