Chimpanzee material culture: Reconstructing invisible technological behaviours in the archaeological record - Dr Alejandra Pascual-Garrido
Dr Alejandra Pascual-Garrido, University of Bristol
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Chimpanzee material culture: Reconstructing invisible technological behaviours in the archaeological record
The emerging paradigm of Primate Archaeology investigates material cultures of non-human primates to improve interpretation of early human archaeological sites. Much evidence of how extinct hominins selected and used raw material is based on stone tools while organic materials, especially from plants, hardly ever preserve.
This considerable lack of information can be mitigated through comparative studies of chimpanzee technology. Thus, plant-based tool use associated with termite fishing was investigated in three chimpanzee populations living in environments equivalent to early human habitats in west Tanzania.
The cross-site comparison revealed that:
- Chimpanzees select particular plant species and tool materials for tool manufacture, perhaps because of especially suited physical properties;
- In drier and more open environments, chimpanzees travel almost double the distance to source raw material;
- The sourcing of raw materials leaves ‘scars’ on source plants which can provide rich information about past behaviour;
- Tool-use features in neighbouring communities differ, suggesting cultural preferences.
The study highlights how archaeological methods can reveal ‘invisible’ aspects of technological behaviours. Albeit the ‘archaeology of the perishable’ is still in its infancy, it may ultimately improve reconstructions of organic-based tool use in our ancestors.