Tool-composite reuse in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Archaeologically invisible steps in the technological evolution of early hominins?

Susana Carvalho*, Dora Biro, William C. McGrew, Tetsuro Matsuzawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Citations (Scopus)


Recent etho-archaeological studies of stonetool use by wild chimpanzees have contributed valuable data towards elucidating the variables that influenced the emergence and development of the first lithic industries among Plio-Pleistocene hominins. Such data help to identify potential behaviours entailed in the first percussive technologies that are invisible in archaeological records. The long-term research site of Bossou in Guinea features a unique chimpanzee community whose members systematically use portable stones as hammers and anvils to crack open nuts in natural as well as in field experimental settings. Here we present the first analysis of repeated reuse of the same tool-composites in wild chimpanzees. Data collected over 5 years of experimental nut-cracking sessions at an "outdoor laboratory" site were assessed for the existence of systematic patterns in the selection of tool-composites, at group and at individual levels. Chimpanzees combined certain stones as hammer and anvil more often than expected by chance, even when taking into account preferences for individual stones by themselves. This may reflect an ability to recognise the nut-cracker as a single tool (composed of two elements, but functional only as a whole), as well as discrimination of tool quality-effectiveness. Through repeatedly combining the same pairs of stones-whether due to preferences for particular composites or for the two elements independently-tool-users may amplify use-wear traces and increase the likelihood of fracturing the stones, and thus of detaching pieces by battering.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)s103-s114
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number1 SUPPL
Publication statusPublished - 13 Aug 2009


  • Chimpanzee
  • Etho-archaeology
  • Stone-tool use
  • Technological evolution
  • Tool-composites


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