After Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, Victorian cartoonists had a field day.
The scientist regarded as the founder of evolutionary theory was routinely drawn with a monkey’s body as many struggled to accept the idea that human were animals.
Things might have been different if they had taken the trouble to closely observe their own children and our species’ closest relatives, the great apes.
A new study by academics at St Andrews University and colleagues in Germany and Switzerland found that 95 per cent of gestures used to communicate by one-to-two-year-olds are also used by gorillas and chimpanzees. “Children are just tiny apes,” says researcher Dr Catherine Hobaiter.
In addition to sharing 98.8 per cent of our DNA with chimps – and, apparently, 60 per cent with the humble banana – we also have a shared gestural language that may stretch back all the way to a common ancestor who walked the Earth five to six million years ago. We are so close it seems we don’t need the scientific skills of Darwin or even Dr Doolittle to talk to our animal cousins, just your average toddler.