Blog Four: Primatology

I had learned about the similarities between humans and monkeys and chimpanzees all throughout my life, but the material this week taught me so much.  I had never realized just how many similarities there are between humans and chimpanzees, specifically.  I also never realized how much we can learn about the history of the human species just by studying modern day primates.  Although humans and primates might look very different today, we share about 98% of our DNA.  We normally focus on the differences between species when learning about animals, so it was refreshing to focus this week on all of the similarities between humans and non-human primates.

One of the things that surprised me in one of the articles this week was the theory that violence is a part of human DNA.  I agree more with the perspective that killing is more circumstantial than an instinct.  One thing I’m curious about though is the differences between common chimpanzees and bonobos.  What happened during the time they evolved apart that made one group so peaceful and the other much more violent?  It makes it seem more likely that it might be something in the DNA of the common chimpanzees that drive them to commit acts of violence.

The theory that perhaps humans used to live in fission-fusion societies like chimpanzees do today was very interesting.  I had never heard that before but it makes sense when thinking about some social aspects of our society, particularly violence.  This made me curious about why humans and common chimpanzees may have evolved to have this violent gene but bonobos didn’t.  Why can two species be so genetically similar but evolve to have such different behavior and social structures?  This was one of the topics this week that I found most interesting.  I kept coming up with more questions about the differences and similarities between these two species.  I think there is a lot to learn in comparing bonobos with common chimpanzees.

I was also surprised to learn about the raid that spider monkeys were taking part in.  I had never heard about such organized behavior coming from primates, especially a violent act like that.  That shows how smart and organized primates are, and shows how many similarities there are between groups of primates and humans.  I was fascinated by the videos showing some similarities between humans and non-human primates.  It’s incredible that they have so many evolved characteristics in common with humans, like walking on two legs, language, and using tools.

Studying non-human primates can teach us a lot about our own biology, behavior, and culture.  Since we share common ancestors, studying primates like chimpanzees can help us understand how we have evolved differently.  It might also give us a look at what humans used to be more like, since early humans were probably very similar to the non-human primates.  I’m curious about some of the work that is being done by anthropologists to study non-human primates today in order to reveal more about the human species.

3 thoughts on “Blog Four: Primatology

  1. I think killing is probably circumstantial as well, but that it has as much to do with resources as social structure. Those were my main take-aways with the article on chimpanzees fighting each other over defensible resources.
    I was surprised by the spider monkeys participating in organized violence as well. I knew that other hominids engaged in organized behavior, and that they committed acts of violence. But, I never knew that they combined the two against other members of their own species.

    Something I learned in archaeology is that our species has been fighting each other in organized groups, for a long time, long before recorded history. I think that it is probably a behavior that is continuous from our evolutionary ancestors to us. I do not believe that chimps only have wars because of humans. Anything that causes resource stress could cause them to fight each other.

  2. I am also curious as to what precipitated the vast difference in Bonobos and Chimpanzees as far as violent tendencies go. Did our and chimpanzees’ ancestors have some sort of vicious predator that had to often be fended off that primates such as Bonobos didn’t have? It is indeed very curious.
    The spider monkey raid also fascinated me but begged many questions. How did they all know what the mission was? Did they band together and “communicate” the plan? Animals’ group-organized activities have always fascinated me for this reason – I simply don’t understand how it’s done!
    I agree that these primates can help us look into our evolution. It also helps us solve some of the mysteries as to why there are certain aspects of our culture, I believe.

  3. I definitely agree that it was refreshing to learn more about our similarities than our differences. I find the whole concept that violence is in our DNA interesting. I would like to think that we are not genetically predispositioned toward senseless acts of terror but, like you said, there is evidence with the bonobo monkeys that may lead to the conclusion that it is possible. I also think that it may simply be a matter of rage and aggression instead of violence. One could possibly have inherited a trait that causes them to get angry easier or to take out their anger aggressively. Instead of thinking about violence as the genetic factor, it could simply be the result of a more severe anger trait.
    I think that it is incredible how similar we are to primates and how much we have learned about them. However, based on the information we have learned this week alone, there are still countless unanswered questions that could potentially tell us more about the human race. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Leave a Reply