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Wild monkeys flake stone tools

Nature volume 539, pages 8588 (03 November 2016) | Download Citation

This article has been updated


Our understanding of the emergence of technology shapes how we view the origins of humanity1,2. Sharp-edged stone flakes, struck from larger cores, are the primary evidence for the earliest stone technology3. Here we show that wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in Brazil deliberately break stones, unintentionally producing recurrent, conchoidally fractured, sharp-edged flakes and cores that have the characteristics and morphology of intentionally produced hominin tools. The production of archaeologically visible cores and flakes is therefore no longer unique to the human lineage, providing a comparative perspective on the emergence of lithic technology. This discovery adds an additional dimension to interpretations of the human Palaeolithic record, the possible function of early stone tools, and the cognitive requirements for the emergence of stone flaking.

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  • 15 December 2016

    Extended Data Table 2 was replaced, to include the missing five final lines.


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The study was funded by a European Research Council Starting Investigator Grant (#283959) to M.H. and São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) awards to T.F. (#2013/05219-0) and E.B.O. (#2014/04818-0). Support for fieldwork and analysis was provided by N. Guidon and G. Daltrini Felice of FUMDHAM and University College London (ERC Starting Grant #283366). We thank R. Fonseca de Oliveira for excavation coordination, M. Gumert, R. Mora and A. Arroyo for comments, and A. Theodoropoulou for artefact illustrations. Fieldwork at SCNP was approved by Brazilian environmental protection agencies (IBAMA/ICMBio 37615-2).

Author information

Author notes

    • Tomos Proffitt
    •  & Lydia V. Luncz

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Primate Archaeology Research Group, School of Archaeology, University of Oxford, Dyson Perrins Building, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK.

    • Tomos Proffitt
    • , Lydia V. Luncz
    •  & Michael Haslam
  2. Institute of Psychology, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, SP 05508-030, Brazil

    • Tiago Falótico
    •  & Eduardo B. Ottoni
  3. Institute of Archaeology, University College London, 31–34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK

    • Ignacio de la Torre


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M.H. and T.F. observed and recorded the capuchin behaviour, collected lithic material and directed excavations at Serra da Capivara National Park. T.P. conducted the technological analysis. T.P., L.V.L., I.D.L.T. and M.H. discussed the implications of the results. T.P. wrote the paper and supplementary online content with contributions from L.V.L., T.F., E.B.O., I.D.L.T. and M.H. T.P generated all figures models and video content, using data recorded by M.H. and T.P.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Tomos Proffitt or Michael Haslam.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks S. Carvalho and H. Roche for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Extended data

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains technological analysis of capuchin stone on stone percussive tools and Supplementary References.


  1. 1.

    Video footage of stone on stone percussive behaviour in wild capuchins, Serra da Capivara National Park

    Time stamp 00:10 – Use of quartzite hammerstone refitted in Refit Set 6. Time stamp 00:19 and 02:30 – Examples of hammerstone fracture during use. Time stamp 03:09 – Placement of detached flake on a passive hammer in a behaviour closely resembling hominin bipolar knapping.

  2. 2.

    Capuchin stone on stone assemblage, Serra da Capivara National Park

    Video of 3D model and reconstruction of reduction sequence for Refit Set 6, indicating the recurrent detachment of invasive flakes from a single hammerstone and examples of other flaked hammerstones and flakes.

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