Stone Tools and Our Primate Relatives

A Comparative Analysis with Human Lithics and Predictions for the Future


  • Prithvi Singh Kahlon Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta



capuchin, stone tools, lithics, flakes, core stone, centripetal reduction, striking platform, flake terminations


Within three millennia, capuchins appear to have made substantial progress in their use of stones relative to other living non-human primates, including the great apes. The rapid evolution of capuchin tool use can help us better understand unclear aspects of our own evolutionary journey; it can also inform us of the decisions we may have to make regarding how we will share our planet with this primate in the future. However, no prior literature has comparatively examined capuchin and human lithics within naturalistic contexts to subsequently tackle the issues of pre-Clovis validity and future capuchin stone use. Therefore, I first review secondary data on the lithic items that capuchins have been interacting with over the last 3000 years in the first section of this paper. Subsequently, I discuss the similarities between present-day capuchin-made lithics and human flintknapping attributes. Essentially, capuchins have become proficient in the motor-skills required to detach flakes from stones in a manner somewhat similar to Oldowan hominins. However, capuchins do not modify these flakes; they use them expediently as a source of mineral nutrition or as hammerstones for percussion activities. In the second section of this paper, I examine literature related to archaeologically controversial sites that supposedly suggest human presence in the Americas predating 12,000 years ago. In particular, I compare capuchin lithics with secondary data from one Mexican site and one Brazilian site to argue whether the stone items at the two sites were made by: 1) neotropical primates; or 2) the forces of nature. Based on my discussion of capuchin lithic activities from past to present, I make a conjecture in the final section of this paper that the right set of conditions could enable modern capuchins to potentially begin intentionally detaching flakes for tool use over the next few centuries.


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