The use of stone tools is something that separated our ancestors from the chimps. Until now that is!

Kanzi is a chimp that’s been trained for years to make stone tools. Check out this amazing video of him creating a stone tool to solve a puzzle. Keep an eye out for some bipedalism in this video too (and a bit of banana eating, because no primate video would be complete without that)!

As impressive as that was Kanzi still isn’t as good as our ancestors were at making stone tools; despite years of training.

Even our early Australopith ancestors – who were very chimp like – were better than he is. This is because Kanzi has a relatively short thumb and immobile wrist (both adaptations for knuckle walking). This prevents him from using the same precision grip as our ancestors (and us), making it difficult for him to control his blows and produce a high quality tool.

Luckily for us it would seem the chimp revolution is still a little way off. But when they do take over, don’t say you didn’t see it coming.

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26 Comments

ThQ · 4th October 2013 at 11:49 am

If he was trained, does that really count ? It seems that the idea that only hominids made/make tools is quite crucial.

    Adam Benton · 4th October 2013 at 11:54 am

    Not really, our lineage remains the only one to manufacture stone tools in the wild. However, I think this research is really interesting because it shows that it’s chimps’ anatomy, rather than cognition, that stops them from making these tools. Kanzi understands what’s going on, he just physically can’t do it.

      Anonymous · 21st April 2017 at 4:01 pm

      We need a biomechanical engineer to design human-like hands for chimps, then we could see what they could do

        Adam Benton · 23rd April 2017 at 4:36 pm

        What about the other way around. Lets get some amputees swinging through the trees with chimp hands.

ThQ · 4th October 2013 at 11:52 am

Sorry I meant only the homo + australopithecines. I always get confused on the meaning of hominids.

    Adam Benton · 4th October 2013 at 11:55 am

    You’re statement is still true. Hominids (or my preferred term, hominins) are the only lineage to make stone tools. Just not all of them did (or do)

nonentiti · 4th October 2013 at 9:59 pm

Great video and post. I enjoy them as usual.

Jim Thomerson · 5th October 2013 at 1:06 am

There is a “make a fire” argument for separating Homo, or Hominins, anyway, some group that includes us, from the rest of the apes. There are chimpanzees who smoke cigaretts. Does anyone know if they light their own fags, or does a human have to do it for them?

    Adam Benton · 5th October 2013 at 10:17 am

    They can light cigarettes from other cigarettes, but I don’t know if they can get the initial one burning

      Artem Kaznatcheev · 6th October 2013 at 12:43 am

      so they must maintain a culture of constant smoking? Poor chimps.

        Adam Benton · 6th October 2013 at 4:30 pm

        it’s a metaphor for addition represented in primate form

Jim Thomerson · 6th October 2013 at 2:48 pm

I wonder if a chimp could strike a match. I would doubt they could use a conventional cigarette lighter.

    Adam Benton · 6th October 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Kanzi can! Don’t know if any others can do it

Jim Thomerson · 6th October 2013 at 6:53 pm

My next door neighbor does beautiful flint knapping. I, being untrained, doubt that I could do it.

    Adam Benton · 7th October 2013 at 11:56 am

    But with a few minutes of practice you could easily beat Kanzi. That’s something to hold on to!

Jim Birch · 8th October 2013 at 12:03 am

Hominid stone tool makers were trained too. Presumably some got better than their trainers and others didn’t pass the exam. Tool making is too complex to make up by just banging rocks together. There’s a culture of rock selection, blow types and so on. Plus knowing when to ditch and move on to the next piece. On my limited reading, not everyone makes tools and proficiency is recognised.

Apart from their anatomical deficiencies and I guess weaker cognitive capacity for the technical aspects of rock selection, design and construction, chimps don’t have the mental machinery for cultural side of teaching and maintaining the art. Kanzi was not taught by other chimps.

    Adam Benton · 8th October 2013 at 1:14 am

    Kanzi can pick out the right materials needed, but identifying whether he knows how to hit it is difficult, given his behaviour is consistent with both lack of understanding and lack of anatomy (at least one of which we know he lacks for sure).

    The social aspect is something I hadn’t really considered. There’s a lot of debate around whether chimps “teach.” On the one hand, experiments have show chimps will learn a behaviour from others under experimental conditions, but there are few, if any, examples of innovation and adoption by the group in the wild.

agnophilo · 8th October 2013 at 12:41 am

I like how he walks upright through the tall weeds too : )

    Adam Benton · 8th October 2013 at 1:08 am

    Kanzi is really one of the most human-like chimps I’ve seen. He even smokes!

      agnophilo · 8th October 2013 at 1:51 am

      Kind of evil to give a chimp a cigarette.

        Adam Benton · 8th October 2013 at 1:55 am

        Kanzi is not doing well, being overweight and showing some signs of psychological trauma from captivity. Maybe smoking cheers him up?

        agnophilo · 8th October 2013 at 8:26 pm

        And slave labor.

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