Latest News

Reports, fieldwork and updates from the primate archaeology team

PRIMARCH is now on twitter (@PrimateArch)!

Please feel free to follow us, and contact us if you have anything you’d like to share.

Tiago Falótico has joined PRIMARCH

We welcome Dr Tiago Falótico to Oxford, and the Primate Archaeology Group, for a one-year postdoctoral position. He actually started with us at the beginning of 2015, so this a belated welcome because of some recent problems we’ve had updating the project website. Tiago’s doctoral work was with the wild bearded capuchins of Serra da Capivara National Park in Brazil, where he documented the widest variety of tool-use activities known for this species. Tiago will be co-directing PRIMARCH work in Brazil, as well as working with the other people and primates involved in our project. See the Outcomes page for some of Tiago’s recent publications.

Evolution of Tool Use conference, Oxford University Museum, 3 August 2015

How and why do animals use tools? What does the use of sticks and stones by other animals tell us about the evolution of our own complex technological world, and the world of our ancestors the hominins? How can we learn more about the origins and development of tool use across a variety of bird and mammal species? To address these questions and more, the PRIMARCH team have invited an international group of research scientists to Oxford to discuss their latest findings in a public forum.

Conference title: The evolution of tool use: animal and human perspectives

Date: Monday, 3 August 2015

Time: 9am – 5pm

Venue: Museum of Natural History, University of Oxford

Confirmed speakers, and the general topic they will be discussing, are:

  • Tiago Falótico (capuchins)
  • Thibaud Gruber (chimpanzees)
  • Michael Gumert (macaques)
  • Sonia Harmand (hominins)
  • Alex Kacelnik (crows)
  • Tracy Kivell (hominins)
  • Lydia Luncz (chimpanzees)
  • Janet Mann (dolphins)
  • Ellen Meulman (orangutans)
  • Shelby Putt (hominins)
  • Tim Tinker (sea otters)

This event is open to the public. Registration is necessary to attend, and costs £12 (including lunch). To register and for details of how to get to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, please go to For further information contact Dr Michael Haslam:

1-year postdoc position now open

The Oxford Primate Archaeology group is looking to hire a suitably qualified researcher for a 12-month postdoctoral position. The primary role will be co-ordinating the project’s research programme with wild tool-using capuchin monkeys. Further details, including a link to the job description, are available from the Opportunities page. The deadline for applications is 3 October 2014.

Lydia Luncz joins the PRIMARCH team

We are pleased to announce that Dr Lydia Luncz has joined the Oxford Primate Archaeology team, commencing a two-year postdoctoral position. She recently completed her doctoral work at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, for which she documented cultural variation in tool-use among wild West African chimpanzees in the Tai Forest, Ivory Coast. Lydia will be co-ordinating the project’s research into the evolution of chimpanzee tool-use, as well as conducting cross-species comparisons with the tool-using macaque and capuchin groups. Links to some of Lydia’s recent papers are available on the Outcomes page.

Macaque tool use on the BBC


A long-tailed macaque uses a stone tool to open an oyster, from the BBC series ‘Monkey Planet’

The BBC recently ran a series of new programs under the title ‘Monkey Planet’, looking at a variety of primate species around the world. The third of the programs, titled ‘Master minds’, included footage and discussion of the stone-tool-using macaques of Thailand. Two groups are shown, from islands on the west and east of the country, both of which are included in the primate archaeology project. Both the groups open attached shellfish using small pounding tools, in addition to using larger tools to pound open unattached foods on anvils.

The episodes are available to watch through the BBC iPlayer service, and you can also find footage of the macaques online at:

Chimpanzee insectivory

A new  paper by PRIMARCH project member Bill McGrew (McGrew 2014) reviews what we currently know about primate insect-eating. Building on an earlier review (McGrew 2001), he finds that discussion of the evolution of human animal consumption is still heavily biased towards hunting and carnivory, despite the often high prevalence of insect consumption by modern human and non-human primates. Among non-human primates, chimpanzees  have developed the most extensive array of tools to access insect prey such as ants, bees and termites, although the relationship between tool use and insectivory is not straightforward, as recent work on the Ugandan Bulindi chimpanzees (McLennan 2014) demonstrates. Other primates have also developed strategies to access both insects and arthropods, such as Brazilian capuchin monkeys using stone tools to dig for spiders (Mannu & Ottoni 2009).

McGrew discusses several lines of evidence that may enhance our knowledge of when and how insect eating developed, including residues and use-wear on processing tools, coprolites, stable isotope evidence of diet, and even depictions of insect-eating on cave walls. Interestingly, he also describes work in progress suggesting that termite-fishing frequency in female chimpanzees at Gombe may be linked to a fitness advantage, in terms of lifetime reproductive success. Few studies have been able to tie tool-use to reproductive success (see Biro et al. 2013), and the long-term datasets held by chimpanzee field sites will play an important role in testing how behaviours such as insectivory may drive both technological evolution and natural selection in primates.

McGrew’s review paper is in press in the Journal of Human Evolution, and is part of a forthcoming special issue of that journal focused on the evolution of insect consumption.


Biro, D., Haslam., M., & Rutz, C., 2013. Tool use as adaptation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 368:20120408.

Mannu, M., & Ottoni, E., 2009. The enhanced tool-kit of two groups of wild bearded capuchin monkeys in the Caatinga: tool making, associative use, and secondary tools. American Journal of Primatology 71:242-251.

