Not Quite Planet of the Apes, But These Monkeys are Making Stone Tools
Researcher Michael Haslam has made a remarkable discovery: Bearded capuchins are making stone tools, a character trait once thought unique only to humans.
Haslam explained that these capuchin monkeys were hammering rocks against other rocks known as “stone on stone percussion” which has “all the hallmarks of basic flaked tools” reminiscent of what became known as the Clovis point .
The monkeys were observed individually selecting quartzite cobbles, and with both hands, striking the “hammer-stone” and continuing the process. Researchers then noticed that the capuchins “re-used broken hammer-stones as ‘fresh’ hammers.”
According to a press release, “the team observed individual monkeys in Serra da Capivara National Park unintentionally creating fractured flakes and cores” and are confused as to “why [these] monkey preformed this behavior”.
One theory posed by researchers involved the capuchins “trying to extract powdered silicon (known to be an essential trace nutrient) or to remove lichen for some as yet unknown medicinal purpose.”
Interestingly enough, the monkeys did not attempt to “cut or scrape using the flakes” of rock they made which may be an indication that these hominins could be adapting a new skill.
Tomos Proffitt, professor of archeology at the University of Oxford and lead author in this study, explained that this observation raises “interesting questions about the possible ways this stone tool technology developed before the earliest examples in the archaeological record appeared.”
Proffitt goes on to say: “It also tells us what this stone tool technology might look like. There are important questions too about the uniqueness of early hominin behavior. These findings challenge previous ideas about the minimum level of cognitive and morphological complexity required to produce numerous conchoidal flakes.”
Hélène Roche, director of research emirates for the National Center of Scientific Research at Paris-Nanterre University, added : “Our knowledge about stone knapping in early-human archaeological sites has a solid foundation, [representing] decades of continuous research in the African continent.”
Roche notes that hominid fossils have been found with stone tools, and capuchin burial sites are absent of these tools.
In the end, comparing hominid tool making to the capuchin “stone tools” is liken to the old apples and oranges debate. Unlike these monkey, hominids intentionally made tools out of stone by breaking them in the same manner as the capuchins.
This new finding demonstrates that “there are previously unimagined ways for primates to make sharp-edged stones.”