Friday, October 21, 2016

Capuchin monkey tools

One of many arguments for the uniqueness of homo sapiens among the animals is that we use tools. But that claim has long since gone by the wayside.

Now we hear that Brazilian capuchin monkeys haven taken using tools to "the next level," as management consultants like to say. Kate Wong reports in The artifacts bear a striking resemblance to objects produced by our ancestors Scientific American Online 10/21/2016:

The monkey is a wild capuchin in northeastern Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park, where these animals have long been known to use rocks for a wide range of activities, from cracking open nuts and digging for roots to catching the attention of potential mates. Other nonhuman primates, including West African chimpanzees, also use rocks as tools in the wild. But the Serra da Capivara capuchins are the only ones that scientists have seen banging rocks together to break them — an activity previously thought to be exclusive to members of the human family. Humans do it to create sharp-edged tools for cutting things. The capuchins, in contrast, never use the flakes they make. Exactly why the monkeys want to break the rocks is unclear, but they often pause from smashing to lick the surface of the embedded stone, perhaps in pursuit of mineral dust generated by the impact.

Yes, you silly humans, we can make tools, too!

But she tells us that we humans are still Exceptional when it comes to chipped stone:

Although the capuchin discovery demonstrates that nonhuman species can accidentally produce fragments of rock that look just like human-crafted cutting tools, that does not mean the human-made tools are not special, Harmand cautions. Even if human ancestors started creating flakes by mistake like the capuchins do, there was something that made them realize they could put them to use and even make new tools to suit their purposes. Moreover, human technology evolved from the comparatively simple tools seen at Lomekwi and at Oldowan sites to handaxes with carefully shaped cutting edges a million years later, and eventually to the elaborate machinery we have today. Why didn’t technology evolve to the same degree in chimps and monkeys, Harmand asks. Why did humans alone take it to such an extreme?
Yes, there was a moment in human evolution when "banging rocks together to break them" was high-tech innovation.

No comments: