Culture - Not Just a Human Thing

Humankind is capable of great accomplishments, such as sending probes into space and eradicating diseases; these achievements have been made possible because humans learn from their elders and enrich this knowledge over generations. 

Thanks to  this cumulative aspect of culture – whereby small changes build up, are transmitted, used and enriched by others –, humans use techniques that evolve and improve from one generation to the next, and also differ from one population to another.

It was already know that chimpanzees learn many things from their peers, but each individual seems to start learning from scratch. Thus cumulative culture was previously thought that be unique to humans. 

But, for the first time, a type of cumulative cultural evolution has now been observed in another primate, the baboon. This discovery show that  specifically human capacities, such as language, are not necessarily required for the emergence of cumulative cultures. 

 

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Update: Cultures are no longer unique to humans. In November 2014, at the 11th Conference on the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (an international environmental treaty under the aegis of the United Nations), the existence of a non-human culture was officially recognized.

 


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