There is some evidence chimpanzees consume plants for medicinal purposes. Chimpanzees generally chew the leaves of the plants they eat. In 1995, researchers observed chimps swallowing leaves of the Aspilia plant whole. Analysis of this plant has found that it contains an oil which eases stomach pain and kills bacteria, fungi and parasites. Swallowing it whole is believed to release the medication in the intestines where the harmful microbes are founds. [National Geographic Earth Almanac, January 1993].

There are many examples of tool-using animals. Egyptian vultures drop stones on ostrich eggs to crack them open; elephants use sticks to rub their backs; chimpanzees and monkeys use rocks to open nuts; sea otters sometimes break open shells with rocks; and gorillas and orangutans use branches to pull down limbs with fruit.

The woodpecker finch uses a twig as a tool with extraordinary skill. First it searches around for a twig that is the right size and strength. Once it finds one it likes it jabs the twig into a hole like a lance and maneuvers it around to pry out grubs deep inside the tree, far beyond reach of its beak. Some finches, once they've found a twig they like, carry it around from tree to tree. According to researchers only about one out of five woodpecker finches have mastered the technique."

In 2001, Betty, a New Caledonian crow kept in the aviary at Oxford University, was the subject of an experiment to find if she would take a straight tool or a hooked one to fetch as tiny bucket with meat inside. When the hooked tool was accidently knocked away Betty took the straight tool and methodically bent it to make a hook which she used to retrieve the bucket.

In December 2009, scientists at Melbourne's Victoria Museum released a photograph of an octopus with its legs wrapped around a coconut shell, which it used to protect itself on the sea floor. The scientists said the octopus carries the shell with it and uses it as armor in what the scientists said was the first known example of an invertebrate using tools.

Websites and Resources on Hominins and Human Origins: Smithsonian Human Origins Program ; Institute of Human Origins ; Becoming Human University of Arizona site ; Talk Origins Index ; Last updated 2006. Hall of Human Origins American Museum of Natural History ; Wikipedia article on Human Evolution Wikipedia ; Human Evolution Images; Hominin Species ; Paleoanthropology Links ; Britannica Human Evolution ; Human Evolution ; National Geographic Map of Human Migrations ; Humin Origins Washington State University ; University of California Museum of Anthropology; BBC The evolution of man"; "Bones, Stones and Genes: The Origin of Modern Humans" (Video lecture series). Howard Hughes Medical Institute.; Human Evolution Timeline ; Walking with Cavemen (BBC) ; PBS Evolution: Humans; PBS: Human Evolution Library; Human Evolution: you try it, from PBS; John Hawks' Anthropology Weblog ; New Scientist: Human Evolution; Fossil Sites and Organizations: The Paleoanthropology Society; Institute of Human Origins (Don Johanson's organization); The Leakey Foundation; The Stone Age Institute; The Bradshaw Foundation ; Turkana Basin Institute; Koobi Fora Research Project; Maropeng Cradle of Humankind, South Africa ; Blombus Cave Project; Journals: Journal of Human Evolution; American Journal of Physical Anthropology; Evolutionary Anthropology; Comptes Rendus Palevol ; PaleoAnthropology

Jane Goodall and Tool-Using Chimps

Melissa Hogenboom wrote for the BBC: “It was only when the primatologist Jane Goodall began her studies on wild chimpanzees in the early 1960s that things started to change, albeit slowly. Her mission was to look at chimpanzees in order to understand more about our ancient human ancestors.[Source: Melissa Hogenboom, BBC, July 3, 2015 |::|]

“From the beginning of her time in Africa, she saw strikingly human-like behaviours. In her early research she referred to the chimpanzees as "he" and "she" rather than "it". She also gave them names, something previously unheard of in academia, and began to describe their unique personalities. Tool-use had been considered a uniquely human ability |::|

“She also discovered they ate meat: they were not vegetarians as had been assumed. And to get it they were using tools. She saw chimpanzees fishing for termites with twigs. This in itself was a ground-breaking finding. Until then, tool-use had been considered a uniquely human ability. Her project leader at the time, the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey said: "Now we must redefine 'tool', redefine 'man', or accept chimpanzees as humans."

Chimpanzees, Tools and Technology Transfer

Chimps have been observed using tools for eating, weaponry and play. Describing the first example of tool manufacturing by a non-human animals, Goodall wrote, "The chimpanzee peers at the surface of a termite heap and, where he spies one of the sealed off entrances, scrapes away the thin layer of soil. Then picks a straw or dried stem of grass and pokes this carefully down the hole. The termites, like miniature bulldogs, bite the straw and hang on grimly as it is gently withdrawn. I have watched chimpanzees fish this way for two hours at a time, picking dainty morsels from the straw and munching with delight. ..I have seen them break off a twig and carry it for a far as half a mile, going from one termite hill to another."

