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Report on SAGA2/COE Symposium



Are Human Beings Apes, or Are Apes People Too?

Russell H. Tuttle

Professor of Anthropology, and in the Committee on Evolutionary Biology, the Morris Fishbein Center for the History of Biology and Medicine, and the College of the University of Chicago

Author's Address:
Professor Russell H. Tuttle
Department of Anthropology
The University of Chicago
1126 E. 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637-1614 USA

e-mail Address: r-tuttle@uchicago.edu
Telephone: 773-702-7719
FAX: 773-702-4503


    Revolutions in molecular genetics and comparative cognitive psychology have led a growing cohort of scientists, humanists, and lay animal rights activists to refer to human beings as other apes and to subsume the Pongidae (Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, Gorilla gorilla and Pongo pygmaeus) and sometimes also the Hylobatidae (Hylobates spp.) in the Linnaean family, Hominidae (Begun 1999; Goodman et al. 1998). Without denying the propinquity of apes and humans and the urgent need for improved humane treatment and appreciation of all of them, I argue that human beings are not apes, nor are apes human beings, as people are recognized to be by anthropologists.
    Although captive apes may participate with humans in artifactual cultures at the level of young children (Savage-Rumbaugh et al. 1998; Fouts and Mills 1997; Miles 1999; Patterson and Cohn 1994), they have not been found naturalistically to possess culture: symbolically-mediated behavior, values, beliefs and ideas (White and Dillingham 1973; Geertz 1973; Kuper 1999).
    The bipedal adaptive complex serves as a paleontolologial marker that distinguishes human beings and their Pliocene-Pleistocene ancestors and collaterals -Hominidae- from the severally brachiating, arboreal climbing and knuckle-walking Hylobatidae, Pongidae and Panidae.
    We do not know how many genes mark levels of separation among apes and people; we cannot discretely recognize their expression phenotypically; and, they probably are not of equal value to sort apes from people and apes from other apes. Until the developmental and functional biology of our genomes are much better understood (Naylor and Brown 1998; Hamdi et al. 1999), I recommend a measure of dispassionate conservatism among colleagues who would resolve puzzles regarding our bushy phylogeny and the largely uncharted lineages of extant apes.
    The current inclusion of at least 16 Plio-Pleistocene species with Homo sapiens in a common higher taxon argues for Hominidae sensu stricto, with Pongo pygmaeus, Gorilla gorilla, Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus and the 11 species of Hylobates relegated to other families. Therefore, I recommend that the Hominidae comprise the genera Homo, Australopithecus, Paranthropus, Praeanthropus (Strait et al. 1997) and provisionally Ardipithecus and that Pan, Gorilla and their Miocene-Pleistocene ancestors comprise the Panidae. Pongidae would include only Pongo pygmaeus among extant apes plus fossil species that are closely related to them; and the 11 species of Hylotates and their ancestors constitute the Hylobatidae.
    I endorse Wood and Collard's (1999) emphasis on postcranial morphlogy in hominoid systematics. There never has been and probably never will be sufficient evidence to ascribe or to deny speech or a gestural form of language for any fossil hominid species from relatively intact, let alone crushed, skulls and natural endocasts, since features related to language are not indelibly impressed on the surface of the human brain. Nor can one discount language capacity in fossil hominids based on bones bounding the vocal tract (Tuttle in press).
    Apes and many monkeys are dextrous enough to make and to use the simple stone artifacts that begin to appear in the archaeological record at 2.5 Ma; therefore, the hand bones of late Pliocene-Early Pleistocene Hominidae are not secure guides to which species were tool whizzes (Tuttle 1967). Indeed, it is possible that tool behavior, largely employing vegetal and other natural objects was part and parcel of hominid foraging and defensive behaviors for hundreds of millennia before some species began to modify stone and bone for special tasks.
    Within the Hominidae sensu stricto, several subfamilies may be identified partly according to the extent to which they exhibit anatomical features that suggest full commitment to terrestrial niches via bipedal adaptive complexes versus continued reliance on arboreal climbing. Complexes of craniodental features may further warrant grouping some species into subfamilies.
    Analyses by Strait et al. (1997) indicate that the three species of Paranthropus comprise a monophyletic group: the Paranthropinae. Currently, of the five species of Australopithecus, only Australopithecus africanus is securely placed in the Australopithecinae; cladistic analyses have not comprehensively included specimens of Australopithecus bahrelghazali, Australopithecus garhi, Australopithecus anamensis, Ardipithecus ramidus or the Turkwel hominids.
    A more comprehensive cladistic analysis than that conducted by Strait et al. (1997), particularly one that includes a rich complement of postcranial traits, might bring Praeanthropus and perhaps Ardipithecus into the Australopithecinae.
    A collateral consequence of removing the oft-cited craniodental and handy features as chief criteria for Homo, is that we are freer to postulate the development and occurrence of language and stone tool-using among any or all Plio-Pleistocene hominid genera and species. Moreover, it easier to imagine that extant apes, particularly chimpanzees, excel some Plio-Pleistocene hominid species in tool behaviors and perhaps in intraspecific communication.
    Advocates of chimpanzee culture emphasize social or observational learning and imitation of behaviors that become demic traditions in particular groups (Whiten et al. 1999). The cited examples of chimpanzee culture do not include explication of their meanings to the chimpanzees themselves. Specifically, there is no reference to symbolic mediation or a comparable mechanism that would underpin shared values, ideas and beliefs about their tool behavior, grooming postures, noise-making and athletic displays. To many anthropologists, this is the sine qua non of culture (Kuper 1999), whose development should be the focus of research by evolutionary primatologists and anthropologists, if we are to have a cultural primatology. The challenge is to crack the communicative codes of apes in natural habitats and noninvasively to explore the nervous systems, vocal tracts and other anatomical structures related to vocalization and gesture to discern whether apes naturalistically symbol even though they lack humanoid speech. Were they to be found to symbol naturalistically, they would be symboling apes, undoubtedly with much more to teach us about how we became people (Tuttle in press).


