Look into the eyes of your dog. Do you see a story? Do you feel common understanding? Now look into the eyes of a primate. This time, your story is seen and you are the one understood.
I never get tired of learning about bonobos. They are such interesting animals and so unique, even amongst primates. Can you look at this picture and tell me you haven’t seen human mothers/fathers do this a million times with their children? I think I can extract that exact feeling that young bonobo has and it feels like a lot of fun.
This is a pretty cool website that has some really interesting skulls and a brief description of each species of human ancestor. Not a complete listing of course, but still a nice refresher with aesthetically pleasing pages.
This is Kanzi. He may be the most intelligent non-human on the planet. I’m going to be really nerdy and give you a primatology post.
Researchers have taught Kanzi to use an artificial language which uses symbols to communicate non-verbally. (He also knows a little American Sign Language.) Basically, he’ll hear a word and then point to the correct symbol, even translating and forming basic sentences.
Here are some examples from Wikipedia (which are all anecdotal, not experimental):
In an outing in the Georgia woods, Kanzi touched the symbols for “marshmallows” and “fire.” Susan Savage-Rumbaugh said in an interview that, “Given matches and marshmallows, Kanzi snapped twigs for a fire, lit them with the matches and toasted the marshmallows on a stick.”
Paul Raffaele, at Savage-Rumbaugh’s request, performed a Maori War Dance for the Bonobos. This dance includes thigh-slapping, chest-thumping, and hollering. Almost all the bonobos present interpreted this as an aggressive display, and reacted with loud screams, tooth-baring, and pounding the walls and floor. All but Kanzi, who remained perfectly calm; he then communicated with Savage-Rumbaugh using bonobo vocalizations; Savage-Rumbaugh understood these vocalizations, and said to Raffaele “he’d like you to do it again just for him, in a room out back, so the others won’t get upset.” So a private performance in another room was successfully, peacefully and happily carried out.
Sue Savage-Rumbaugh has observed Kanzi in communication to his sister. In this experiment, Kanzi was kept in a separate room of the Great Ape Project and shown some yogurt. Kanzi made some vocalizations which his sister could hear; his sister, Panbanisha, who could not see the yogurt, then pointed to the lexigram for yogurt, suggesting those vocalizations may have meaning.
Kanzi’s accomplishments also include tool use and tool crafting. Kanzi is an accomplished stone tool maker and can flake Oldowan style cutting knives. He learned this skill from Dr. Nick Toth, who is an anthropologist with the Stone Age Institute in Bloomington, Indiana. The stone knives Kanzi creates are very sharp and can cut animal hide and thick ropes.
I think I might be a little in love with Mary Leakey. To wit:
“[Her mother] placed Mary in a local Catholic convent to be educated, following the example of her own life. Later, Mary boasted of never passing an examination there.Mary could not even excel at French, although she spoke it fluently, because her teacher frowned upon her provincial accent. She was expelled for refusing to recite poetry, and then expelled from a second convent school for causing an explosion in a chemistry laboratory.” (wiki article)
Not to mention that she was a pretty badass paleoanthropologist in her own right. She found the first Paranthropus boisei skull while out walking her dogs at ass o’clock, while Louis was sick/possibly sleeping off a hangover back at camp.