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Apes are making weapons and ancient human tools

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Staff writer | Tuesday December 1, 2015 4:20AM ET
Bonobos
Surprising discovery   Groups of bonobos are performing complex actions to extract food

Biologists have documented groups of bonobos performing complex actions to extract food, a characteristic that has been regarded as an exclusive evolutionary advantage of archaic pre-humans.


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For the first time, a scientific study has observed bonobos, an analogous race to chimpanzees, making sophisticated use of ancient pre-agricultural tools in a manner similar to that which has hitherto been considered the prerogative of archaic pre-human hominins and other members of the Homo genus.

Among other findings, a bonobo was observed for the first time making and using spears in a social setting for the purpose of attack and defense.

"I believe that the current study will break down our cultural hang-up as humans concerning the inherent capabilities and potential of bonobos and chimpanzees," says Itai Roffman of the Institute of Evolution at the University of Haifa, who undertook the study.

The bonobos are considered less sophisticated than their chimpanzee siblings. Chimpanzees have been observed in nature using branches to dig for tubers in the ground and to break into termite nests and beehives.

As part of their cultural diversity, they have also been documented breaking nuts with hammer and anvil, and even manipulating branches into spears for use in hunting small prosimians that hide in tree hollows.

By contrast, bonobos were known as a social species that engages in extensive sexual behavior and have not been observed in nature using tools.

Roffman's doctorate thesis examines diverse pre-human/Homo characteristics among chimpanzees and bonobos.

Three years ago, Roffman already managed to show that two bonobos were capable of preparing and using a range of early Homo type stone tools in order to reach inaccessible food in natural contexts.

These two bonobos siblings Kanzi and Pan-banisha grew up in a human environment and have even learned to communicate using computerized English Lexigram symbols, allowing them to competently engage in rational discourse with humans.

 

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