Study: monkeys in Brazil used stone tools 700 years ago

Capuchin monkeys used stone tools to open cashews 700 years ago, according to a new study from the University of Oxford, and it may just be the tip of a larger discovery about monkeys and tool usage. While that discovery itself isn't that big of a deal — past studies have found evidence of monkeys using tools — it is notable because of the region in which these tools were found: Brazil. In past studies of this sort, the evidence for monkey tool usage has been found in parts of Asia and Africa.

The tool usage was rudimentary — these monkeys, as with ones from other regions as noted by past studies, placed a food item on a large stone and used a smaller stone to break it open. Similar actions have been discovered among West African chimps, as well. Interestingly enough, researchers found large stone "anvils" under cashew trees, indicating that monkeys carried them over for more convenient cashew processing.

While the 700-year timeframe was given this time around, it likely isn't the earliest these Brazilian monkeys were harvesting cashews in this manner. The researchers expect to find older evidence of monkeys using stone tools the further down they dig; how far back this behavior goes is anyone's guess.

Modern capuchin monkeys in Brazil are still observed using stones to break open cashews, indicating the knowledge has been passed down for centuries. Researchers speculate that the early humans in this region may have discovered the edible nature of the cashew by observing these monkeys, as in its normal state the cashew is hidden away within a hard fruit and surrounded in toxic fluid.

VIA: Washington Post