Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 December 2009
One of the inspirations for this book is another slim volume, Jane Lancaster's (1975) Primate Behavior and the Emergence of Human Culture. Although written almost 30 years ago, it foreshadowed many of the issues taken up here, especially the implications of ape behaviour for modelling the evolutionary origins of humanity's complexity. There is a prophetic chapter, ‘Social Traditions and the Emergence of Culture’. She worked with what was known at the time, especially the innovative food-processing of Koshima's Japanese monkeys and the elementary technology of Gombe's chimpanzees (see below). Much of what she said holds today, but much has changed. For example, there was no hint in her book of comparative analysis of cultural variation across primate communities. Further, all of the examples described for chimpanzees were for material culture (although there was a pioneering treatment of play in vervet monkeys), upon which I focused in an earlier book (McGrew, 1992). Absent, because they had not yet been studied, were the nonmaterial cultural aspects of social relations and structure, and communication. These are treated here.
In the earlier book, I tried to set out my biases, and disappointingly, they all remain: naturalist (not experimentalist), empiricist (not theoretician), publisher (not story-teller), monolinguist (not polyglot), and evolutionist (not creationist). In the last 10 years, as cultural primatology has emerged as an entity, it has done so in parallel with the ‘culture wars’ in the arts, humanities, and even the social sciences.