A Brazilian site shows the animals’ long history of selecting various types of pounding devices

South American capuchin monkeys have not only hammered and dug with carefully chosen stones for the last 3,000 years, but also have selected pounding tools of varying sizes and weights along the way.

Capuchin stone implements recovered at a site in northeastern Brazil display signs of shifts during the last three millennia between a focus on dealing with either relatively small, soft foods or larger, hard-shelled edibles, researchers report. These discoveries, described online June 24 in Nature Ecology & Evolution, are the first evidence of changing patterns of stone-tool use in a nonhuman primate.

“It’s likely that local vegetation changes after 3,000 years ago led to changes in capuchin stone tools,” says archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of University College London. The new findings raise the possibility that chimpanzees and macaque monkeys, which also use stones to pound and dig, have shifted their tool-use styles over the long haul, perhaps in response to climate and habitat changes, Proffitt says.


Three thousand years of wild capuchin stone tool use

Tiago FalóticoTomos ProffittEduardo B. OttoniRichard A. Staff & Michael Haslam 
Nature Ecology & Evolutionvolume 3, pages1034–1038 (2019)

URL: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-019-0904-4

The human archaeological record changes over time. Finding such change in other animals requires similar evidence, namely, a long-term sequence of material culture. Here, we apply archaeological excavation, dating and analytical techniques to a wild capuchin monkey (Sapajus libidinosus) site in Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil. We identify monkey stone tools between 2,400 and 3,000 years old and, on the basis of metric and damage patterns, demonstrate that capuchin food processing changed between ~2,400 and 300 years ago, and between ~100 years ago and the present day. We present the first example of long-term tool-use variation outside of the human lineage, and discuss possible mechanisms of extended behavioural change.