Capuchin monkeys have been using stone tools for around 3,000 years

Jun 24, 2019

ONE OF THE most famous edits in cinematic history comes early in “2001: A Space Odyssey”. A primitive hominid hurls a bone club into the air, and a match cut to a spacecraft instantaneously tells the millennia-long story of human ingenuity. Tools maketh man. But there was never a human monopoly on tool use, as a new paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution shows. A team led by Tiago Falótico of the University of São Paulo, in Brazil, and Tomos Proffitt of University College, London, has demonstrated that a species of monkey called the wild bearded capuchin has been employing stone tools for perhaps 3,000 years, and that their use of the technology has changed over the course of time.

Capuchins, chimpanzees and sea otters, among others, are known to use rocks to crack open, respectively, nuts and shellfish. And an earlier dig by Dr Falótico found evidence that, in capuchins, this habit goes back at least 600 years. Though some may question whether bashing a nut with a rock truly qualifies as “tool use”, capuchins (as the picture shows) use both hammerstones and anvils—which demonstrates quite a high level of sophistication.

They also demonstrate sophistication in the wielding of their tools, because not damaging the soft kernel of a nut while breaking the shell takes skill. Cracking open a cashew,...

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