Stone-throwing could mean chimps believe in a god

Helena Horton

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140704 chimpanzee 0AFP/Getty Images
New footage of ritual behaviour by chimpanzees, taken and analysed by researchers, shows they may be engaging in spiritual practices - and could even believe in God.

West African chimpanzees have been captured on camera throwing rocks into holes in trees and engaging in other bizarre behaviour, where the objects they use are not being used as tools but as part of a perhaps ritualistic practice.

Laura Kehoe, a scientist from Humboldt University, Berlin, said she had "never seen anything like it" and that it "gave [her] shivers".

The discovery may help researchers piece together how human religious rituals started and developed, as the behaviour of the chimpanzees is incredibly similar to that which scientists think was exhibited by primitive human tribes.

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.”

This discovery is made even more interesting by the fact that Indigenous West African people also collect stones at sacred trees  in a way that the resarchers said looks “eerily similar to what we have discovered here”.

One of the researchers, Laura Kehoe, wrote about her experience for the Guardian.

She explained: "What we have found might be more symbolic than a male display, and perhaps more reminiscent of our own past. Marking pathways and territories with signposts such as piles of stones is an important stage in human history. Mapping chimps’ territories in relation to stone accumulation sites could give us insights into whether this is the case here.

"Even more intriguingly, we may have uncovered evidence of chimps creating a kind of symbolic ritual. Man-made stone collections are commonly observed across the world, including indigenous west African people who have been found to have stone collections at “sacred” trees that look eerily similar to what we have discovered here. "