As part of the Festival of Learning, this half-day workshop started off with a thought provoking seminar on what it means to be a primate.
The workshop then investigated the marvellous variety we see in monkeys, apes and humans with regards to intelligence, tool use, mating strategies, language, and symbolism. The workshop also discussed the conservation challenges that our primates face currently. After the break, attendees returned for a small collaborative game that dealt with ideas about co-operation as well as general quirky facts about primates to show how our own decision making is still very much led by strategies that have helped our ancestors to survive. The seminars were followed by a hands-on activity in our big laboratory room where there were hands-on activities to learn about the wealth of variation in skull morphology among primates and extinct human ancestors (and sister species).
Attendee Jo, reflected that: “This fun and hugely enjoyed event saw talks from Fiona Coward on the intelligence of humans and other animals, followed by Amanda Korstjens on what primates are and the story of Boris the orangutan becoming a fully fledged male, followed by Ari Shedden on conservation and threats to primates.
It was interesting to hear about non-human language vocalisation systems and how it is thought that Neanderthals spoke; how chimpanzees communicate immediate food needs rather than thinking about what they’ll have for tea tomorrow; how the aye aye has a useful long finger for poking inside trees to extract grubs; and 71% of Asia’s primates are threatened mainly due to forest fragmentation, which leads to the destruction of their habitat and isolation.
We then had a game to see how generous we were and I’m pleased to say that whilst we started with 5 sweets, most ended up with 8-9. The day ended in the Bone Lab where several primate skulls were on display and attendees got to assemble skulls and skeletons (the wrist is a lot more complicated than it looks) with the help of the student volunteers.”