Chimpanzees used tools long ago, new research says

Bush and chimpanzee

From British daily The Independent:

Chimpanzees have a cultural history that dates back thousands of years to the Stone Age, when their ancestors were using simple stone tools to crack open edible nuts.

Scientists working in west Africa have found stones used by chimpanzees as hammers more than 4,300 years ago in a discovery that further undermines the idea that tool use is unique to human culture.

Wild chimpanzees – man’s closest living relative – have been documented as using various tools throughout Africa but this is the first time evidence has emerged of ancient culture among chimps.

The simple stone hammers were found in the Tai rainforest of the Ivory Coast and they contain traces of food that chimps, rather than humans, would have eaten.

Scientists believe the discovery suggests that use of tools probably evolved in the common ancestor of humans and chimps and has been passed down the generations as culturally acquired behaviour, according to Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary in Canada.

“We used to think that culture and, above anything else, technology was the exclusive domain of humans, but this is not the case,” he said

There are three possible explanations for tool use among chimps.

The first is that they developed it by imitating forest-dwelling humans, the second is that they developed it independently of humans and the third is that they inherited the practice from the same common ancestor that chimps share with humans.

Chimpanzees making spears: here.

Chimpanzee-human split four million years ago: here.

Lion eating chimpanzees: here.

29 thoughts on “Chimpanzees used tools long ago, new research says

  1. Hunting chimps may change view of human evolution
    Thu Feb 22, 2007 12:50pm ET144

    By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Chimpanzees have been seen using spears to hunt bush babies, U.S. researchers said on Thursday in a study that demonstrates a whole new level of tool use and planning by our closest living relatives.

    Perhaps even more intriguing, it was only the females who fashioned and used the wooden spears, Jill Pruetz and Paco Bertolani of Iowa State University reported.

    Bertolani saw an adolescent female chimp use a spear to stab a bush baby as it slept in a tree hollow, pull it out and eat it.

    Pruetz and Bertolani, now at Cambridge University in Britain, had been watching the Fongoli community of savanna-dwelling chimpanzees in southeastern Senegal.

    The chimps apparently had to invent new ways to gather food because they live in an unusual area for their species, the researchers report in the journal Current Biology.

    “This is just an innovative way of having to make up for a pretty harsh environment,” Pruetz said in a telephone interview. The chimps must come down from trees to gather food and rest in dry caves during the hot season.

    “It is similar to what we say about early hominids that lived maybe 6 million years ago and were basically the precursors to humans.” Continued…


  2. Uganda: Chimpanzee Zakayo Turns 43

    New Vision (Kampala)

    1 August 2007
    Posted to the web 1 August 2007

    Gerald Tenywa

    A SIX kilogramme cake is being baked to celebrate the 43rd birthday of Zakayo, the oldest chimpanzee at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC). The celebrations will be held on August 15 under the theme; “Conserve chimps and their habitats.”

    Zakayo is undergoing lessons in table manners to prepare him for the occasion, which will be witnessed by students and conservationists in Entebbe.

    “For the last three weeks, we have been training him on how to hold a knife,” Peace Nakitto, a conservation educator at the centre said yesterday.

    “We want him to cut his cake during the party,” she added.

    Nakitto said students from Entebbe are expected to participate in the festivities, which will also include an awareness session about the threats to chimps in the wilderness.

    According to Jimmy Awany, a chimp keeper, Zakayo is very protective and fatherly to young chimps, especially Onapa, Aluma and Shaka.

    He has reservations for his rival called Matooke, whom attendants describe as mischievous.

    “Matooke has shown his intentions to take over the group because he has started mating with the females,” Awany noted.

    Zakayo, “married” to Amina and Ruth, likes spending hours resting, grooming or being groomed by one of his two wives.

    His favourite food is egg plants. He also loves tangerines and jack fruit.

    Zakayo, an alpha male in the chimpanzee group, was found in June 1972 at Semliki, in Bundibugyo district.

    He was surrendered to Entebbe Zoo on June 19, 1976 after he became difficult to manage.

    His reign has not been a bed of roses as he lived in a cage with a concrete floor, next to four other chimps.

    The visitors would offer him cigarettes and alcohol and tease him, making him very angry.

    But this changed when Entebbe Zoo became the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.

    A new home was built for the chimpanzee group and they now live together in a semi-wild setting. Zakayo has sired only one child, called Shaka.


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