Worn rocks may have been used by Brazilian bearded capuchin monkeys hundreds of years ago, marking the earliest evidence for stone-tool use by a species other than humans or chimpanzees.

Credit: Luca Antonio Marino/EthoCebus Project

The oldest stone tools made by ancient human relatives date to 3 million years ago, but the archaeological record for tool use among other primates is scant. Bearded capuchins (Sapajus libidinosus; pictured) are known to wield rock anvils to rid cashew nuts of their foul-tasting skin. To determine the antiquity of this behaviour, Michael Haslam at the University of Oxford, UK, and his colleagues excavated a small area in a Brazilian national park populated by capuchins known to use stone anvils.

They found 69 buried stones with surface cut marks similar to those seen on anvil stones. Carbon dating suggested that some of the tools were buried as many as 750 years ago.

Curr. Biol. 26, R515–R522 (2016)