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Do chimpanzees have sacred rituals?

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From The Conversation:

Mysterious chimpanzee behaviour may be evidence of ‘sacred’ rituals

What we saw on this camera was exhilarating – a large male chimp approaches our mystery tree and pauses for a second. He then quickly glances around, grabs a huge rock and flings it full force at the tree trunk.

But what we discovered during our now-published study wasn’t a random, one-off event, it was a repeated activity with no clear link to gaining food or status – it could be a ritual. We searched the area and found many more sites where trees had similar markings and in many places piles of rocks had accumulated inside hollow tree trunks – reminiscent of the piles of rocks archaeologists have uncovered in human history.

Even more intriguing than this, maybe we found the first evidence of chimpanzees creating a kind of shrine that could indicate sacred trees. Indigenous West African people have stone collections at “sacred” trees and such man-made stone collections are commonly observed across the world and look eerily similar to what we have discovered here.More.

The chimps couldn’t just be having fun or something? Like bears playing with balls? These people need chimpanzees to have a religion really bad, though they probably don’t want one themselves.

See also: Are apes entering the Stone Age?

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10 Replies to “Do chimpanzees have sacred rituals?

  1. 1
    Algorithm Eh says:

    I often wonder what an alien intelligence would think of our rituals. We eat a wafer and drink a bit of wine, symbolizing the blood and flesh of Christ (cannibalism?). We wear execution devices around our necks (crosses). We fast (intentionally starve). We will gladly eat beef and fish, but not pork. We used to jail and execute people for blasphemy. We used to jail people for loving someone of the same sex.

    Are any of these acts any more rational than flinging poop?

  2. 2
    tjguy says:

    I often wonder what an alien intelligence would think of our rituals.
    …..
    Are any of these acts any more rational than flinging poop?

    No, not for someone who doesn’t believe in God or His moral standards.

    I often wonder what God thinks of our intellectual prowess (attributing design, the brain, the mind, consciousness, codes, information, efficiency, beauty, morality, conscience, spirituality, etc. to blind random uncaring, purposeless chemical processes)and self-claimed “morality”.(rejection of God, rejection of His love shown in the gift of His Son, refusal to thank Him for life and all His blessings, refusal to submit to His authority, refusal to repent of our rebellion against His laws, etc.)

    Well, actually I don’t wonder what He thinks of that. I know what He thinks of it. He has made that pretty clear and it’s not pretty.

    [Sorry. I know this is an ID site and as such does not make any claim to know who the Designer is, but when Materialists use their worldview to make anti-Christian arguments, I hope it is OK to use the Judeo Christian worldview to respond.]

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    I suspect Algorithm Eh is a Darwinist/atheist pretending to be a Christian. I’d be impressed if he were a rock throwing chimp pretending to be a human. Nothing to see here. Move along now.

  4. 4
    News says:

    The thing is, there is no evidence that it is a ritual at all, as opposed to something chimps like to do when nothing else is happening. Many intelligent animals develop these sorts of habits. All that is required is that nothing is happening that forces the chimp’s attention elsewhere.

  5. 5
    ppolish says:

    Chimps are Atheists – so calling rock dunking a “sacred ritual” is a stretch. Looks more like a chimp sport. Basketball? Hard to dribble though.

  6. 6
    Algorithm Eh says:

    I didn’t intend to insult anyone. I just wanted to point out that many of our rituals, would appear bizarre if witnessed by an alien. And this isn’t limited to religions. What about things like shaking hands, bowing, dancing, wearing ties, bowling, etc. etc.

    I used examples from religion because the OP was about “scared” rituals. I didn’t expect people to be so thin skinned that they would interpret it as an attack on Christianity. Live and learn.

  7. 7
    mike1962 says:

    Algorithm Eh: I often wonder what an alien intelligence would think of our rituals. We eat a wafer and drink a bit of wine, symbolizing the blood and flesh of Christ (cannibalism?). We wear execution devices around our necks (crosses). We fast (intentionally starve). We will gladly eat beef and fish, but not pork. We used to jail and execute people for blasphemy. We used to jail people for loving someone of the same sex. Are any of these acts any more rational than flinging poop?

    Is loving someone any more rational than flinging poop?

    I don’t happen to do any of those things you mentioned, but a Christian eats a wafer and drinks communion wine and wear crosses around their neck in remembrance of the death of their Christ, whom they believe paid some sort of penalty for their misdeeds. If the story turns out to be true, then doing those things may turn out to be the most rational things in the world they could do.

    Your post seems trollish.

    I didn’t intend to insult anyone. I just wanted to point out that many of our rituals, would appear bizarre if witnessed by an alien.

    Sex appears bizarre to me. And so does dancing. Dancing appears positively stupid at times. They are utterly irrational. Yet I enjoy them both. I wouldn’t give a damn what aliens think about it. I suspect aliens would understand why we have sex, why we dance, why we salute soldiers, why we “high five” each other, and why some eat the wafers and drink the wine. They would probably understand that humans impart meaning to those symbols. It’s not difficult to understand. Some of the aliens might join in.

  8. 8
    Origenes says:

    Maybe Algorithm Eh’s aliens are very religious and completely shocked to find out that the majority of earth’s intelligentsia believes in the spontaneous rearrangement of matter into human brains, spaceships, jet airplanes, nuclear power plants, libraries full of science texts and novels and super computers running partial differential equation solving software.
    And those aliens would be right. In the words of Algorithm Eh: is such a belief any more rational than flinging poop?

  9. 9
    Me_Think says:

    Two theories were presented by the author. Only the second has been highlighted by News:

    So far we have two main theories. The behaviour could be part of a male display, where the loud bang made when a rock hits a hollow tree adds to the impressive nature of a display. This could be especially likely in areas where there are not many trees with large roots that chimps would normally drum on with their powerful hands and feet. If some trees produce an impressive bang, this could accompany or replace feet drumming in a display and trees with particularly good acoustics could become popular spots for revisits.

  10. 10
    News says:

    Thanks for update, Me_Think. That theory is a far more likely explanation, though proportionately less likely to attract attention.

    As we know, many animals avoid direct conflict by engaging in activities that indirectly (thus more safely) indicate their status.

    Bears I am told, are in the habit of scratching a tree as high as they can: Lower scratchers take note.

    A big chimp throwing a big rock hard against the tree, and leaving it there for other chimps to see, may well be doing the same thing.

    In general in science, one ought not to look for an unusual motivation (sacred ritual) when a commonplace one would do.

    It is sad that people must resort to nonsense in order to gain attention to the plight of endangered wildlife.

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