Archaeologists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have introduced their discovery of stone fragments that carefully resemble historic stone instruments made by prehistoric people. What is notable is that these apparently labored stone objects have been really made unintentionally by outdated world monkeys residing within the forests of Thailand. Does this have implications for stone flakes taken to be instruments at historic hominin websites?
These industrious monkeys weren’t attempting to make slicing or scraping instruments. Yet they nonetheless produced items of rock with sharp edges excellent for slicing and scraping, as a facet impact of their use of bigger chunks of rocks to crack open laborious nuts and shellfish. Impressively sharp flakes are generally chipped off throughout this course of, and extremely sufficient these rock slices feel and appear rather a lot like some objects which were recognized as historic stone instruments purposely made by historic people and by historic human ancestors.
Until now, it had been believed that hominins like Homo sapiens ( trendy people ) and Neanderthals have been historical past’s solely toolmakers. But the gorgeous outcomes of this new examine, which has simply been printed in Science Advances , name into query the identification of no less than some historic stone instruments as human slicing or scraping objects.
This wouldn’t be the case for the entire instruments recognized , since many (if not most) historic stone instruments are present in archaeological contexts that present different indications of human settlement and exercise. But remoted stone “tools” supposedly made by historic toolmaking cultures could now require way more cautious evaluation than up to now, to make certain that they are surely human artifacts.
Examples of sharp-edged flakes produced unintentionally by long-tailed macaques. (© Proffitt et al, 2023/ Science)
If Monkeys Can Make Tools Too, what Are the Ramifications?
The animals studied on this analysis have been long-tailed macaques residing in Phang Nga National Park alongside Thailand’s southwestern peninsular coast. The intelligent macaques use heavy stones to interrupt open nuts and shellfish, and over time these stones generally tend to interrupt into items after repeated use. Pieces of those stones may be discovered all around the park land, and lots of of them do certainly bear a exceptional resemblance to the sharpened stone instruments recovered from numerous historic archaeological websites in East Africa.
“The ability to intentionally make sharp stone flakes is seen as a crucial point in the evolution of hominins, and understanding how and when this occurred is a huge question that is typically investigated through the study of past artifacts and fossils,” lead examine writer Tomos Proffitt said in a Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology press launch .
“Our study shows that stone tool production is not unique to humans and our ancestors.”
Notably, this isn’t the primary examine that implies some historic stone instruments may even have been made by monkeys. A 2016 University of Oxford examine printed within the journal Nature revealed that capuchin monkeys residing in Brazil’s Serra de Capivara National Park steadily created rock flakes and chips that regarded precisely like prehistoric stone instruments (these primates use laborious quartz and quartzite rock to interrupt open stones that include mineral mud they prefer to lick). The authors of that examine famous similarities between the shapes of the capuchin “artifacts” and a few of the less complicated instruments related to the traditional Oldowan tradition , which is alleged to have been manufacturing stone instruments in East Africa greater than two million years in the past.
Did Humans Make the First Sharp-Edged Tools by Accident?
Naturally, plenty of the concentrate on this examine will probably be on the doubts raised about previous identifications of stone instruments as man-made artifacts. But one other necessary side of the analysis is what it suggests about how historic people began utilizing sharp-edged instruments within the first place.
Were the earliest trendy people, or human ancestors residing hundreds of thousands of years in the past, manufacturing all these instruments themselves? Or did they begin out by experimenting with sharp rock chips and flakes created once they have been utilizing bigger rocks to interrupt open difficult-to-access meals sources?
“Cracking nuts using stone hammers and anvils, similar to what some primates do today, has been suggested by some as a possible precursor to intentional stone tool production,” stated Lydia Luncz, the senior examine writer and the pinnacle of the Technological Primates Research Group on the Max Planck Institute. “This discovery shows how living primates can help researchers investigate the origin and evolution of tool use in our own lineage.”
Healthy Skepticism Means Better Science
In order to uncover correct details about the origin of necessary cultural practices, archaeologists should interpret historic artifacts correctly and never misidentify pure objects as man-made. In this occasion, the state of affairs is fascinating as a result of the “natural forces” that may produce objects resembling human instruments are nonetheless rising from the clever actions of a primate species.
From now on there could also be added uncertainty about whether or not comparatively easy sharp-edged stone instruments taken from historic websites have been actually made by people as slicing instruments. To attain a definitive conclusion researchers might want to depend on greater than the presence of sharp edges on stone flakes to determine them as man-made. Such identifications will now require added context to make them absolutely accepted, that means they are going to should be discovered combined in with different man-made objects, collections of animal bones, or different remnants of previous human exercise that make it apparent that the stone objects have been actually instruments and have been getting used as such.
In the long term this added scrutiny will probably be useful to the archaeological occupation, as its analysis into prehistoric toolmaking practices will probably be carried out with a bit extra wholesome skepticism than was current earlier than.
Top picture: Example of a long-tailed macaque utilizing a stone device to entry meals. Source: © Lydia V. Luncz/ Science
By Nathan Falde