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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)
Friday, October 21, 2016
Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction: Capuchins Make Monkeys Out of Archaeologists
Monkey 'tools' raise questions over human archaeological record: Capuchin monkeys in Brazil unintentionally produce rock fragments that resemble ancient stone tools.
19 October 2016
In January, archaeologist Tomos Proffitt was examining a set of stone artefacts brought to him by his colleague Michael Haslam. Some of the quartz pieces looked like sharpened stone tools made by human relatives in eastern Africa, some 2–3 million years ago.
But Haslam told Proffitt that the artefacts had been made in the previous two years by capuchin monkeys in Brazil. "I was pretty gobsmacked," Proffitt says. "I did my PhD looking at hominin stone tools. I've learnt how to make these things. I was looking at this material, and it looked like it had been made by humans."
A team led by Proffitt and Haslam, both at the University of Oxford, UK, now describes the artefacts in a paper published in Nature on 19 October1.
The capuchins make the fragments unintentionally while bashing rocks into dust, the researchers find. Some scientists say that the results call into question whether some stone tools have been incorrectly attributed to hominins-- including 3.3-million-year-old artefacts from Kenya that are the oldest on record.
"This is a landmark paper," says Susana Carvalho, a primate archaeologist also at Oxford. "These capuchins are, in fact, producing without intention something that has to be labelled as a stone tool."
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I read the paper. The discovery really does suggest that an inability to demonstrate intent limits what can be said about the users and creators of what we've been calling tools.
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