Turns Out We Aren’t Smarter Than Monkey’s After All
A stone tool found in the sand has always been considered the handiwork of early humans and their ancestors. But a remarkable discovery in a Brazilian forest suggests that might not be so.
Scientists saw a group of capuchin monkeys making stone flakes, an important type of early tool. It’s not clear the monkeys knew what they were making, but nonetheless, it might prompt researchers be more cautious when they come across ancient sites where similar tools are usually attributed to early humans.
You make a flake by whacking two rocks together. It has to be a kind of rock that breaks in a certain way, and you have to hit one rock on another rock to break flakes off the striking rock. The flake is shaped kind of like a scallop shell. Hold it carefully and you’ve got a knife.
The oldest toolmaking like this dates back 3.3 million years and has always been attributed to early humans or, perhaps, our more primitive ancestors such as Australopithecus or Kenyanthropus.
But anthropologists in Brazil filmed capuchin monkeys doing this very thing. Easily. And gleefully.
‘Nature’ Study Says Human History Is Changed Forever
Our understanding of the emergence of technology shapes how we view the origins of humanity1,2. Sharp-edged stone flakes, struck from larger cores, are the primary evidence for the earliest stone technology3. Here we show that wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in Brazil deliberately break stones, unintentionally producing recurrent, conchoidally fractured, sharp-edged flakes and cores that have the characteristics and morphology of intentionally produced hominin tools. The production of archaeologically visible cores and flakes is therefore no longer unique to the human lineage, providing a comparative perspective on the emergence of lithic technology.