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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Nov 19;370(1682). pii: 20140359. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0359.

Experimental studies illuminate the cultural transmission of percussive technologies in Homo and Pan.

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Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, and Scottish Primate Research Group, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews, St Andrews KY16 9JP, UK


The complexity of Stone Age tool-making is assumed to have relied upon cultural transmission, but direct evidence is lacking. This paper reviews evidence bearing on this question provided through five related empirical perspectives. Controlled experimental studies offer special power in identifying and dissecting social learning into its diverse component forms, such as imitation and emulation. The first approach focuses on experimental studies that have discriminated social learning processes in nut-cracking by chimpanzees. Second come experiments that have identified and dissected the processes of cultural transmission involved in a variety of other force-based forms of chimpanzee tool use. A third perspective is provided by field studies that have revealed a range of forms of forceful, targeted tool use by chimpanzees, that set percussion in its broader cognitive context. Fourth are experimental studies of the development of flint knapping to make functional sharp flakes by bonobos, implicating and defining the social learning and innovation involved. Finally, new and substantial experiments compare what different social learning processes, from observational learning to teaching, afford good quality human flake and biface manufacture. Together these complementary approaches begin to delineate the social learning processes necessary to percussive technologies within the Pan-Homo clade.


chimpanzee; cultural transmission; nut-cracking; percussive technology; social learning; stone tools

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