Cumulative culture in nonhumans: overlooked findings from Japanese monkeys?

Daniel P. Schofield*, William C. McGrew, Akiko Takahashi, Satoshi Hirata

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


Cumulative culture, generally known as the increasing complexity or efficiency of cultural behaviors additively transmitted over successive generations, has been emphasized as a hallmark of human evolution. Recently, reviews of candidates for cumulative culture in nonhuman species have claimed that only humans have cumulative culture. Here, we aim to scrutinize this claim, using current criteria for cumulative culture to re-evaluate overlooked qualitative but longitudinal data from a nonhuman primate, the Japanese monkey (Macaca fuscata). We review over 60 years of Japanese ethnography of Koshima monkeys, which indicate that food-washing behaviors (e.g., of sweet potato tubers and wheat grains) seem to have increased in complexity and efficiency over time. Our reassessment of the Koshima ethnography is preliminary and nonquantitative, but it raises the possibility that cumulative culture, at least in a simple form, occurs spontaneously and adaptively in other primates and nonhumans in nature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-122
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Early online date27 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Cumulative culture
  • Ethnography
  • Food processing
  • Japanese macaque
  • Traditions


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