Hammer of the Chimps?

blog Archaeologist says he's found rocks he believes chimps once used to crack open nuts.

Julio Mercader, an archaeologist at the University of Calgary, has unearthed stone hammers that he says chimps used 4,300 years ago to crack nuts.

If the findings hold up, it's another example in widening body of work that shows that other primates developed tools.

The hammers were discovered in the Tai rainforest in modern-day Ivory Coast. The tools, according to Mercader, show distinctive signs of wear and are thus not likely the product of natural forces.

The tools, however, wouldn't be the kind humans would make. The cantaloupe-size stones are too large to be wielded by a human hand. Farmers didn't live in the region at the time, so it is unlikely the chips picked it up through watching villagers.

In addition, the stones contain starch residue from several types of nuts known to be staples in the chimp diet. These nuts were not part of the human diet.

"Some of the nuts require a compression force of more than a thousand kilograms to crack. And the idea is to crack the shell but not smash it--it's not a simple technique," said Mercader in a prepared statement.

Modern chimps teach each other nut cracking techniques, but it generally takes an animal seven years to learn the appropriate techniques.

Many may shrug and say: So what? The media in shows such as Lance Link Secret Chimp has shown how chimps can drive miniature Rolls Royces and wear neckties. Many of these scenes, however, are likely staged.

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About the author

    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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