In search of the last common ancestor: New findings on wild chimpanzees

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Modelling the behaviour of extinct hominins is essential in order to devise useful hypotheses of our species' evolutionary origins for testing in the palaeontological and archaeological records. One approach is to model the last common ancestor (LCA) of living apes and humans, based on current ethological and ecological knowledge of our closest living relations. Such referential modelling is based on rigorous, ongoing field studies of the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus). This paper reviews recent findings from nature, focusing on those with direct implications for hominin evolution, e.g. apes, using elementary technology to access basic resources such as food and water, or sheltering in caves or bathing as thermoregulatory adaptations. I give preference to studies that directly address key issues, such as whether stone artefacts are detectible before the Oldowan, based on the percussive technology of hammer and anvil use by living apes. Detailed comparative studies of chimpanzees living in varied habitats, from rainforest to savannah, reveal that some behavioural patterns are universal (e.g. shelter construction), while others show marked (e.g. extractive foraging) or nuanced (e.g. courtship) cross-populational variation. These findings allow us to distinguish between retained, primitive traits of the LCA versus derived ones in the human lineage.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3267-3276
Number of pages10
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1556
Publication statusPublished - 27 Oct 2010


  • Chimpanzee
  • Diet
  • Last common ancestor
  • Ranging
  • Shelter
  • Tool use


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