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VIDEO DOI: https://doi.org/10.48448/xw6x-ns93


AAA Annual Meeting 2021

November 18, 2021

Baltimore, United States

Narrative and Identity in Great Ape Skeletal Research



biological anthropology

museum anthropology

Extensive discourse exists on research ethics for living apes, but there has yet to be a forum for discussing the treatment of their remains from a reflexive perspective that integrates ethics, methodology, and theory construction. In this session, we will explore the tension between approaches that consider specimens only at the population or species level vs. individual and story-centered approaches in great ape skeletal research. Jane Goodall has said that she unknowingly broke with scientific tradition when she named her study chimpanzees rather than numbering them. This methodological choice established her as a trailblazer in shattering notions of what was thought to divide apes and humans, highlighting the tension between quantitative population-level studies vs. qualitative analysis through narrative and storytelling in primate research. While both approaches are important for the questions they answer, this panel focuses on the contributions of narratives in great ape skeletal research. In particular, we facilitate a discussion about whether these perspectives can be utilized within the context of museum collections. There is a growing body of research on the relationship between skeletal features and an individual’s lived environment. Thus, this panel will cover research on ape pathology, growth and development, body size, and captive vs. wild differences, all from skeletal collections work. The topics covered in this session feature apes who are commonly ignored in collections due to the fact that they lived in captivity, including those with serious pathologies, developmental abnormalities, and unusual histories. Examinations of their skeletons and teeth reveal information about variation in ape behavior, physiology, ontogeny, and morphology, at both the population and individual level. This panel will foster a discussion about the benefits and considerations of the two approaches to studying apes and their remains, namely the aggregate assemblage or the individual narrative. Apes in natural history collections very rarely died of natural causes in the wild. Most individuals either were wild-shot in the colonial era by collectors or died in captivity, predominantly in 20th century zoos. Due to the evolution of the captive environment (e.g., improved nutrition or naturalistic housing), studying captive animals can assist in our understanding of how well individuals maintained their “wild-like” behaviors or how prone they were to non-typical stressors and pathologies. Given the current rate of global habitat loss, there may come a time when many species, including great apes, become extinct in the wild, surviving only through zoological and conservation breeding programs. It is critical now that we learn all we can about their life histories across time, primarily through the analysis of historic collections and current accessions, as well as space in terms of “wild” versus those who lived in human maintained habitats. This work will help researchers prepare for a future wherein the “captive” specimens in zoological collections will, inevitably, become the voices for their own species.


Transcript English (automatic)

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