Crafty Bonobo Shows Humans Aren’t the Only Stone Tool-Makers

Kanzi creates his hominid-rivaling tools.
Kanzi creates his hominid-rivaling tools. New Scientist

Not satisfied with knowing sign language or creating “words” for banana or juice, a 30-year-old male bonobo chimp named Kanzi has proven that ancient humans aren’t the only ones capable of making stone tools, the New Scientist reports.

To test the stretches of Kanzi’s entrepreneurial imagination, researchers sealed food inside of a log to mimic tasty bone marrow. One of Kanzi’s bonobo palls succeeded in extracting the morsels after banging the log on the ground, but Kanzi, dignified chimp that he is, was not going to stoop to unsophisticated banging.

Instead, he used two stones as a core and hammer to shape — or knap — the stones into a flint, then used the tools he created to crop, drill and scrape at the food logs. He also experimented with inserting sticks into the logs’ seams. And, of course, throwing things at it – he is still a chimp afterall. While Kanzi’s smash-loving friend opened two logs, Kanzi got the better of 24.

Kanzi’s new tools surprised the researchers in their resemblance to early hominid relics. While Kanzi’s bonobo friend also makes the occasional tool, only Kanzi’s devices match the two criteria – wedging and chopping, and scraping and drilling – that define early Homo relics.

But Kanzi lives in captivity and regularly interacts with humans, so he is no ordinary bonobo. Researchers don’t know whether his genius for solving problems with tools extends to his wild relatives. But scientists do point out that Kanzi’s flint-chipping skills add spark to the ongoing debate over whether stone tools mark the beginning of modern human culture, or that tool-making actually predates our species’ genus. If Kanzi could have a say, he’d likely put his bets on the latter.

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