News FocusChimpanzee Research Today

The Spread of Culture, Primitive as It Is

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Science  02 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5974, pp. 34-35
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5974.34

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Thirty-five years ago, chimp researchers from Gombe visited the nearby project in the Mahale Mountains and noticed a startling difference in grooming techniques. This led to the idea that chimpanzee communities had unique "cultures," but field studies have had difficulty proving that chimps transmit social behaviors. In 2003, researchers at Yerkes National Primate Research Center exploited its 47-hectare field station housing two groups of chimps that live in separate but nearly identical conditions to study transmission of culture in a controlled environment. Two years later, they published a landmark study that provided the most convincing evidence yet that a new "culture" could spread through groups of chimpanzees.