Published online by Cambridge University Press: 29 December 2009
Primatologists seem to assume that monkeys and apes are the most likely nonhuman culture-bearers (McGrew, 1998), while nonprimatologists seem to find this to be presumptuous and exasperating (e.g. Laland & Hoppitt, 2003). Whatever the merits of other mammalian orders (whales and dolphins) or other vertebrate classes (birds), it is probably true that there are more published studies of culture in monkeys and apes than in all other mammalian taxa combined. Cultural primatology is found in both empirical and theoretical articles and book chapters, across several academic disciplines, as discussed in Chapter 3 (e.g. Strier, 2003). In North America, many departments of anthropology, formerly the guardians of the culture concept, have a primatologist, but few anthropologists study any other nonhuman taxa. This means that nonhuman culture as presented in introductory textbooks to anthropology usually is presented solely in primatological terms, which may lead to a biased picture, as discussed in the previous chapter.
Also, the first empirical, as opposed to speculatory, engagement of students of culture and students of animals came in primatology. This began in the summer of 1953, when Imo, a Japanese monkey, was seen to wash her first sweet potato on the beach at Koshima (see below). The resonance of that simple act, and its recognition by Japanese primatologists continues to sound today, a half century later (de Waal, 2001; Matsuzawa, 2003).