BBC Science News reports:
Chimpanzee culture 'confirmed'
By Helen Briggs
Primate experts say they have proven that chimpanzees, like humans, show social conformity.
By training captive chimps to use tools in different ways, they have shown experimentally that primates develop cultural traditions through imitation.
This has long been suspected from observations in the wild, but has not been shown directly.
It suggests that culture has ancient origins, scientists write in Nature.
The study was carried out by a team at the University of St Andrews in the UK and the National Primate Research Center of Emory University in Atlanta, US.
They presented two different groups of chimps with a problem relevant to their wild cousins: how to retrieve an item of food stuck behind a blockage in a system of tubes.
One chimpanzee from each group was secretly taught a novel way to solve the problem. Ericka was taught how to use a stick to lift the blockage up so that the food fell out.
Another female chimp, Georgia, was shown how to poke at the blockage so that the ball of food rolled out of the back of the pipes.
Each chimp was then reunited with its group, and the scientists watched how they behaved.
They found that the chimps gathered around Ericka or Georgia and soon copied their behaviour. By the end of two months, the two different groups were still using their own way of getting at the food and two distinct cultural traditions had been established...
Billions of years from now the great-great-grand children of these poor chimpanzees will kill each other over the right ways to do the Poking rituals and use the Sacred Stick. Many chimpanzee philosophers will contemplate the hidden meanings behind the holy stick and create systems of thought based on these metaphors. Moral systems will be created to describe if it is appropriate for two chimpanzees to hold the stick in their right hand at the same time, if the poking should be done by the males or females, and if peeing is ok when one holds the stick in one's hand.
Through the centuries chimpanzee poets will write thousands of beautiful poems about the mysteries of poking, and great chimpanzee composers will bring tears to the listeners' eyes by making moving musical pieces containing the real spirit of the stick. Pieces that can unite the followers with the source.
Many important things might happen in the future history of the chimpanzees. They might even show us the real meaning of the world. A meaning that reveals itself through the stick, but a meaning that we never completely comprehend.