You’ve probably already come across this story, but just in case:
Oldest chimp tools found in West Africa
Apes could have passed down skills for thousands of years.
In the West African rainforest, archaeologists have found ancient chimpanzee stone tools thousands of years older than the previous oldest finds in the same area. The discovery suggests that chimps may have passed cultural information down the generations for more than 4,000 years.
I’m no archeologist, and since the paper doesn’t seem to be on the PANAS website, as the Nature article says it should be, I couldn’t evaluate the paper even if I were. But if this evidence holds up, it provides an interesting demonstration of one of the key differences between chimp and human culture. Chimps may have “passed cultural information down the generations for more than 4,000 years,” which is impressive, but the information they passed changed very little over those 4,000. The chimps of today, the chimps of 100 years ago (the oldest previous tools were 100 years old),and the chimps of 4,000 years ago were all using basically the same tool to do the same simple job. We humans, on the other hand, exhibit something that Michael Tomasello calls the “ratchet effect.” That is, we not only pass cultural information down from generation to generation, but as a society, or a species, we can improve, little by little, on what we receive from previous informations, and pass those improvements on to the next generation. Thus over time we pass on more and more effective products of culture. That’s why humans have accomplished so much in 4,000 years, while chimps are still using the same tools they were back then. Poor little buggers.