Odd Behavior May Prove That Chimps Believe in God
Chimps are the closest relatives to humans from the entire animal kingdom. And as a result, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that they sometimes exhibit behaviour similar to our own. But some new footage shows that chimps are engaging in a behaviour so similar to our own, that some scientists believe that what we’re witnessing is the inception of some sort of religious belief.
Some chimps in West Africa were filmed while throwing rocks against trees and piling them inside tree holes. This behaviour and the rocks themselves there seem to not offer any functional purpose for the primates – and might just, in fact, be a form of ritual behaviour. If proven to be the case, then these actions might help scientists to better understand the basis for humanity’s own religious tendencies and rituals, and how they formed in our own history.
Scientists observing them via cameras placed around the forest said that they’ve observed them assembling piles of rocks – somewhat in a similar manner as to how humans had been creating ritual cairns throughout history. Chimps and other primates, as well as several monkeys in South America, are known to use stone and other objects as tools, mainly to crack open nuts or other foods with a hard shell. By this definition, they are now in their own Stone Age period. Nevertheless, this newly observed behaviour doesn’t seem to have any functional purpose.
“This represents the first record of repeated observations of individual chimpanzees exhibiting stone tool use for a purpose other than extractive foraging at what appear to be targeted trees,” the researchers write in their abstract.
“The ritualized behavioural display and collection of artefacts at particular locations observed in chimpanzee accumulative stone throwing may have implications for the inferences that can be drawn from archaeological stone assemblages and the origins of ritual sites.”
Piling rocks to form some sort of shrine are the earliest examples of humanity’s connection to religion. Moreover, this behaviour in our own ancestors symbolized a great variety of things. This observed behaviour in chimps could show a similar instinct as we had.
Some even go a step further by saying that this chimpanzee behaviour shows a direct connection to our own religious rituals. Indigenous people from West Africa also collect stone around sacred trees – something that has been observed in other peoples around the globe.
While writing about her findings, researcher Laura Kehoe talked about her own experience when she witnessed a chimp flinging a rock at a tree trunk.
“Nothing like this had been seen before and it gave me goosebumps,” she wrote.
“Marking pathways and territories with signposts such as piles of rocks is an important step in human history,” wrote Ms Kehoe. “Figuring out where chimps’ territories are in relation to rock throwing sites could give us insights into whether this is the case here.”