20 - Savanna chimpanzees, referential models and the last common ancestor  pp. 275-292

Savanna chimpanzees, referential models and the last common ancestor

By Jim Moore

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Many a great ape grant proposal has waxed on about insights that the proposed research would provide into the behavioral ecology of our early ancestors (see Zihlman, Chapter 21), and the term ‘model’ is ubiquitous in the resulting literature (e.g. Jolly, 1970; Kinzey, 1987). What is a model in this context? It is important to know, because (justified or not) people often draw inferences about modern humans from such models. Skybreak (1984) describes the referential (i.e. analogical with an existing species) baboon model:

Implicitly or explicitly, savanna baboons have been repeatedly proposed as models for our own earliest origins or as a basis for understanding human aggression, xenophobia, class structure, and the domination of women, all seen as rooted in biological evolution (and by implication, thus very resistant to change).

Skybreak, 1984, p. 84

One might think that she would reject all such referential models, with their putative biological determinism, but instead she supports Tanner's (1981) chimpanzee model. One of the many meanings of the word ‘model’ is ‘something held up before one for imitation or guidance’ (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1951), and one wonders whether there might be some cognitive spillover among usages.