In the forests of northern Sierre Leone chimpanzees have been observed using sticks as "shoes" and "seat cushions" in thorny kapok trees, where the primates often feed on fruit. Chimpanzees in Côte D'Ivoire have been observed using wood hammers to crack open soft nuts and stones to smash open harder ones. When the nuts are in season the sound of hammering chimps is so pronounced that Swiss Researchers Hedwige Boesch-Achermann said "Once I was leading someone here who was wondering what carpenters were doing in the forest." Before the nut is cracked open it is often secured in the knot hole of fallen tree or root protruding from the ground. The chimps prefer to hold the rock with two hands. Stones are scare in the rain forest and chimpanzees place them in different locations around the forest and remember where they are so they can be used again. [Source: Eugene Linden, National Geographic, March 1992 ++]

Tools allow chimps to harvest more nutritious food which outweighs the large body size necessary to carry a larger brain. Nuts are chock filled with calories and with a rock a champ can eat 3,500 calories in just two hours. Consuming the same amount of calories in leaves might take as long as ten hours. ++

Technology transfer has taken place with chimpanzees. The use of twigs to catch carpenter ants was initially observed at only one chimpanzee community in Gombe. When one female moved from one group to another, members of the second groups began using the twig technology. The nut-pounding chimpanzees not only use stones as nutcrackers, remember where they left stones and use them again, mother chimps teach their off spring how to crack nuts.

Chimpanzees adapt to different environment in different ways. Chimps in Tanzania uses sticks to harvest termites but don't use rocks to crack open nuts. For chimps in Côte D'Ivoire the opposite is true. ++

Monkeys in Brazil Make Hominin-Like Stone Tools

tool use by a capuchin monkey

At a national park in Brazil scientists watched Capuchin monkeys smash stones against each other, splitting off sharp-edged flakes that resembled cutting tools early hominins. Associated Press reported: “he monkeys ignored the flakes, focusing on the damaged stones instead. So they clearly weren’t deliberately making them as tools. But if ancient monkeys did the same thing, their unintentional handiwork could be mistaken for deliberate tool-making by human ancestors, researchers said. [Source: Associated Press, October 19, 2016 -]

“The scientists are not suggesting that any stone tools attributed so far to human forerunners were instead made by monkeys, said Tomos Proffitt of Oxford University in England. Those tools, which date back as far as 3.3 million years ago, are more complex than what the Brazilian monkeys make, he said. But as scientists look for earlier and earlier tools, their findings may begin to resemble the monkey flakes more strongly, said Proffitt, lead author of a study released by the journal Nature. -

“The work shows that such flakes are not exclusively the calling card of our ancient ancestors, called hominins, he said. If somebody finds very old simple flakes, “you can’t assume it is hominin. You have to say it might be produced by an extinct monkey or ape,” Proffitt said. Our African ancestors used sharp-edged stone flakes for butchering and skinning animal carcasses, as well as cutting up tough plant material. To show such flakes were human-made tools, scientists seek evidence like wear marks on the edges or nearby animal bones with marks from butchering. -

“Proffitt and his co-authors studied capuchin monkeys in the Serra da Capivara National Park. They examined the flakes and damaged rocks and compared them to artifacts from human ancestors. It’s not clear why the monkeys smash rocks together, he said. Scientists long thought tool-making was confined to our branch of the evolutionary family tree, the Homo group. But last year, scientists reported finding 3.3-millon-year-old tools much older than any known member of Homo. Maybe they were made by some smaller-brained forerunner hominin, like the creature best known for the skeleton nicknamed “Lucy.” -

“Capuchin monkeys are not hominins, but “the first hominin tools could have looked like the ones produced by capuchins or even great apes,” said Sonia Harmand, an anthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, one of the scientists who reported the 3.3-million-year-old tools. Harmand, who didn’t participate in the capuchin study, said flakes could have been produced by accident during rock-pounding in ancient times, but that only hominins realized their usefulness and went on to make them deliberately. Alison Brooks, an anthropology professor at George Washington University in St. Louis, said the finding underlines the idea that to identify ancient simple flakes as deliberately made tools, “we need to show that this was more than just a byproduct of pounding.”“ -

Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Language

“Even though chimpanzee can not speak words and use language as humans do it is “clear that they have a complex system of communication. Chimpanzees lack the vocal structures to make the sounds we do. But language is more than spoken words: gestures and facial expressions also play an important role. When you take that into account, chimps suddenly don't look so bad at language. [Source: Melissa Hogenboom, BBC, July 3, 2015 |::|]

“Chimpanzees do not have our advanced skills but they have many of the components of language. Kanzi the bonobo, with his language skills, is an extreme case – and he was trained by humans. But there is plenty that chimps can do for themselves. Chimps have intricate ways of communicating with each other For instance, one study found that chimps beckon in the same way we do. Other work identified 66 distinct gestures, which all conveyed meaningful information. They even have cultural variations for the world "apple", which were discovered when a group of Dutch chimps was re-homed to a Scottish zoo. |::|

“It is clear that chimps, like many other species, have intricate ways of communicating with each other. The fault has been ours: we have been slow to understand what they are saying. The more we look for similarities between humans and our relatives, the more we find. "For biologists we are one species out of many," says de Waal. The differences are not stark and absolute, but rather a matter of degree He points to the way chimps kiss and embrace after a fight, in order to make up, just as humans do. "If you want to… say it's a very different behaviour, then the burden falls on you to explain what's so different about what the chimpanzees and humans are doing," says de Waal. |::|

“There's no doubt that human abilities are more developed than those of chimps, particularly when it comes to spoken language. The point is that the differences are not stark and absolute, but rather a matter of degree – and they get subtler the more we investigate them. By that measure, humans are no more unique than any other animal.” |::|

Chimpanzee Communication and Language

Kanzi conversing

Chimpanzees make a low pitched "hoo" when they greet one another, and sometimes they embrace, shake hands and wave their hands in the air. They makes a series of low grunts if they come across a food they like. When a chimpanzee is angry or facing down a predator it goes "wraaaaah." When males are on a ridge top they hoot loudly to let others in the valley know his location. Chimps also use body language and gestures to communicate. They even beg like humans by holding their hand out, palm up and hoot in a questioning way..

"If you judged from sound alone," Jane Goodall says, "you would imagine wild chimpanzees were always fighting and quarreling. When two groups meet there is sometimes a fantastic cacophony, as the males call loudly , drum on tree trunks, and shake branches, while the females and youngsters scream and rush out of the way. But this merely excitement and pleasure; with his highly emotional extrovert temperament, the chimpanzee likes to express his feelings and actions. When squabbles do arise, often over the merest triviality, they are usually settled by gestures and loud protests.” Chimpanzees in Côte d'Ivoire communicate with one another by thumping on tree trunks. When you approach a chimp you should always shake a few branches to let them know you are coming.

Chimps may have a complex language but scientist can only "guess at the content of the information passed." A study published din Science in January 1998, revealed that chimpanzees have a so-called "language center" in their brains similar to that of humans.

Chimpanzees in the laboratory have, like gorillas, been taught to use sign language. Washoe, a female chimp, was the first non-human to learn to communicate using American sign language. In 1967 Washoe signed "gimme sweet", which some argued was an example of a sentence and a combination of signs to express seff-desire. Funding was eventfully cut off for the project involving Washoe because it was believed she was only imitating and responding to subtle clues, not using language. [Source: Eugene Linden, National Geographic . March 1992]

Kanzi: the Word- and Syntax-Using Bonobo

A bonobo named Kanzi (born 1980) uses and understands words and syntax, his keepers claim, which had long been though to have been the realm of human beings. He understands the difference between "take the potato outdoors" and "go outdoors and get the potato" and between "put the raisin in the water" and “put water in the raisins," which are taken as understanding syntax. [Source: Sharon Begley, Newsweek,January 19, 1998]

Bonobos look very similar to chimpanzees but are a different species. Kanzi uses lexigrams on computer that represent words. He types at the keyboard. Researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh at Georgia Sate University says "Kanzi easily identifies words spoken by complete strangers and can echo them by pressing the correct key on the lexigram board." He can also carry out weird commands like "Put the keys in the refrigerator."

Kanzi has learned 256 geometric symbols in such a way that it suggested he understands word order. Kanzai has invented pahrases such "green banana" for a cucumber and "water bird" for a swan. He has picked up a syringe after hearing "give the dog a shot",

Kanzai was reportedly the first primate to learn language "naturally." He picked up his first words while trainers were teaching his adoptive mothers. In his free time he liked to watch Tarzan movies and Clint Eastwood orangutan films. He also liked it when her trainer dressed up in a gorilla suit and prefers burritos over tacos.

