Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Wild monkeys flake stone tools

This article has been updated

Abstract

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. This discovery adds an additional dimension to interpretations of the human Palaeolithic record, the possible function of early stone tools, and the cognitive requirements for the emergence of stone flaking.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Wild bearded capuchin SoS percussion, Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil.
Figure 2: Examples of flaked stones from capuchin SoS percussion.
Figure 3: Examples of passive hammers from capuchin SoS percussion.

Change history

  • 15 December 2016

    Extended Data Table 2 was replaced, to include the missing five final lines.

References

  1. 1

    Leakey, M. D. Olduvai Gorge, Vol. 3. Excavations in Beds I and II, 1960–1963. (Cambridge University Press, 1971)

  2. 2

    Potts, R. Early hominid activities at Olduvai. (AldineTransaction, 1988)

  3. 3

    Harmand, S. et al. 3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya. Nature 521, 310–315 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Panger, M. A., Brooks, A. S., Richmond, B. G. & Wood, B. Older than the Oldowan? Rethinking the emergence of hominin tool use. Evol. Anthr. 11, 235–245 (2002)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Isaac, G. L. I. Early hominids in action: a commentary on the contribution of archaeology to understand the fossil record in East Africa for 1975. Yrbk. Phys. Anthr. 19–35 (1976)

  6. 6

    Toth, N. The Oldowan reassessed: a close look at early stone artifacts. J. Archaeol. Sci. 12, 101–120 (1985)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Delagnes, A. & Roche, H. Late Pliocene hominid knapping skills: the case of Lokalalei 2C, West Turkana, Kenya. J. Hum. Evol. 48, 435–472 (2005)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Semaw, S. The world’s oldest stone artefacts from Gona, Ethiopia: their implications for understanding stone technology and patterns of human evolution between 2·6–1·5 million years ago. J. Archaeol. Sci. 27, 1197–1214 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Stout, D., Semaw, S., Rogers, M. J. & Cauche, D. Technological variation in the earliest Oldowan from Gona, Afar, Ethiopia. J. Hum. Evol. 58, 474–491 (2010)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    de la Torre, I. Omo revisited: evaluating the technological skills of Pliocene hominids. Curr. Anthropol. 45, 439–465 (2004)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Lewis, J. E. & Harmand, S. An earlier origin for stone tool making: implications for cognitive evolution and the transition to Homo. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 371, 20150233 (2016)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Boëda, E. et al. A new late Pleistocene archaeological sequence in South America: the Vale da Pedra Furada (Piauí, Brazil). Antiquity 88, 927–941 (2014)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Matsuzawa, T., Humle, T. & Sugiyama, Y. The Chimpanzees of Bossou and Nimba. (Springer Science & Business Media, 2011)

  14. 14

    Mercader, J., Panger, M. & Boesch, C. Excavation of a chimpanzee stone tool site in the African rainforest. Science 296, 1452–1455 (2002)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    McGrew, W. C. Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implications for Human Evolution. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992)

  16. 16

    Mercader, J. et al. 4,300-year-old chimpanzee sites and the origins of percussive stone technology. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 104, 3043–3048 (2007)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Pelegrin, J. in Stone Knapping: The Necessary Conditions for a Uniquely Hominid Behaviour. (eds Roux, V. & Bril, B. ) 23–33 (McDonald Institute monograph series, 2005)

  18. 18

    Toth, N., Schick, K. & Semaw, S. in The Oldowan: Case Studies into the Earliest Stone Age (eds Toth, N. & Schick, K. ) 155–222 (Stone Age Institute Press, 2006)

  19. 19

    Falótico, T. & Ottoni, E. B. The manifold use of pounding stone tools by wild capuchin monkeys of Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil. Behaviour 153, 421–442 (2016)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Mannu, M. & Ottoni, E. B. The enhanced tool-kit of two groups of wild bearded capuchin monkeys in the Caatinga: tool making, associative use, and secondary tools. Am. J. Primatol. 71, 242–251 (2009)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Falótico, T. & Ottoni, E. B. Stone throwing as a sexual display in wild female bearded capuchin monkeys, Sapajus libidinosus . PLoS One 8, e79535 (2013)

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Leca, J.-B., Gunst, N. & Huffman, M. Complexity in object manipulation by Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata): a cross-sectional analysis of manual coordination in stone handling patterns. J. Comp. Psychol. 125, 61–71 (2011)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Moura, A. C. Stone banging by wild capuchin monkeys: an unusual auditory display. Folia Primatol. (Basel) 78, 36–45 (2007)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Carlisle, E. M. Silicon as an essential trace element in animal nutrition. Silicon Biochem. 703, 123–139 (2008)

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Isaac, G. L. Koobi Fora Research Project Vol. 5: Plio-Pleistocene Archaeology. (Clarendon, 1997)

  26. 26

    Haslam, M. et al. Pre-Columbian monkey tools. Curr. Biol. 26, R521–R522 (2016)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27

    Haslam, M. Towards a prehistory of primates. Antiquity 86, 299–315 (2012)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Kivell, T. L. Evidence in hand: recent discoveries and the early evolution of human manual manipulation. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 370, 2015 0105 (2015)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    de la Torre, I. in Stone Tools and the Evolution of Human Cognition. (eds Nowell, A. & Davidson, I. ) 45–65 (Univ. Press of Colorado, 2010)

