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Tool-composite reuse in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): archaeologically invisible steps in the technological evolution of early hominins?

Abstract

Recent etho-archaeological studies of stone-tool use by wild chimpanzees have contributed valuable data towards elucidating the variables that influenced the emergence and development of the first lithic industries among Plio-Pleistocene hominins. Such data help to identify potential behaviours entailed in the first percussive technologies that are invisible in archaeological records. The long-term research site of Bossou in Guinea features a unique chimpanzee community whose members systematically use portable stones as hammers and anvils to crack open nuts in natural as well as in field experimental settings. Here we present the first analysis of repeated reuse of the same tool-composites in wild chimpanzees. Data collected over 5 years of experimental nut-cracking sessions at an “outdoor laboratory” site were assessed for the existence of systematic patterns in the selection of tool-composites, at group and at individual levels. Chimpanzees combined certain stones as hammer and anvil more often than expected by chance, even when taking into account preferences for individual stones by themselves. This may reflect an ability to recognise the nut-cracker as a single tool (composed of two elements, but functional only as a whole), as well as discrimination of tool quality-effectiveness. Through repeatedly combining the same pairs of stones—whether due to preferences for particular composites or for the two elements independently—tool-users may amplify use-wear traces and increase the likelihood of fracturing the stones, and thus of detaching pieces by battering.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Direction National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique, République de Guinée, for permission to conduct field work at Bossou. The research was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture of Japan: MEXT-16002001, JSPS-HOPE, JSPS-gCOE-Biodiversity (A06), and F-06-61 of the Ministry of Environment, Japan. We thank Tino Zogbila, Guano Goumi, Bonifas Zogbila, Henry Gbelegbe, Gilles Doré, Pascal Goumy, Marcel Doré, Paquile Cherif, Jean Marie Kolié, Jnakoi Malamu, Louti Tokpa, Albert Kbokmo, Cé Koti, Onoré Mamy, Ouo Mamy, Fromo Mamy for essential field support. We thank F. Almeida, A. Fang, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Susana Carvalho is supported by a Cambridge European Trust: RIB00107, Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia: SFRH/BD/36169/2007, and The Wenner-Gren Foundation; Dora Biro is supported by the Royal Society; William C. McGrew is supported by the National Science Foundation, Researching Hominid Origins Initiative, grant to T.D. White and F.C. Howell.

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Correspondence to Susana Carvalho.

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This contribution is part of the Supplement Issue “The Chimpanzee Mind” (Matsuzawa 2009).

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Carvalho, S., Biro, D., McGrew, W.C. et al. Tool-composite reuse in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): archaeologically invisible steps in the technological evolution of early hominins?. Anim Cogn 12, 103–114 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-009-0271-7

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Keywords

  • Stone-tool use
  • Tool-composites
  • Chimpanzee
  • Etho-archaeology
  • Technological evolution