Koko and Gorilla Communications

Kanzi with communication keyboard

Gorillas bark when alarmed, and belch as a greeting. Harsh pig grunts are signs of disapproval. Sharp hoot barks means they are particularly alarmed. "Belch vocalizations" are associated with eating. These noises were thought to be the sound of stomach rumblings but they are in fact a type of communication. Fossey said the noises were "exchanged in situations of maximum contentment." "Pig grunt" noises are used when a mother scolds her young and when the silverback is disciplining a member of the group. "Hoot barks" are made when the gorillas are curious as well as alarmed. A folded arm gesture mean no-harm. Gorillas beat their chests as a way of releasing tension and warning intruders. According to Fossey a deep throated call of "Noaom, naoom, naoom" means "Food is served. Come and get it!"

As is true with chimpanzees, there isn’t much difference genetically between gorillas and humans. One of the most famous gorillas was a female named Koko. She used and understood over 1,000 sign language symbols and communicated on the Internet. She lived in California and died there in 2018. As of 1990, she could speak 800 sign language words.

In a seven year period Koko learned to "speak" using American sign language. During that period she used 645 different symbols; 375 of them on a regular basis. She used signs for words like “stethoscope,” “friend,” “belly button,” and “airplane.” She could make sentences, joke around and even lie. When Koko was shown a horse with a bit she sighed "Horse sad." When asked why she replied "teeth." When asked to take a bath, something she didn’t like to do, she fussed "Me cry there." She often called her trainer Dr. Francine Patterson a "nut" or a "bird" in a teasing manner. Once she broke a sink and blamed it on Patterson's assistant Kate. "Kate there bad" Koko said pointing to the sink. [Source: Francine Patterson, National Geographic, October 1978]

On a Stanford-Binet IQ test Koko scored between 85 and 95, and that included answers marked wrong that should have been marked right. One of the questions, for example, was "where would you go if it were raining: a house or a tree." Koko answered a tree. During the first year and a half of her training she learned at rate of about a sign a month. After 36 months she she was using 184 signs on a regular basis and after 4½ years she had learned 222 signs. Koko also learned to use a computer, with a banana given as a reward for each correct answer.

Orangutans Use Mime to Communicate

Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian, “Orangutans use mime to help make themselves understood, according to video recordings of the apes in the wild. Footage of rehabilitated orangutans released into a Borneo forest show the apes mimicking actions such as cracking open termite mounds, washing themselves and using a leaf to clean a wounded foot. The study suggests they are capable of more complex communication than previously thought, and resort to mimes to elaborate on messages directed at other apes and their former keepers. [Source: Ian Sample, The Guardian, August 11, 2010 ==]

“The study, published in the Biology Letters journal, suggests miming is rare in wild orangutans, but is used when other forms of communication fail. In some recordings, orangutans used gestures to distract or mislead others. One animal indicated to researchers that it wanted a haircut, as a ruse to divert their attention while it stole something, according to the study. Another tried to use a stick to get termites from a nest, but feigned failure in a bid to attract help, the researchers claim. ==

“Psychologist Anne Russon and Kristin Andrews, a philosopher at York University in Toronto, analysed 20 years of video footage of orangutans that had once been in captivity, but were released into the wild in Indonesian Borneo. They found 18 scenes in which orangutans appeared to be acting out simple mimes to convey information to other animals or people. Of these, 14 mimes were addressed to researchers working with the apes, while four were directed at other orangutans. ==

“Andrews said: "Great apes' ability to engage in rudimentary narrative communication suggests to us that, like humans, they are able to make sense of their world by telling stories, and to relay their thoughts about the world to others."Previous studies have described a gorilla acting as though it was rolling a ball of clay between her hands, which was interpreted as meaning "clay". A language-trained orangutan was also observed blowing through its thumb and forefinger to express the word "balloon". The researchers write: "These orangutan and other great ape pantomime cases indicate that pantomime serves multiple purposes and supports important communicative complexities in living great apes. For great apes, like humans, pantomime is a medium, not a message."” ==

Culture, Medicine and Facial Expressions Among Chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are extremely good at reading each other's facial expressions. So are monkeys. Melissa Hogenboom wrote for the BBC: De Waal “noted that tickling a young chimpanzee elicits the same smiling response as children. A study published in May 2015 has since shown that the same muscles are involved when chimps and humans smile. Our incredible range of facial expressions may be unique, but look at the face of a chimpanzee for long enough and you will begin to see a similar complex repertoire of smiling and laughter.[Source: Melissa Hogenboom, BBC, July 3, 2015 |::|]

“Chimpanzees even have culture. They aren't composing symphonies but culture can be defined as passing on knowledge, habits and transmission from one generation to the next. De Waal argues that chimps completely depend on cultural and social learning. There is now abundant evidence for this. Wild chimp societies have developed different tool use, courtship and grooming behaviours, which they pass onto their offspring. In the lab, chimps will conform, using tools in the same way that others do. This conformity is "a hallmark of human culture", according to the researchers. The chimps conformed to their group's social norms, even though another technique could have been just as useful. |::|

“Most recently, it has emerged that chimpanzees can learn to cook food, although they do need to be prompted. They would probably quite like a drink to go with it: a 17-year-long study found that they were partial to alcohol from fermented palm sap, and drank enough to show signs of inebriation. Suddenly that gourmet meal idea doesn't look so far off.” |::|

Orangutans Use Ipads to Communicate

In May 2012, David Fischer of Associated Press wrote: “The 8-year-old twins love their iPad. They draw, play games and expand their vocabulary. Their family's teenagers also like the hand-held computer tablets, too, but the clan's elders show no interest. The orangutans at Miami's Jungle Island apparently are just like people when it comes to technology. The park is one of several zoos experimenting with computers and apes, letting its six orangutans use an iPad to communicate and as part of a mental stimulus program. Linda Jacobs, who oversees the program, hopes the devices will eventually help bridge the gap between humans and the endangered apes. [Source: David Fischer, Associated Press. May 9, 2012]

"Our young ones pick up on it. They understand it. It's like, 'Oh I get this,'" Jacobs said. "Our two older ones, they just are not interested. I think they just figure, 'I've gotten along just fine in this world without this communication-skill here and the iPad, and I don't need a computer.'" Jacobs said she began letting the orangutans use iPads last summer, based on the suggestion of someone who had used the devices with dolphins. The software was originally designed for humans with autism and the screen displays pictures of various objects. A trainer then names one of the objects, and the ape presses the corresponding button.

The devices have been a great addition to the enrichment programs Jungle Island already does with the orangutans, Jacobs said. Keepers have long used sign language to communicate with them. Using their hands, the orangutans can respond to simple questions, identify objects and express their wants or needs. The apes can also identify body parts, helping the trainers care for them and even give them shots. "We're able to really monitor their health on a daily basis," Jacobs said of the need for communication with the orangutans. "We can do daily checks. If somebody's not feeling well, we know it immediately."

While Jacobs and other trainers have developed strong relationships with the orangutans, the iPad and other touchscreen computers offer an opportunity for them to communicate with people not trained in their sign language. "It would just be such a wonderful bridge to have," Jacobs said. "So that other people could really appreciate them."

Orangutans are extremely intelligent but limited by their physical inability to talk, she said. "They are sort of trapped in those bodies," Jacobs said. "They have the intelligence that they need to communicate, but they don't have the right equipment, because they don't have voice boxes or vocal cords. So this gives them a way to let us know what they know, what they are capable of, what they would like to have."

Orangutan Learns to Take Her Own Medicine

In August 2007, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “An orangutan at Tama Zoological Park has surprised her minders by willingly taking her medicine after ripping open the packet herself — just like a human would. “It's rather rare for an animal to take medicine on its own," said Hidetoshi Kurotori, who looks after the orangutan, named Gypsy, at the zoo in Hino, Tokyo. Gypsy, who is thought to be 51 years old, quite elderly for an orangutan, became sick during the rainy season and was given medicine similar to that used for humans. She had taken the medicine before, after a zoo employee tore open the packet and poured the powdered medicine into her mouth. [Source: Yomiuri Online and Associated Press, August 9, 2007 ]

On June 27, Kurotori accidentally dropped the medicine inside Gypsy's cage. When he collected the packet the next morning, it had been torn open and the contents had disappeared. Kurotori, 55, handed Gypsy another packet and then watched in disbelief as she skillfully ripped it open and tipped the medicine into her mouth. Since then, Gypsy has been quite happy to repeat this feat. The medicine is flavored to suit orangutans’ fondness for sweet foods, but Kurotori is unsure if the orangutan knows the powder is a medicine. “Perhaps she just prefers to take it when she wants, not when somebody tries to force her to," he said. Gypsy also wipes her cage with a cloth, and pours water into a plastic bottle before drinking it.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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