Canada Research Chair in Tropical Archeology
Tier 2 - 2003-01-07
University of Calgary
Social Sciences and Humanities
Comparing the use of tools in chimpanzee communities and studying the origins of modern human behavior in the woodlands of northern Mozambique.
Providing new information on the origins of tool-making and what it means to be human.
A Chimp Off The Old Block: How Apes Use Tools
You've seen them in museums, and at first glace, they just look like stones, but as you look closer, you see the chips and scratches that reveal they were something more than just rocks—they were the first human tools, the symbolic start to our long trek toward who we are today. But what if we weren't the only ones using such tools?
That's what Dr. Julio Mercader's research has revealed, discovering not just that prehistoric apes used tools, but also that chimps of today have invented a primitive technology of their own. To be clear that he's not just talking about apes picking up random rocks—Mercader has revealed that chimps select and gather stones, which they then bring to sites with large roots, on which they precisely crack—but do not crush—a variety of nuts.
Obviously, such discoveries have major implications for the study of human evolution, to say nothing of what they mean for the study of our closest genetic relatives. As Canada Research Chair in Tropical Archeology, Mercader will continue this ambitious and important research, building on his discoveries that apes not only use tools, but that they transmit this knowledge of tool use from generation to generation. His work also provides other researchers with the background and methods to research similar phenomena worldwide.
Mercader is also working to close a major gap in African prehistory through his exploration of the origins of modern humans in northern Mozambique. In collaboration with scientists from Africa, Australia and North America, he is using first-of-their-kind core samples and other pioneering methods to study African prehistory and develop the tools and expertise needed to do larger studies in the future. His work will advance archeology, paleoanthropology and biology, while also providing us with new insights about our distant ancestors—and, inevitably, ourselves.