Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology 

Wild Cultures: A Comparison Between Chimpanzee and Human Cultures

Highlights the ongoing debate surrounding whether only humans possess culture
Illustrates chimpanzee cultural behaviours using numerous firsthand observations and photographs
Demonstrates the cultural differences between chimpanzee populations from different regions of Africa

By: Christophe Boesch (Author)

276 pages, 68 b/w photos and illustrations, 11 tables

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Feb 2014 | #209188 | ISBN-13: 9781107689152
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £30.99 $38/€35 approx
Hardback | Sep 2012 | #197418 | ISBN-13: 9781107025370
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £71.99 $88/€81 approx

About this book

How do chimpanzees say, 'I want to have sex with you?' By clipping a leaf or knocking on a tree trunk? How do they eat live aggressive ants? By using a short stick with one hand or long stick with both? Ivorian and Tanzanian chimpanzees answer these questions differently, as would humans from France and China if asked how they eat rice.

Christophe Boesch takes readers into the lives of chimpanzees from different African regions, highlighting the debate about culture. His ethnography reveals how simple techniques have evolved into complex ones, how teaching styles differ, how material culture widens access to new food sources and how youngsters learn culture. This journey reveals many parallels between humans and chimpanzees and points to striking differences. Written in a vivid and accessible style, Wild Cultures: A Comparison Between Chimpanzee and Human Cultures places the reader in social and ecological contexts that shed light on our twin cultures.

"We have long been searching for the key to answering the question: 'What makes us human?' In this fascinating and engaging book, Boesch asks if the answer is 'Culture' [...] [He] synthesizes current knowledge of the psychology of wild and captive chimpanzees with current knowledge of the psychology of humans from diverse cultures. We arrive at a compelling new understanding of the diversity and influence of 'wild cultures', and only realize afterward that Boesch has taught us about following the scientific path to address such comparative questions. This path is important, in part, because there is still much that we do not know, and investigations in the wild are needed urgently [...] Boesch has provided my developmental comparative psychology students, lay people, and chimpanzee enthusiasts with greater insight into what makes us human, and what makes chimpanzees uniquely themselves."
- Kim A. Bard, Director, Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology, University of Portsmouth

"A sustained and compelling argument for the ethnography of animal societies. With simple logic, decades of ethological data, and many well-chosen examples, Boesch masterfully skewers numerous recent claims of human uniqueness by 'hardcore experimental psychologists': contrary to theoretical fashions, chimpanzees cooperate, display altruistic behaviour, invent symbols, and adhere to cultural conventions; none of these are uniquely human characteristics. Better than any other single source, Boesch analyses the deep causes of apparently divergent findings from the laboratory and the wild – nobody interested in comparative cognition should ignore this book [...] This is a frank, balanced evaluation of studies with apes, both in the wild and in captivity. Theoretical dogmas are shattered against the rocks of his decades of systematic data on wild chimpanzees [...] Should be required reading for every philosopher and experimental psychologist, and will enrich anybody interested in culture, cognition, and chimpanzees."
- David A. Leavens, University of Sussex

"It is hard to imagine a better guide to chimpanzee culture than Christophe Boesch, who for decades has followed these apes in the tropical forest. The author lays out the culture question in all of its richness without any of the anthropocentrism usually surrounding this issue. The result is a highly satisfactory firsthand account of how wild chimpanzees shape their own environment and society."
- Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy

"What makes us human? This book could force a rethink."
- Nature

"Remarkable findings [...]"
- Times Literary Supplement



1. Studying culture in the wild
2. From human culture to wild culture
3. Shaping nature into home: about material culture
4. One for all and all for one: about social culture
5. I want to have sex with you: about symbolic culture
6. Learning culture: from pupils to teachers
7. Dead or alive? Towards a notion of death and empathy
8. Wild culture - wild intelligence
9. Uniquely chimpanzee - uniquely human

Epilogue: will we have the time to study chimpanzee culture?

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Christophe Boesch is Professor and Director of the Department of Primatology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. He has studied the chimpanzees of Tai National Park in Cote d'Ivoire for the last thirty-three years and those of Loango National Park in Gabon for six years. The author of two published books and the founding president of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation, he fights for a better future for the remaining wild ape populations at a grassroots level.

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