We think of the rock Age as something that early on humans lived through. But we room not the only varieties that has invented it

In the rainforests of west Africa, the woodlands that Brazil and the beaches of Thailand, excavators have discovered some truly remarkable stone tools.

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It"s no the workmanship that makes them special. If anything, a casual observer might struggle to even identify castle as old tools. It"s no their antiquity that"s impressive either: they"re only around the same period as the Egyptian pyramids.

What provides these tools noteworthy is the the hand that held them weren"t human.

These stone tools to be wielded by chimpanzees, capuchins and macaques. The sites where they have been unearthed room the basis of a brand new field that science: primate archaeology.

The tools space crude. A chimpanzee or monkey stone hammer is hardly a occupational of art to rival the beauty of an old human hand axe. However that"s no the point. These primates have emerged a culture that makes regimen use the a stone-based technology. That means they have entered the rock Age.



A chimpanzee supplies a rock hammer (Credit: Justine Evans/NPL)

Exactly why stone tools are so rarely supplied by great apes is a mystery, the says.

But it could have to do with the fact that stones space not readily easily accessible to varieties that spend much of their time in and around trees. "Plants are ubiquitous in primate habitats but stones are not," says Haslam.

This way that even if a particularly clever an excellent ape does start using stone tools, there aren"t sufficient rocks about for that tradition to it is in aped by others in the group, and passed down with the generations.

However, the monkeys of west Africa do seem come have controlled to pass their stone-based an innovation – i beg your pardon they usage to crack open nuts – down numerous generations. We recognize this due to the fact that of a landmark examine in primate archeology the was released in 2007.



Chimpanzees have actually been using rock tools because that millennia (Credit: bernard Walton/NPL)


Boesch and his colleagues had actually previously studied modern-day chimpanzee stone tool culture in the region. This research study revealed the the monkeys have one idiosyncratic method of choosing and using their tools.

For instance, chimpanzees will regularly deliberately opt because that particularly huge and heavy rock hammers, between 1kg and also 9kg, while humans prefer to use stones that sweet 1kg or less. Countless of the 4300-year-old rock tools weighed more than 1kg, saying they were supplied by chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees also use their rock tools come crack open certain species of nuts that human beings don"t eat. Starch residues on few of the old tools came from this nuts.

Together, these findings brought about an obvious conclusion: chimpanzees have to be using rock tools in the rainforests of Ivory shore for at least 4300 years.

The chimpanzee rock Age started at the very least that early, and maybe also earlier, claims Boesch. However, "it is really hard come predict wherein you would discover soil great that would certainly be old enough to look at at earlier periods."

In theory, the chimpanzee rock Age might have begun really early indeed.




Chimpanzees are our closest life relative. The fact that they, choose us, deserve to use rock tools might imply that the common ancestor the chimpanzees and humans to be the very first to build a stone based technology.

Haslam claims this is unlikely. If that was the instance we can reasonably expect all primates to use stone tools, but only a small variety of communities in west Africa execute so.

It"s much more logical to imagine that the chimpanzees of west Africa have arisen a stone tool heritage in the time because they break-up from central and east African chimp communities. Haslam states this happened between 500,000 and 1 million years ago.

It currently seems the this west african chimpanzee stone Age is completely distinct native the human stone Age.



There have actually been reports going earlier a couple of centuries that bearded capuchin primates (Sapajus libidinosus) in Brazil use rock tools. A study in 2004 shown that castle do. 

So execute long-tailed macaque chimpanzees (Macaca fascicularis aurea) in Thailand, follow to a study released in may 2015.

Neither varieties sits specifically near people in the primate evolution tree.

"Capuchins are brand-new World monkeys, separated from united state by part 35 million years of evolution," states Haslam. "Even the macaques are separated from united state by about 25 million years."

In other words, the stone Age primates space so commonly scattered across the evolution tree the they must have actually each come up with the modern technology independently. "We have multiple developments of the same behaviour," states Haslam.



His team is now using the same sorts of techniques that Boesch supplied to study the chimpanzee historical record in Ivory coastline to investigate the background of device use by the macaques and also capuchins. This research, performed as part of the Primarch project, is no yet published.

"We have now recovered buried rock tools from activity areas of all the stone-tool-using primates," says Haslam.

The capuchins, prefer the chimpanzees, use their stone tools come crack open nuts, and likewise to destruction for tubers.

"Every time someone has actually gone come look at wild teams of moustache capuchins in their natural habitat, they"ve found rock tool use," claims Haslam. "This species may be the only one various other than human beings that has ubiquitous stone artefacts."

