Culture in humans and great apes shares same evolutionary roots

A new research has claimed that culture is not unique to humans and that great apes also have the ability to learn socially and pass them down through a great many generations.

A team of researchers headed by anthropologist Michael Krutzen from the University of Zurich, studied orangutan populations and found the first evidence of the fact that culture in humans and great apes has the same evolutionary roots.

For the study the researchers used the largest dataset ever compiled for a great ape species and analysed over 100,000 hours of behavioural data, created genetic profiles for over 150 wild orangutans and measured ecological differences between the populations using satellite imagery and advanced remote sensing techniques.

“This is the case; the cultural interpretation of the behavioural diversity also holds for orangutans – and in exactly the same way as we would expect for human culture,” Michael Krützen, first author of the study, said.

“It looks as if the ability to act culturally is dictated by the long life expectancy of apes and the necessity to be able to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

“Now we know that the roots of human culture go much deeper than previously thought. Human culture is built on a solid foundation that is many millions of years old and is shared with the other great apes,” he said.

Carel van Schaik, co-author of the study, added: “The novelty of our study is that, thanks to the unprecedented size of our dataset, we were the first to gauge the influence genetics and environmental factors have on the different behavioural patterns among the orangutan populations.

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The study has been published in Current Biology.

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