<![CDATA[The University of Haifa has announced that for the first time bonobos (a primate analogous to chimpanzees) have been observed purposefully making use of rudimentary tools in a fashion similar to that considered a capability possessed by ancient members of the Homo genus. Surprisingly, when compared to their chimpanzee cousins, bonobos are often regarded as the less sophisticated of the two. Chimpanzees have been observed in nature using branches to dig for food or break into beehives and termite nests, and hammers and anvils to break nuts. By comparison, bonobos were considered as basically a social species that engaged in wide-ranging sexual behavior. They have never been observed using tools in their natural setting – until now. For the first time there is concrete evidence which shows that any species can skillfully, and with planning, use archaic tools like those used by Paranthropus (bipedal hominids that lived 2.7 million years ago). According to Itai Roffman from the university’s Institute of Evolution, who led the study, bones and horn cores found in caves used by Paranthropus in South America have markings and wear patterns indicating they had been used for digging. Additionally, long bones found in European caves that had been inhabited by Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals have breakage patterns identical to the breaks on the bones used by the sanctuary bonobos. Roffman concludes that once they have the motivation, the bonobos' capabilities are equal to these pre-humans. The study (recently published by the American Journal of Physical anthropology) set out to examine if bonobos, located in both a sanctuary and a zoo, were capable of taking sophisticated sequential steps to complete foraging tasks. The two groups consisted of eight bonobos who lived in full captivity conditions at the Wuppertal Zoo in Germany and a second group of seven which resided at the Bonobo Hope sanctuary in Iowa, United States in conditions that are culturally rich and include access to a forest. Both groups were given comparable natural challenges; to reach food which had been deeply buried in the ground and covered with rocks, concealed inside large mammal bones, or hidden inside concrete casings. Along with rocks, researchers also added raw, natural materials including deer antlers and a variety of branches. Within only a few days the sanctuary bonobos had begun preparing and using tools which were task appropriate, in a calculated manner. In one instance the bonobos determined they would have to work in stages to reach the buried food. They removed the top layer of rocks using sticks and their hands (and a deer antler as a rake). When they reached the soil layer they worked short branches into a pick-like tool to dig holes in the ground. The holes were deepened and widened using short branches manipulated using larger sticks as shovels. Finally, they removed the food from the hole using a long brand as a lever. In order to break the bones and casings they used antlers and rocks. The bonobos located in the zoo were also able to complete the food extractions but it took them a month before they began using tools, and the quality of the performance and the number of successful attempts were far beneath those of the sanctuary bonobos. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Psych USD ]]>
While this is interesting in its own right, readers should not be temped to make any kind of connection with the evolution of the human ape, which has taken a very different path.
There are many instances of FACULTATIVE tool-use in a variety of species. The Newfoundland crow is a particularly adept and inventive example.
Homo Sapiens’ most significant adaptations happen to derive from an unusually high level of innervation of the hands and vocal apparatus.
A feature which is ultimately attributable to that stage in our evolutionary history in which the primary food acquisition and pre-processing functions were transferred from the snout to the hands. And, in general, the OBLIGATE use of tools.
The feature which enabled the co-evolution of the extensive import, export and external storage of imagination. The feature that we identify as language.
It is the sharing of imagination which has endowed this snout-less ape with behaviors that uniquely include the implementation of a vast range of technologies. The behavior pattern which uniquely defines our species.
This, together with closely related issues, is discussed in greater detail in my latest book “The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill”. Now available as 336 page illustrated paperback from Amazon, etc.