I’m sure you’ve heard it said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Well that might be right in some cases but in others it appears to not be so especially when it comes to primates (don’t forget humans are primates) and tool use.
According to an article published in Science Daily this past November 2012 a study conducted by the University of Cambridge found that tool use among primates does NOT increase when food becomes scarce. This finding has caused researchers to conclude that the driving force behind tool use is ecological opportunity and that environment shapes the development of culture.
Primates use tools especially chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and others. Tool use helps ensure survival. Chimps and other primates use stones to crack open nuts, sticks to dig for insects, and sticks to unearth tubers. Not only do they use sticks for these tasks but they also frequently sharpen them, thus, making a primitive type of spear.
The study was lead by Dr Kathelijine Koops of Cambridge and it challenges the concept that necessity is the mother of invention. She and her team argue that research into tool use by primates should look at opportunities for tool use provided by the local environment. The study focused on chimpanzees, orangutans, and bearded capuchins. They found that tool use by primates doesn’t increase in times when food is scarce.
Tool use and the transmission of the use of tools from one generation to the next is viewed as a highly important marker for the development of culture. Not only do primates use tools but they also teach their offspring to use tools and, thus, we can say that primates have culture. It has long been argued that wild primates have culture and I support that observational theory. Ecological and genetic differences alone cannot account for variations in behavior including the use of tools and this behavior can be observed across populations of the same species and between species of primates.
Traditionally, primate research has relied on something known as the “method of exclusion.” But this method may underestimate, grossly I might add, the cultural variety of wild primates. The Cambridge researchers are proposing a new model that takes into account that local environment should be recognized as a possible and large influence on primate material culture. Apes, just like humans, ADAPT to their ENVIRONMENTS we could say!
I have long maintained that apes have culture although it is unlike our own culture in many ways but it is culture nevertheless. Apes are NOT dumb animals! In fact, they are very intelligent and industrious. I am often reminded of when famed primate researcher Jane Goodall informed the esteem paleontologist Leakey that she observed chimps using tools in the wild. Leakey’s response was to tell her that if that is the case then we must redefine the definition of “tools” or redefine what it means to be human! What has happened since then is that we are constantly now redefining what it means to be human as we discover more and more about primate behavior and primate culture. Things that we once thought made us distinctly human are constantly discovered as not being so and the gap between humans and other primates narrows almost with each passing day. NO we are NOT as “special” as we think we are in many cases.
The full article is located at: