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BBC announces: Chimps have entered Stone Age

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Further to Psychiatry: The trouble with being mad in North America… is that, at times, you’re saner than many pundits:

We learn from the BBC

Chimpanzees and monkeys have entered the Stone Age

We think of the Stone Age as something that early humans lived through. But we are not the only species that has invented it

In the rainforests of west Africa, the woodlands of Brazil and the beaches of Thailand, archaeologists have unearthed some truly remarkable stone tools.
It’s not the workmanship that makes them special. If anything, a casual observer might struggle to even identify them as ancient tools. It’s not their antiquity that’s exceptional either: they’re only about the same age as the Egyptian pyramids.

What makes these tools noteworthy is that the hands that held them weren’t human.

These stone tools were wielded by chimpanzees, capuchins and macaques. The sites where they have been unearthed are the basis of a brand new field of science: primate archaeology.

The tools are crude. A chimpanzee or monkey stone hammer is hardly a work of art to rival the beauty of an ancient human hand axe. But that’s not the point. These primates have developed a culture that makes routine use of a stone-based technology. That means they have entered the Stone Age.

Nonsense. The Stone Age, like all ages, is known only retrospectively.

Apes smash things with stones the way birds do. They will go on doing that indefinitely because their explicit cognitive abilities don’t permit more. If they did, the apes would be further along today. In the real world, come back four millennia from now, and both apes and birds will likely be doing just the same things as they do today.

There have been reports going back a few centuries that bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in Brazil use stone tools. A study in 2004 confirmed that they do.

So do long-tailed macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis aurea) in Thailand, according to a study published in May 2015.

Neither species sits particularly near humans in the primate evolutionary tree. More.

So are they entering the Stone Age too?

What about the squid who use halved coconuts as shelters? Are they entering the Wood Age? Or are they just using their existing cognitive abilities to adapt to a new situation (prefab homes, if you like)?

This means studying primates that use stone tools could tell us about the nature of early human behaviour. However, drawing conclusions won’t be easy: early humans are very different from chimpanzees and monkeys. More.

Note the otherwise unnoticed direct contradiction: Studying primates that use stone tools could tell us about early human behaviour but “early humans are quite different from chimpanzees and monkeys.” In other words, such studies may be interesting and informative in their own right, but won’t tell us much about early humans.

What they will do, of course, is offer a platform for any crackpot speculation about early humans that can be hung on some random finding from the life of chimps.

Pop science works that way.

See also:

Bonobos prefigure language? The agenda is so obvious, it stinks. Pop science: If bonobos “peep,” that shows they are on the verge of speaking (glory!). But if Neanderthals did speak, that shows it isn’t a big achievement.

Further to National Geographic: Bonobo peeps point to human language origin (The pop science mind tends to lack practical intelligence. No one even thinks of asking why, if baby bonobo peeping tells us about the roots of human language, it never did anything for the bonobos)

and

Apes close to speaking? No. (In the middle ages, it was implausible miracle stories but today, it is implausible ape achievement stories. )

Note: This fall, I will be writing a series at Evolution News & Views on animal mind. Should be fun!

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Bird tool use:

Possible reptile tool use (although I’d call it a trap rather than a tool):

3 Replies to “BBC announces: Chimps have entered Stone Age

  1. 1
    goodusername says:

    A chimpanzee or monkey stone hammer is hardly a work of art to rival the beauty of an ancient human hand axe. But that’s not the point. These primates have developed a culture that makes routine use of a stone-based technology. That means they have entered the Stone Age.

    Hmm, I think there’s a difference between “using stones as tools” and “fashioning stone tools”. Chimpanzees do the former, but the stone age is defined as the latter.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Yes, goodusername at 1. And what distinguished the Stone Age was the variety of purposes for tools, indicating and supporting a huge expansion of culture.

    As noted above, if the stones are used only to smash stuff, lots of animals and birds can indeed do that. But that isn’t what we mean by the Stone Age in human history.

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    The Darwinists want so much for Darwinism to be true that putting their feet in their mouths has become an almost daily ritual.

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