Monkey see, monkey do…monkey is hungry!

Home|Field Schools, Spring 2015|Monkey see, monkey do…monkey is hungry!

In the study of archaeology, interpreting the behavior and lives of early humans and their ancestors is based on an examination of material they left behind.  Guiding the TBI students in their learning this module is Dr. Sonia Harmand, an experienced field archaeologist with expertise on early stone tools. But why would anyone study stone tools and what can it tell us about our ancestors? In this module we will learn how early humans and hominids use stone tools, how these tools can indicate their interactions with their environment. Not only do hominin fossils show evidence of evolution and anatomical changes, a study of stone tools reveal the changes in dexterity and the evolution of mental skills and activities that would result in a change in technology and other innovations.

We began the module by recognizing the difference between tool using and tool making. There are several species of modern primates that use tools, however, none make stone tools (on their own without human influence). One example of tool users are capuchin monkeys. These type of monkeys routinely use tools. In the wild, capuchin monkeys will transport both their nut and a hammerstone to an immobile anvil and use a throwing technique to crack open their food. They are not taught this technique. Knowledge is transmitted by observation from one generation to the next. Here’s a YouTube link of a capuchin monkey at work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MgHBvp1uwk

We put “primitive” stone tool use to the test. First, we visited nearby doum palm trees in an attempt to obtain food. Our prize was a reddish fruit called the doum nut. It is kind of like granola and gingerbread.

Dr. Harmand introduces students to their first task of acquiring nuts from the doum palm trees.

Dr. Harmand introduces students to their first task of acquiring nuts from the doum palm trees.

Kate hurls a rock at the doum palm in an attempt to knock off some food.

Kate hurls a rock at the doum palm in an attempt to knock off some food.

Larisa’s turn at obtaining food.

Larisa’s turn at obtaining food.

Sam decides to use unedible doum palm nuts on the ground to nudge out new ones.

Sam decides to use unedible doum palm nuts on the ground to nudge out new ones.

Anna, Mike, and Dylan decide on a different approach.

Anna, Mike, and Dylan decide on a different approach.

Students are satisfied with the amount they collected and decide to move on to another location to eat their food.

Students are satisfied with the amount they collected and decide to move on to another location to eat their food.

Tom feels its her duty to accompany us on our excursions near TBI. Although she likes to protect us, sometimes we have to take care of her too.

Tom feels its her duty to accompany us on our excursions near TBI. Although she likes to protect us, sometimes we have to take care of her too.

Rachel carries Tom across a thorny entrance where we had just obtained doum palm nuts.

Rachel carries Tom across a thorny entrance where we had just obtained doum palm nuts.

Next, we found a spot to eat our food. But first, we need a tool to remove the hard peel of the doum palm nut. Each student set out to the rock outcrops nearby and obtained an anvil and hammerstone.

Dr. Harmand instructs students on how to use their tools to scrap the skin off their nut.

Dr. Harmand instructs students on how to use their tools to scrap the shell off their nut.

John Ekusi demonstrates how to remove the peel from the doum palm nut.

John Ekusi demonstrates how to remove the peel from the doum nut using his hammerstone and anvil.

Rachel shows Jayde how she will use her tools.

Rachel shows Jayde how she will use her tools.

Dylan seems unsure.

Dylan seems unsure.

Anna and Sam give it a try.

Anna and Sam give it a try.

Page and local Turkana children are doing a great job scraping off the outer peel of their nut.

Page and local Turkana children are doing a great job scraping off the outer peel of their nut.

Dylan and Aileen are almost finished with their first treat.

Dylan and Aileen are almost finished with their first treat.

Local Turkana children show everyone how it’s done by easily opening 3 - 5 nuts before TBI students would complete one.

Local Turkana children show everyone how it’s done by easily opening 3 – 5 nuts before TBI students would complete one.

Anna is hungry!

Anna is hungry!

After a little help from her friends, Tom eats her own doum palm nut.

After a little help from her friends, Tom eats her own doum palm nut.

By | 2017-01-04T18:04:48+00:00 March 2nd, 2015|Field Schools, Spring 2015|Comments Off on Monkey see, monkey do…monkey is hungry!

About the Author:

Hi I'm Linda. I'm the Resident Academic Director for the Origins Field School. In addition, I'm a geologist. I have been working in the Turkana Basin since 2011 and am interested in reconstructing the past landscape on which our ancestors evolved.