Thursday, 22 September 2022

Cultural Evolution - In Chimpanzees

Chimpanzee stone tool diversity | Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Chimpanzee using a stone to crack a nut
Female chimpanzee cracking Panda oleosa nuts using a granodiorite hammerstone on a wooden (panda tree root) anvil.

© Liran Samuni, Taï Chimpanzee Project

Archaeologist and primatologists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, have discovered cultural differences between different groups of chimpanzees.

Ask any Creationist and they'll assure you that the fact that humans have developed art, music and architecture, to name just a few of our cultural developments, is evidence that there is something very special about humans, showing that we were specially created separate from the rest of 'creation' and given these 'gifts' to enable us to have 'dominion over the planet - which was provided for our benefit.

The problem with that argument from personal incredulity and wishful thinking, is that humans are far from being the only species to have cultures, albeit, our cultural developments of language and writing, combined with our ability to learn and recall facts, and to pass them on to our children, has enabled us to build on out innate ability to form cultural groups, to build advanced cultures. The difference is one of magnitude, not presence/absence. The analogy is with the elephant’s trunk, which is an example of variation on the same basic body plan, and so evidence of common ancestry, not special creation of elephants, although that analogy is probably too subtle for the simple binary thinking of Creationists.

The fact that our cultures have much in common with each other but vary considerably between different geographical groups is evidence of the evolutionary process involved in building those cultures. Sometimes, these cultural variations are very subtle, but most people who have been to other countries will be aware of them, especially with food, drink and language, and with little differences between driving behaviour, as I once showed with a blog post about the difference in driving customs between the UK and Naples, in Italy. What the scientists at the Max Planck Institute have discovered is that chimpanzees not only use stone tools as hammers to open nuts, but that the stone tool preferred varies between different social groups.

As the Max Planck Institute news release explains:
Chimpanzee stone tool diversity
New analysis of chimpanzee stone tools show diverse material culture

Research, led by archaeologists and primatologists from the Technological Primates Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig (Germany) has shown that stone tool using chimpanzees in West Africa have distinct and recognizable material cultures.

During fieldwork aimed at documenting the stone tool use of a group of wild chimpanzees in the Taï Forest in Cote d'Ivoire in early 2022 the researchers identified and 3D scanned a variety of stone tools used to crack different nut species.

It has long been shown that various chimpanzee groups possess different tool use cultures involving wooden and stone tools, however, only some groups in West Africa use stone tools to crack open nuts. By comparing, the 3D models of different stone tools used by chimpanzees in the Taï Forest to those from another group in Guinea, the researchers showed that there exist notable differences between the two groups in terms of their material culture.

The study shows that this particular group of chimpanzees in Guinea uses stone hammers varying in the type of stone and sizes and very large stone anvils, sometimes greater than one meter in length. These durable stone tools are widespread across the landscape; preserve different levels of damage related to their use and represent a lasting record of chimpanzee behaviours.

Stone tools used for nut cracking can differ between chimpanzee groups
Champanzee hammer stones
Examples of chimpanzee hammerstones (M Granite Hammer (a–d); PPQ1003 (e–h); CGG23 (i–l)) from Djouroutou included in this study illustrating their textured surface (a,e,i); three-dimensional surface (b,f,j); surface depth (mm) (c,g,k) and surface gradient (d,h,l) with location of all pits overlain.

The ability to identify regional differences in stone tool material culture in primates opens up a range of possibilities for future primate archaeological studies. By understanding what this simple stone tool technology looks like, and how it varies between groups, we can start to understand how to better identify this signature in the earliest hominin archaeological record.

Tomos Proffitt, senior author
Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology
Leipzig, Germany.
This study highlights the fact that, although several groups of chimpanzees practice nut cracking, the tools they use can differ significantly from one another, potentially leading to group specific material signatures. These differences are driven by a combination of stone choice, stone availability, and the nut species eaten.

Previous research has shown, that by using stone tools, some groups of chimpanzees develop their own archaeological record dating to at least 4,300 years ago.

It has been hypothesised that a simple technology like nut cracking was a precursor to more complex stone technologies during the early stages of our own evolution more than three million years ago.
Copyright: © 2022 The authors.
Published by the Royal Society. Open access.(CC BY 4.0)
The research team's open access paper is published in the journal Royal Society Open Science:

The earliest hominin archaeological sites preserve a record of stone tools used for cutting and pounding. Traditionally, sharp-edged flakes were seen as the primary means by which our earliest ancestors interacted with the world. The importance of pounding tools is increasingly apparent. In some cases, they have been compared with stone hammers and anvils used by chimpanzees for nut-cracking. However, there has been little focus on providing a robust descriptive and quantitative characterization of chimpanzee stone tools, allowing for meaningful comparisons between chimpanzee groups and with archaeological artefacts. Here we apply a primate archaeological approach to characterize the range of chimpanzee nut-cracking stone tools from Djouroutou in the Taï National Park. By combining a techno-typological analysis, and two- and three-dimensional measures of damage, we identify clear differences in the location and extent of damage between nut-cracking hammerstones and anvils used at Djouroutou and when compared with other wild chimpanzee populations. Furthermore, we discuss these results in relation to interpretations of Plio-Pleistocene percussive technology. We highlight potential difficulties in identifying the underlying function of percussive artefacts based on morphological or techno-typological attributes alone. The material record from Djouroutou represents an important new datum of chimpanzee regional and material culture.

Creationists who found the courage to read this far, if any did, might have noticed how the researchers are in no doubt about human evolution and in particular, how the cultural evolution of early hominin stone tools probably followed a similar pattern to that of chimpanzees.

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