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As the water tumbles and foams, the world’s most famous chimpanzees sway rhythmically in a state of high arousal. First hurling rocks into the spray, the apes then quiet themselves and sit calmly, gazing at the waterfall before them. Jane Goodall, who knows these apes from 55 years of observation at Gombe, Tanzania, interprets these compelling images of our closest living relatives in a spiritual framework. The chimpanzees’ behavior, she says, are “perhaps triggered by feelings of awe, wonder” for magnificent natural features or events. Chimpanzees are so similar to us, she asks, “Why wouldn’t they also have feelings of some kind of spirituality?”
That question—rooted in Goodall’s definition of spirituality as the experience of appreciating magnificent, unknowable powers at work in the world beyond ourselves—has taken on a new urgency. Recently, a team of 80 scientists led by Hjalmar S. Kuhl and Ammie K. Kalan from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig published a paper in Nature raising the possibility that chimpanzees at four field sites in West Africa may perform a ritual when they repeatedly throw stones at trees in the forest. The apes take aim at the trees with stones they have accumulated (or cached). This behavior, with its striking patterns of re-use of the same stones and trees, has never been observed at Gombe or the other best-known chimpanzee study sites.
Read full, original post: Seeing Spirituality in Chimpanzees