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10/31/2016 / By Don Wrightman
Scientists have recently made a discovery that changes what we know about human evolution after observing monkeys doing something we once thought was unique to humans. Archaeologists found that monkeys can produce tools that were once thought as being unique to mankind. This challenges decades of research. In Brazil, wild bearded Capuchin monkeys were recently spotted extracting minerals from rock using the process, known as flint knapping, in which stones are hammered together to produce flakes of sharp slivers which can be used to make weapons. Archaeologists previously believed the mineral flakes produced by flint knapping were only made by humans. This throws a wrench in the works of evolutionary behavior.
Mineral flakes once represented a turning point in human evolution by demonstrating our exclusive ability to demonstrate planning, cognition and hand manipulation. New research shows mineral flakes can be made without human skills. Sometimes they are even made by accident. Archaeologist Dr. Michael Haslam from the University of Oxford speaks about the discovery. “The fact that we have discovered monkeys can produce the same result does throw a bit of a spanner in the works in our thinking on evolutionary behavior and how we attribute such artifacts. Our understanding of the new technologies adopted by our early ancestors helps shape our view of human evolution. The emergence of sharp-edged stone tools that were fashioned and hammered to create a cutting tool was a big part of that story.”
The Capuchin monkeys used rounded quartzite to forcefully strike a hammer stone. This loosened more cobblestone and fractured hammer stones sending mineral flakes flying off. Researchers collected 111 samples from the monkeys work site. The samples analyzed showed whole and partial hammer stones, along with whole and fragmented mineral flakes. Half of the flakes showed conchoidal fractures making them appear smooth and round. It was once believed that only humans could make those fractures. Researchers believe the Capuchin monkeys were working to extract silicon powder or to remove lichen for medicinal purposes. None of the monkeys were seen cutting or scraping with the flakes.
Author Dr Tomos Proffitt from the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford says “These findings challenge previous ideas about the minimum level of cognitive and morphological complexity required to produce numerous flakes.” Dr. Haslam adds “While humans are not unique in making this technology, the manner in which they used them is still very different to what the monkeys seem capable of.”
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