References

Begun, D.R. 1999. Hominid family values: morphological and molecular data on      relations among the great apes and humans. In (S.T. Parker, R.W. Mitchell & H.L. Miles, Eds.) The Mentalities of Gorillas and Orangutans, pp. 3-42, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Fouts, R., and Mills, S.T. 1997. Next of Kin. New York: William Morrow & Co.
Geertz, C. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books.
Goodman, M., Porter, C.A., Czelusniak, J., Page, S.L., Schneider, H., Shoshani, J., Gunnell, G., and Groves, C.P. 1998. Toward a phylogenetic classification of primates based on DNA evidence complememnted by fossil evidence. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 9:585-598.
Hamdi, H., Nishio, H., Zielinski, R., and Dugaiczyk, A. 1999. Origin and phylogenetic distribution of Alu DNA repeats: irreversible events in the evolution of primates. Journal of Molecular Biology 289:861-871.
Kuper, A. Culture. The Anthropologists' Account. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mayr, E. 1969. Principles of Systematic Zoology. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Miles, H.L. 1999. Symbolic communication with and by great apes. In (S.T. Parker, R.W. Mitchell & H.L. Miles, Eds.) The Mentalities of Gorillas and Orangutans, pp. 197-210, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Naylor, G.J.P., and Brown, W.M. 1998. Amphioxus mitochondrial DNA, chordate phylogeny, and the limits of inference based on comparison of sequences. Systematic Biology 47:61-76.
Patterson, F.G., and Cohn, R.H. 1994. Self-recognition and self-awareness in lowland gorillas. In (S.T. Parker, R.W. Mitchell & M.L. Boccia, Eds.) Self-awareness in Animals and Humans, pp. 273-290. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Savage-Rumbaugh, S., Shanker, S.G., and Taylor, T.J. 1998. Apes, Language, and the Human Mind. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Strait, D.A., Grine, F.E., and Moniz, M.A. 1997. A reappraisal of early hominid phylogeny. Journal of Human Evolution 32:17-62.
Tuttle, R.H. 1967. Knuckle-walking and the evolution of hominoid hands. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 26: 171-206.
--- in press. Fossils, Phylogenies and Feelings: Can Evolutionary Biology Contribute to the Great Ape Project? In Great Apes and Humans at an Ethical Frontier, eds. B.B. Beck, T.S. Stoinski, A. Arluke, M. Hutchins, T.L. Maple, B. Norton, A. Rowan, and B.F. Stevens, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.
White, D.L. and Dillingham, B. 1973. The Concept of Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Co.
Whiten, A., Goodall, J., McGrew, W.C., Nishida, T., Reynolds, V., Sugiyama, Y., Tutin, C.E.G., Wrangham, R.W., and Boesch, C. 1999. Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature 399:682-685.
Wood, B.A. 1992. Origin and evolution of the genus Homo. Nature 355:783-790.



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