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Three thousand years of wild capuchin stone tool use


The human archaeological record changes over time. Finding such change in other animals requires similar evidence, namely, a long-term sequence of material culture. Here, we apply archaeological excavation, dating and analytical techniques to a wild capuchin monkey (Sapajus libidinosus) site in Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil. We identify monkey stone tools between 2,400 and 3,000 years old and, on the basis of metric and damage patterns, demonstrate that capuchin food processing changed between ~2,400 and 300 years ago, and between ~100 years ago and the present day. We present the first example of long-term tool-use variation outside of the human lineage, and discuss possible mechanisms of extended behavioural change.

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All data pertaining to the study are included within the text and Supplementary Information. Access to the collections is available upon request.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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The study was funded by a European Research Council Starting Investigator Grant (No. 283959) to M.H.; a São Paulo Research Foundation award to T.F. (No. 2013/05219-0) and E.B.O. (No. 2014/04818-0); a CNPq PQ Grant (No. 308746/2017-1) to E.B.O.; a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (No. ECF-2015-396) awarded to R.A.S.; and a British Academy Fellowship (No. pf170157) awarded to T.P. Support for fieldwork and analysis was provided by N. Guidon and G. Daltrini Felice of FUMDHAM. Fieldwork at SCNP was approved by Brazilian environmental protection agencies (IBAMA/ICMBio Nos. 37609-5 and 37615-5). We thank L. V. Luncz for assistance in identification of primate material and R. F. de Oliveira for assistance in coordinating the excavation team and identification of primate material.

Author information

T.F. and M.H. undertook excavation and initial data collection. T.F., T.P., M.H. and E.B.O. conceived the study. T.P. conducted the technological analysis. R.A.S. conducted radiocarbon dating of samples and produced associated figures and tables. T.P. and T.F. wrote the paper and Supplementary online material, with contributions from M.H., E.B.O. and R.A.S. T.P. generated all figures and graphs.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Tomos Proffitt.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Analysis, Supplementary Figs. 1–14, Supplementary Tables 1–3 and Supplementary References

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Fig. 1: The Caju BPF2 site, Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil.
Fig. 2: Examples of hammerstones and anvils from Caju BPF2.