Living archaeology: Artefacts of specific nest site fidelity in wild chimpanzees

F. A. Stewart*, A. K. Piel, W. C. McGrew

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Savanna chimpanzees are known to re-use areas of the landscape for sleep, and patterns of chimpanzee sleeping site re-use are proposed as a referential model for early hominin archaeological site formation. We recorded the prevalence of deformed but healed branches and remnants of dead branches found around fresh nests at the savanna site of Issa in Ugalla, Tanzania. These old nest scars were found in 79% of 112 beds. We also randomly selected potential nesting locations for a subset of 32 beds within the same trees, and found nest scars in only 19% of these " control" locations. We then monitored 275 nests for up to 19 months for decay, regeneration of new branches, and re-use. Of these 275 nest locations, 24% were re-used within the first nine months of monitoring, and most re-use occurred when the nest had already decayed and was not easily visible from the ground. After 18 months, the proportion of specific nest positions re-used increased to 48%. This fidelity is likely a result of the creation of ideally-shaped support structures and supple new growth for mattress material with successive use of nest locations. We propose that specific nest site re-use may not be a direct product of environmental determination, but a result of " niche construction" through formation of good building sites within trees. Environmental modification through construction behaviour may have influenced both chimpanzee and early hominin ranging, and thus leaves behind recognisable patterns of artefact deposition across the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-395
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


  • Nest re-use
  • Niche construction
  • Primate archaeology
  • Savanna
  • Use-wear


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