, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 231-240
Date: 20 Jul 2012

Community Resources for Learning: How Capuchin Monkeys Construct Technical Traditions

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The developmental importance to humans of the human-constructed physical environment, including myriad modified natural objects or manufactured objects, is well recognized. The importance of the physical dimension of the constructed niche has also been recognized in nonhuman animals with respect to dwellings (e.g., beavers’ dams, birds’ nests, and bees’ hives), but has not previously been applied to technical traditions, despite the fact that enduring alterations of the physical environment left by social partners are part of the constructed niche that supports the learning of technical skills through the phenomenon of delayed social facilitation. These alterations aid learning over a longer time scale than the actions themselves. Thus, technical skills that result in enduring physical artifacts, which themselves aid learning the skills, should be both more persistent in a population and more widespread than technical skills that do not share this feature. This perspective gives us a new lens through which to understand the origins of technical traditions in nonhuman animals, and by extension, in human ancestors. Understanding the process by which traditional technical skills are acquired in nonhuman species gives us insight into the ways that the combination of social and physical niche construction can support the evolution of technical aspects of culture from modest beginnings.