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Chimpanzee stone tool site excavated

Since 1979, Christophe and Hedwige Boesch have been following the chimpanzees of the Ta National Park, in the rainforest of the Ivory Coast and have shown that juveniles take several years to become proficient at nut-cracking. Mothers share nuts with their offspring while they are learning the behavior . The nuts they crack are actually available throughout tropical Africa, yet nut-cracking behavior has been documented only among chimpanzees from Western Ivory Coast Liberia and Southern Guinea-Conakry. Therefore, nut-cracking is a cultural behavior , which, like human culture, can help distinguish one population from another.

The African rainforest has been a place traditionally avoided by archaeologists because of, among other reasons, the cumbersome logistics of transportation, survey, and isolation. Today, we know that many of our typical assumptions about tropical forest archaeology and the role of rainforests in human evolution and cultural complexity will have to be changed as scientists continue to unveil archaeological evidence from these regions. The excavation of a chimpanzee stone tool site in the Ivory Coast is a good example that discoveries relevant to human ancestry may indeed come from unexpected places.

For the chimpanzee archaeology project, the first decision was where to dig. Based on the detailed records of chimpanzee nut-cracking sites, a site was selected where chimpanzees had been seen over the course of many years using stone hammers to crack the very hard nuts of Panda oleosa. Early on in the project it was apparent that having an archaeologist working with primatologists would be beneficial. Christophe Boesch had previously noticed large pieces of stone breaking off hammers. After looking at a chimpanzee hammer, Julio Mercader was quick to point out to Christophe Boesch and Melissa Panger the existence of flake scars. The scars were produced by the removal of stone pieces detached during the cracking of nuts and are as smal
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Contact: Prof. Christophe Boesch
boesch@eva.mpg.de
49-341-9952-201
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
23-May-2002


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