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September 6, 2015 | by  | in Science |
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Stone Age II: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Ancient stone tools used by chimpanzees dating back to 4300 years ago have been discovered in West Africa. This has led archaeologists to declare that chimps are officially in their own Stone Age.

Anyone else hear the 2001 theme playing?

The Chimpanzee Stone Age has been going for quite some time, with chimps handing their knowledge down through the generations for over 4000 years, just as humans did prior to 6000 BC. This is especially surprising in the case of chimps, as stones are difficult to come by in a jungle habitat. Apes like bonobos and orangutans usually stick to crafting plants into nests and reeds into rods to fish ants out of anthills.

In human archaeology, you can usually tell what a tool is for going by what we know about human behaviour. By comparison, the primate archaeologists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have their work cut out for them (or rather, ground down into barely identifiable little shapes). Chimpanzee tools are more crude than the refined spears and arrowheads of hunter-gatherer humans. But when you’re looking at it from a chimp’s point of view, they make ergonomic sense. One marked difference between early human and chimpanzee tools is that chimp tools tend to be heavier and more hammer-like, usually for the purpose of cracking nuts open.

Chimps aren’t the only primates in the Stone Age. Capuchin monkeys also use rocks to crack open nuts and flat stones to dig for tubers, while macaques (those red-faced monkeys you always see bathing in hot springs) on offshore islands have been seen using stones to break open shellfish. What’s especially astounding is that all the primates mentioned came up with their own stone tech independently. Who knew rocks were open-source?

So if apes and monkeys are in their Stone Age, where are we humans at? We’ve moved on from sticks and stones and had our ancient Bronze and Iron Ages. The 20th century was believed to have had the Atomic and Jet ages, as we learnt how to split the atom and travel beyond our atmosphere, respectively. We’re currently believed to be in the Information Age, because the majority of our technologies are based on trading and creating data. But you’re looking for a modern Stone Age family (other than the Flintstones), look no further than our closest living relatives.

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