We know about our ancient ancestors only through archaeological finds. In particular, based on the tools of ancient people, we draw conclusions about their cognitive abilities, lifestyle, etc. The age of the most ancient stone tools is more than three million years, that is, they were made long before the advent of Homo sapiens. But are these finds really stone tools of human ancestors? A recent study showed that the same “tools” are created by monkeys, and completely by accident when breaking nuts with large stones. If this is true, then scientists may have to reconsider many of the conclusions about our ancestors.
How monkeys create “stone tools”
To make a stone scraper or, for example, a spearhead, you need to make a lot of effort. And most importantly, for this you need to have a sufficiently high level of intelligence. In addition, you can not do without certain tools. However, a recent study showed that such “tools” break off from stones when long-tailed macaques living in Thailand break nuts on large boulders with stones. Plates sometimes fly off stones, very reminiscent of ancient tools. In addition, the “hewn” stones themselves take the form of Oldowan tools.
As researchers report in the journal Science Advances, these broken pieces of stone are so similar to ancient tools estimated to be several million years old that archaeologists could hardly tell them apart. Moreover, this is not the first such study. Previously, scientists have found that white-faced capuchin monkeys living in Brazil break off the same plates from stones.
According to the authors of the work, for the first time they noticed that monkeys beat off parts from large stones back in 2016. Remains of nuts were found next to sharp stone plates. To find out how this happens, the researchers set up cameras and filmed macaques smashing palm nuts with stone hammers.
When one of the researchers cut his hand on a stone flake, it became clear that in the future this place could be of “great importance for archaeologists.” Between 2017 and 2021, researchers collected more than a thousand rock fragments from forty sites where monkeys wielded rocks to crack nuts.
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Ancient stone tools were not created by human ancestors?
The age of the most ancient tools created by people is 1.2 million years. Recently, we said that archaeologists even managed to find a workshop for the creation of such tools. However, the most ancient on Earth, as we said above, are tools that are more than 3 million years old. They were found in Kenya.
But, maybe the archaeologists have been wrong all this time, and the ancient tools that are attributed to the first people or paraanthropes were actually made by monkeys? To find out, the scientists compared all of the ape-made flakes found with stone tools between 3.3 and 2 million years old found during excavations in various parts of Africa.
Scientists paid attention to the size, shape and some other features of each stone flake and tool of ancient people. As reported in the study, sometimes the flakes were smaller and thicker than the ancient counterparts, but they fall within a range of variations.
“If an archaeologist were to find the flakes analyzed in the current study in African deposits 3 million years old, he would say that they were definitely made by humans,” says Tomos Proffit, lead author of the study at the Planck Institute.
However, according to other scientists, this does not mean at all that all ancient tools were made by monkeys. There are important differences between macaque flakes and products of primitive people. Macaques get flakes randomly, and they throw out their “hammer” if it splits. In the ancestors of people, flakes were formed intentionally. For this, ancient people specially chose such stones that split. You can find it in the directions of the blows. However, archaeologists now need to be more careful not to jump to conclusions.