  30. 30

    McPherron, S. P. et al. Evidence for stone-tool-assisted consumption of animal tissues before 3.39 million years ago at Dikika, Ethiopia. Nature 466, 857–860 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Pessiss, A.-M., Martin, G. & Guidon, N. Os Biomad e as Sociedades Huanas na Pre-Historia da Regiao do Parque nacional Serra da Capivara, Brasil. Volume II A–B. (Fundação Museu Do Homem Americano—Fumdham, Ipsis Gráfica E Editora, 2014)

  32. 32

    Inizan, M.-L., Reduron-Ballinger, M. & Roche, H. Technology and Terminology of Knapped Stone: Followed by a Multilingual Vocabulary Arabic, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish. 5, (Cercle de Recherches et d’Etudes Préhistoriques, 1999)

  33. 33

    De la Torre, I. & Mora, R. Technological Strategies in the Lower Pleistocene at Olduvai Beds I & II. (Univ. Liège press, ERAUL, 2005)

Download references

Acknowledgements

The study was funded by a European Research Council Starting Investigator Grant (#283959) to M.H. and São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) awards to T.F. (#2013/05219-0) and E.B.O. (#2014/04818-0). Support for fieldwork and analysis was provided by N. Guidon and G. Daltrini Felice of FUMDHAM and University College London (ERC Starting Grant #283366). We thank R. Fonseca de Oliveira for excavation coordination, M. Gumert, R. Mora and A. Arroyo for comments, and A. Theodoropoulou for artefact illustrations. Fieldwork at SCNP was approved by Brazilian environmental protection agencies (IBAMA/ICMBio 37615-2).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

M.H. and T.F. observed and recorded the capuchin behaviour, collected lithic material and directed excavations at Serra da Capivara National Park. T.P. conducted the technological analysis. T.P., L.V.L., I.D.L.T. and M.H. discussed the implications of the results. T.P. wrote the paper and supplementary online content with contributions from L.V.L., T.F., E.B.O., I.D.L.T. and M.H. T.P generated all figures models and video content, using data recorded by M.H. and T.P.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Tomos Proffitt or Michael Haslam.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks S. Carvalho and H. Roche for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Archaeological excavation of wild capuchin SoS percussion sites, Serra da Capivara National Park.

a, Lasca OIT1 excavation, each square is 1 × 1 m. b, The approach to Lasca OIT2, which is located to the right of the conglomerate cliff face. c, Lasca OIT2 excavation, note the low conglomerate ridge to the left, on which capuchins were observed whilst performing SoS activities. Scale bar, 30 cm (see also Fig. 1).

Extended Data Figure 2 Examples of active hammers.

a, Crushing impacts on multiple surfaces of an active hammer. b, Examples of impact points and associated circular hertzian fractures on the surface of an active hammer. Scale bars are 5 cm, except for inset scale bars, which are 2 mm.

Extended Data Figure 3 Examples of SoS flaked hammer-stones.

a, c, Flake detachment following a transverse active hammer fracture. b, Unintentional radial reduction of flaked hammer-stone. df, Examples of complete active hammers with scars of accidental flakes. Scale bars are 5 cm.

Extended Data Figure 4 Refits of flaked hammer-stones showing the repeated detachment of unidirectional flakes.

a, Refit Set 1 (artefact numbers JC13 and JF7). b, Refit Set 2 (artefact numbers 225102a and 225102b). c, Refit Set 3 (artefact numbers 224881a and 224881b). d, Refit Set 4 (artefact numbers JF3 and JC5). A, A2, B and C are designated planes on each refit, corresponding to descriptions found in Supplementary Information. Scale bars are 5 cm.

Extended Data Figure 5 Refits of flaked hammer-stones showing the repeated detachment of unidirectional flakes and continued use of broken active hammers.

a, Refit Set 5 (artefact numbers JC11, JC12, JF23 and JF1). b, Refit Set 6 (artefact numbers JC6, JF2, JF14, JF4 and JF8) (See also Supplementary Video 2). c, Refit Set 7 (artefact numbers JC4 and JC10). A, A2, B, B2, C and C2 are designated planes on each refit, corresponding to descriptions found in Supplementary Information. Scale bars are 5 cm.

Extended Data Figure 6 Examples of complete flakes.

af, Examples of complete flakes detached during capuchin SoS percussion. Scale bars are in cm. Scale bars are 5 cm.

Extended Data Table 1 Absolute and relative frequencies and total weights (g) of technological categories identified in each Capuchin SoS assemblage, Serra da Capivara National Park
Extended Data Table 2 Dimensional data for all artefacts from Capuchin SoS assemblages and a comparison with Pliocene–Pleistocene hominin artefacts

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains technological analysis of capuchin stone on stone percussive tools and Supplementary References. (PDF 235 kb)

Video footage of stone on stone percussive behaviour in wild capuchins, Serra da Capivara National Park

Time stamp 00:10 – Use of quartzite hammerstone refitted in Refit Set 6. Time stamp 00:19 and 02:30 – Examples of hammerstone fracture during use. Time stamp 03:09 – Placement of detached flake on a passive hammer in a behaviour closely resembling hominin bipolar knapping. (MP4 28986 kb)

Capuchin stone on stone assemblage, Serra da Capivara National Park

Video of 3D model and reconstruction of reduction sequence for Refit Set 6, indicating the recurrent detachment of invasive flakes from a single hammerstone and examples of other flaked hammerstones and flakes. (MP4 30202 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Proffitt, T., Luncz, L., Falótico, T. et al. Wild monkeys flake stone tools. Nature 539, 85–88 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature20112

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing