Archaeologist finds earliest tools used by non-human apes

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Archaeologist Julio Mercader at the University of Calgary has discovered hammer-like tools dating back 4300 years. The tools are thought to have been used by non-human primates to crack nuts.

The large size of the stones are of too great a weight to have been favoured as tools by humans. Further, humans are not believed to have been in that area at that time for the primates to have learned from them by observation.

Mercader suggests that this implies the primates learned to use the tools either independently of humans or else by a common ancestor (of common descent).

Further evidence supporting the hypothesis that the hammers were not used by humans includes that the nut residue on the tools are of nuts which were not regularly a part of a human diet.

Mercader elaborates in a prepared statement: “Some of the nuts require a compression force of more than a thousand kilograms to crack. And the idea is to crack the shell but not smash it — it’s not a simple technique.” [Editorial correction: force is a vector while mass is a scalar. By context, the force is approximately 10KN (10 KiloNewtons).]

Social and Political implications follow from the findings also. Anthropologist Agustín Fuentes (at Indiana’s University of Notre Dame) said, “It puts the nail in the coffin on those who say chimp tool use is atypical.”

This parallel of human evolution may also lead to further debate on the legal rights of primates.