By contrast, the macaques live ~ above islands and use their stones come crack open up shellfish.

Both species of monkey have actually apparently passed the legacy down the generations. That way there is a deep background of stone tool usage in at least three primates other than humans.

Chimpanzee and monkey stone tools look an extremely primitive. Yet then again, our ancestors" stone tools were just as primitive too, lengthy ago.



In might 2015, excavators working in Kenya released details that the earliest rock tools ever before made through members of our lineage.

These "Lomekwian" stone tools were recovered indigenous 3.3-million-year-old deposits. According to the team that found them, lock were created using techniques similar to those supplied by stone-wielding chimps and monkeys.

This means studying primates the use rock tools can tell us around the nature of early on human behaviour. However, drawing conclusions won"t be easy: beforehand humans are an extremely different from chimpanzees and monkeys.

Within around 700,000 years of those Lomekwian stone tools, human an innovation had moved on. Very first came "Oldowan" tools, including stones that had been deliberately modified to do a sharp edge by "flaking" off tiny pieces. A million years later, Acheulean hand axes with carefully-shaped cutting edge begin appearing in the archaeological record.

Why go our ancestors discover to do such sophisticated rock tools, and also so long ago, while chimps and monkeys never ever got past a Lomekwian-style technology?



You could think it would be under to evolutionary advancements in the anatomy of our hands, perhaps permitting for finer manipulation that objects.

In fact, a July 2015 study by Sergio Almécija of George Washington college in Washington, DC argues that, if anything, human hands have changed less end the last few million years than chimpanzee hands.

"The ancestor of humans and also chimps had hand length proportions much more similar, yet not equal, to human beings than to chimpanzees," says Almécija. "In regards to length proportions, human beings are in fact much more primitive than chimps."

If it"s no chimpanzees" and monkeys" hands that room holding them back, the difficulty probably lies in their brains, states Almécija.



"It appears plausible the the capability to create stone tools requires some extr cognitive abilities: not simply recognising what would certainly be a advantageous tool, but also creating it," says Alexandra Rosati at Harvard college in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Humans" bigger brains, and also our resulting greater smarts, may be what allowed us to do ever far better tools. But it"s complicated to say precisely why ours ancestors" brains began to swell.

One idea, said by primatologist Richard Wrangham, also at Harvard, is that our farming brains were fuelled by the breakthrough of cooking. "Larger brains require a lot of of energy to grow and also maintain, and also cooking boosts the energy available from food family member to a raw diet," claims Rosati.

It"s not clear as soon as humans an initial invented cooking. The may have actually been long after our brains started swelling, which would average Wrangham"s idea is most likely wrong.

But if that is correct, it says that a 2015 examine by Rosati and her Harvard colleague Felix Warneken is very significant. Chimps could not have actually learned to control fire, yet Rosati and Warneken discovered that castle have sufficient smarts to appreciate the benefits of cooking.



In a series of experiments, Rosati and also Warneken introduced chimps come an "oven": a container into which the apes can place food, i beg your pardon would later on be returned to them in a cooking state. 

The chimps were far more likely to put raw potato chips into this "oven" than right into a 2nd container that returned the food still raw.

What"s more, when the chimps were given wood chips as well as raw potato chips, they usually didn"t bother placing the wood into the "oven". That suggests they didn"t check out it merely as a cook food dispenser, however understood the it would certainly only cook edible things.

The chimps were also prepared to carry raw food native a remote ar to the "oven" to have it cooked. This mirrors the way our ancestors have to have started transporting food come the fireside countless years ago.



Of course, till chimps do discover to regulate fire – if they ever before make that leap – lock won"t have the ability to put their appreciation of cook food to use. Yet Rosati and Warneken"s work argues that the relevant mind pathways, i m sorry perhaps permitted our ancestors to develop bigger brain and more advanced stone tools, are existing in primates too.

It"s feasible that monkeys – and also macaques and capuchins – haven"t yet reached the borders of their technological capabilities, says Haslam.

But it"s not clear even if it is they will have the possibility to breakthrough their stone Age technology.

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"We are shrinking your populations considerably through habitat destruction and also hunting," states Haslam. "Smaller populaces cannot spread and sustain facility technologies as well as larger groups."

In various other words, chimps and also monkeys can have the volume to make much an ext sophisticated stone tools, yet they may never obtain the chance to achieve that potential: all because of an additional group the primates that became master rock tool manufacturers.