Friday, 11 March 2016

Do Chimps have a religion?
A Chimp stone pile
There's a Chimp by a tree with a stone
And he thinks that it ought to be thrown.
Does he think it's a shrine?
Is it action benign?
Or perhaps a behaviour unknown?

The "Pan-Af Project: The Cultured Chimpanzee" aims to gather information about chimpanzee tool use and other advanced chimpanzee behaviours, and understanding ape cultures is relevant to my own work on investigating the evolution of human intelligence.

In four locations in West Africa they discovered piles of stones associated with particular tree and installed cameras to record what was happening,
“The PanAf cameras filmed individual chimpanzees picking up stones from beside, or inside trees, and then throwing them at these trees while emitting a long-distance pant hoot vocalization”, says Ammie Kalan of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Importantly, the behavior results in accumulations of rocks at these locations.
What were they doing? Most chimpanzee tool using behaviours relate to practical activities such a getting food, If we were watching humans doing something similar, only instead of using stones they were throwing little figurines we would think that they were treating the tree as some kind of religious shrine.

Of course we do not know why the chimps are doing this - and may be the tree is acting as some sophisticated territory marker. What is clear is that we have a lot still to learn about our ape relatives and the culture of different groups.
Thanks to The Mermaid's Tale for the link

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