Technology is essential to human survival, prompting the fundamental question of why we are the only species ever to have evolved complete reliance on tool use. The Primate Archaeology project examines the evolution of tool use for three wild non-human primate species - chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bearded capuchins (Cebus libidinosus), and long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis aurea) - in order to place the extraordinary degree of tool use seen in the human lineage into a multi-species comparative context for the first time. These three species are the only primates known to use stone tools in the wild, resulting in long-term archaeological survival of their behavioural residues. Each of our inter-related research aims represents a new approach to the analysis of non-human tool use behaviour, including:
1. Standardised documentation of the technological signatures of multiple wild non-human primate species;
2. Recording the spatial (from site to landscape) and chronological patterns of primate tool use; and
3. Developing a comprehensive theoretical framework for inter-species technological comparisons.
A team based at Oxford University will accomplish these aims over a five-year period, in collaboration with leading primatologists worldwide who have partnered with us to provide access to major field sites. This interdisciplinary project provides the first comparative data on the evolution of non-human technology, and involves a significant re-definition of archaeology to include the behavioural evidence of non-human animals. These data are necessary to test new hypotheses about human technological evolution, including the use of pounding technology by early humans, and the role of non-human primate behaviour in constructing models of hominin behaviour. These primate species and their tool use traditions are under imminent threat of extinction, and the opportunity to collect such data will likely be lost within a few decades.
Fields of science
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