JUL 12, 2016 12:48 PM PDT

Capuchin Monkeys Have Used Stone Tools for at Least 700 Years

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Humans take pride in many traits. We credit our bigger brain with the ability to adapt and successfully colonize nearly all corners of the planet. We also take pride in our ability to use tools - something that's rarely found outside of our species.

But, increasingly, there are new evidence to suggest that the ability to use tools is not as exclusive as we may perceive. In the newest research that's emerged, researchers think the use of stone tools may date back to at least 700 years in a colony of capuchin monkeys.

The capuchin monkeys inhabit a semi-arid region of Brazil that's rich in hard-shelled nuts and seeds, such as cashews. In response to their environment, these capuchins found a technical solution: use rocks as anvils and hammers to crack open the seed. As elementary as this operation may sound, the ability of the capuchins to do it successfully - and pass the knowledge on to the next generation - is extremely impressive.

The new research reports that new archeological findings suggest this use of tools is not a recent development. Rather, this activity has been going on for centuries, making the "capuchin stone hammers and anvils … the oldest non-human tools known outside of Africa," said Michael Haslam, an archeologist from the University of Oxford, and lead study author. And 700 years is nothing to laugh at. "In capuchin terms, 700 years is about 100 generations. The same thing in human terms would be about 2,500 years," said Haslam.

But before you think the monkeys can evolve to become as smart as humans, Haslam concluded that, for better or for worse, "the potential for there to be a chimpanzee who would invent a microwave or a Boeing 747 really isn't there anymore."
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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