Meaningful informational exchange and pantomime in chimpanzees and bonobos: Implications for proto-language in hominins

I. Roffman, G. Peleg, A. Stadler, E. Nevo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The various modes of meaningful informational exchange exhibited by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), from the very basic to the complex, are surveyed in comparison to humans, and hypothesized for extinct hominins. Signaling by facial expressions, body language and manual gestures are demonstrated for message transmission, whereas iconographic mark-making and miming are described as more advanced means of communication (requiring high mental competency and developed spatial mapping). Music, vocal control and vocal learning are exemplified as another complex means of conveying context specific bilateral messages. Moreover, personal, social and cultural consequences of the different informational exchange modes in Pan are dealt with in comparison to humans (e.g., individual versus group identity, selfhood and personality). The Pan subjects described in this study include bonobos and chimpanzees from different sanctuaries and zoos in three continents, thus providing a broad vision on the communicational repertoire of captive Pan. This essay confirms that Pan possess all the essential attributes required for hominin-Type communication and argues that as such they should be allowed to fulfill their potential as sister species to humans. We propose that further studies conducted in captivity and in the wild will enable the construction of a lexicon for Pan proto-language, and thus promote the development of a Pan/ human dialog through alliance building.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-174
Number of pages34
JournalHuman Evolution
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This manuscript is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Simcha Löw, founder of the Mana movement for self-fulfillment, Dr. Morris Goodman, the Pan/Homo evolutionist, and also to the bonobos Pan-Banisha, Matata, and Nathan. We wish to thank Drs. A. Lawrenz & U. Schürer; G. Kuntz, S. Terlinden (Wuppertal Zoo, Germany); Drs. D.M. Rumbaugh & S. Savage-Rumbaugh; E. Rubert- Pugh & S. Pugh, Kanzi, Pan-Banisha, Nyota, and the other Wamba family bonobos at the Bonobo Hope Sanctuary and the bonobos at Wuppertal Zoo. The authors also thank Dr. A. Ronen, R. Permut, R. Ben- David, Dr. A. Beiles, E. Kabuliansky, S. Rajuan, M. Margulis, E. Orion, M. Kunja and Dr. T. Shkolnik (Haifa University, Israel) for their help. We extend our thanks to M. Panchevre (National Zoo of Mali), Prof. L. Fontaine (Iowa State University, USA), C. Adams, P. Stroun, R. Sheldon, J. & G. Garen (the Wales Ape & Monkey Sanctuary), and Claire Stypulkowski (University of Florence, Italy) for kindly grammatically editing the manuscript. I.R. was supported by the Adams Fellowship Program, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities; E.N. is supported by the Ancell-Teicher Research Foundation for Genetics and Molecular Evolution.


  • Bonobo
  • Chimpanzee
  • Communication
  • Hominin
  • Informationalexchange
  • Music
  • Pan
  • Pantomime

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology


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