The lectures/readings from this week came at the study of physical anthropology a little bit different than what we had been accustomed to. Instead of learning specifically about DNA, or archaeology, or other tools that can help us understand anthropology, we began studying primates. This week we studied what is already around us first in hope to gain some insight into the past.
I was especially interested in the information from this week that related to the seeming rise in violence in certain species of chimps related to human behavior. The main question this information worked to answer, in my eyes, was whether violence is an innate part of our nature or is the rising observed violence among primates a result of human interference. Scientists have observed chimpanzees waring for months and even years at a time with rival chimps over territory and females. Scientists have observed spider monkeys exhibiting similar behavior making raids on other groups. These documented examples are really some of the first of their kind, and both instances were relatively recent. One important point here is to try and surmise whether these are signs of changing behavior among primates or maybe as a result of us studying primates more in depth. It seems to me that the correct answer is somewhere in the middle– human interactions such as deforestation are causing increased violence among primates and with improved scientific resources we have been able to observe more closely the daily lives of these animals. I would wager that human actions such as deforestation are the main reason we are seeing more cases like this in primates. Most of the time when primates engage in this kind of behavior, it is mainly to take new territory and that which comes with it, mainly females and food. We are seeing because our actions primates being forced into combat with each other to survive. It’s almost as if we decided that the earth wasn’t big enough for all of us, and because of our actions other animals are forced to fight each other for the limited spots remaining.
Another hypothesis for this increased documented violence among primates is simply the sort of society that they live in. Some scientists believe that the violence among primates (and humans.. sort of) is a result of our fusion-fission social systems. In a fission-fusion social system, individuals will subdivide into smaller groups with constantly changing memberships. The purpose of this is mainly to spread out and find more food. Typically, females will leave their community when they become of age and the males will stay within their own. As a result of this, adult males will have strong ties with each other and work to secure their own ‘borders’. This type of society opens the door for potential violence, but not a senseless kind of violence, but a violence that simply improves the chances that your community or sub group will survive and flourish. If males can weaken other societies, than their own community will in turn have more food, room to live, and ability to reproduce. i think this approach made the most sense in explaining the violence, because primates will for the most part make rational choices based on their perceived chances of survival.