McGrew, W.C., 2001. The other faunivory: primate insectivory and early human diet. In: Stanford, C.B., Bunn, H.T. (Eds.), Meat-eating and Human Evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 160-178.

McGrew, W.C., 2014. The ‘other faunivory’ revisited: Insectivory in human and non-human primates and the evolution of human diet. Journal of Human Evolution doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2013.07.016

McLennan, M., 2014. Chimpanzee insectivory in the northern half of Uganda’s Rift Valley: do Bulindi chimpanzees conform to a regional pattern? Primates doi:10.1007/s10329-014-0408-4

How macaques damage their tools


Wear patterns on Thai macaque tools, with photos of the tools in use (Haslam et al. 2013)

A common question asked about primate archaeology is how we can recognise primate tools. One approach is to take techniques developed for human tools and apply them to other apes and monkeys. In a study published in PLOS ONE last year, we found that use-wear – the pattern of damage on a tool’s surface resulting from its use – could reliably distinguish between Thailand macaque stone tools commonly used to open oysters and those used for other pounding tasks (Haslam et al. 2013). This research focused on the monkeys of Piak Nam Yai island, where stone tool use was first reported for Thai macaques following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami (Malaivijitnond et al. 2007).

The distinction between the two types of tool, described as ‘axe-hammer’ for a pick-like action typically used on oysters attached to a rock and ‘pound-hammer’ for a crushing action used to open objects placed on an anvil, was made early on in the study of these macaques (Gumert et al. 2009). For this study, we built on the earlier work by recording the different kinds of damage seen on the narrow points and broad faces of the tools, including whether the stone surface was crushed, pitted or fractured. Based on this pattern of damage, and using a sample of 60 tools which had been observed being used by the monkeys, we found that we could predict with over 90% reliability whether the tool had been used as an axe or pound hammer.

Apart from demonstrating that non-human primate tools can have use-wear that allows their differentiation from natural rocks in the environment, we hope to be able to use this finding to determine the kinds of activities that monkeys were performing in the past. Such predictions will be particularly useful for understanding tools recovered through archaeological excavations. With further development, we also plan to use these techniques to assess where, when and how macaque tool use spread around Thailand and neighbouring Burma.


Gumert M, Kluck M, and Malaivijitnond S. 2009. The physical characteristics and usage patterns of stone axe and pounding hammers used by long-tailed macaques in the Andaman Sea region of Thailand. American Journal of Primatology 71:594-608.

Haslam M, Gumert M, Biro D, Carvalho S, and Malaivijitnond S. 2013. Use-wear patterns on wild macaque stone tools reveal their behavioural history. PLOS ONE 8:72872.

Malaivijitnond S, Lekprayoon C, Tandavanittj N, Panha S, Cheewatham C, and Hamada Y. 2007. Stone-tool usage by Thai long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis). American Journal of Primatology 69:227-233.


Capuchin tool use on the BBC


A capuchin uses a stone tool to pound another stone in an image from the BBC production ‘Wild Brazil’

This week the BBC has been showing the 3-part ‘Wild Brazil‘ program, featuring the tool-using capuchins of Serra da Capivara. Both stick and stone tool use are covered, including the recently reported behaviour of female capuchins using stones to attract the attention of males in a sexual display (see Falotico and Ottoni 2013; also here). As is typical for BBC nature documentaries, the footage is of very high quality, and captures other behaviour such as capuchins hunting punaré, a species of spiny rat.

Several other Brazilian animals are covered by the programs, including jaguars, caimans, otters and coati. At the end of each episode is a short ‘making of’ section, which for the capuchins focuses on University of Sao Paulo and Durham University graduate student Camila Coelho (click here for further information). UK residents can watch the series on the BBC iPlayer for the next week.


Falotico T., and Ottoni E. 2013. Stone throwing as a sexual display in wild female bearded capuchin monkeys, Sapajus libidinosus. PLoS One 8:e79535.

Digging deeper into Thailand macaque tool use


Excavation underway on the south-eastern coast of Piak Nam Yai, December 2013

The latest PRIMARCH field season in southern Thailand was successfully wrapped up just before Christmas 2013. Our focus for this season was on recovery of wild macaque stone tools in two contexts: (1) following direct observations from a boat of unhabituated macaque behaviour; and (2) through archaeological excavations at the island of Piak Nam Yai (PNY), in Ranong District. Over a period of two months, members of the PRIMARCH team including Alejandra Pascual-Garrido, Hannah Mosley and Michael Haslam were joined by volunteer Kathryn Reusch and site director Michael Gumert, as we looked to expand on our previous work that demonstrated how macaque tools can be identified from the ways they are damaged during use (Haslam et al. 2013 PLoS One).

We conducted our first excavations in some of the beach sand areas of PNY, building on earlier work among the PNY mangroves, and found evidence of past tool use as well as a collection of shells that we will be using for radiocarbon dating. As is typical for this island, our sites were covered by a metre or more of water twice daily during high tide, which added an extra element of urgency to each day’s work. We also carried out an initial study of the oysters that form the primary focus for tool use among the macaques (see Gumert and Malaivijitnond 2012 for more information about the diet of these monkeys). We are interested in what the costs and benefits of tool use may be for the PNY macaques, given that they are the only known stone-tool-using Old World monkeys, and the nutrition and energy returns they get from their prey may be an important part of the benefit side of that equation.

We will be posting further details on this site as these studies progress, along with updates on recent studies from all of the species involved in the primate archaeology project.


Gumert M, and Malaivijitnond S. 2012. Marine prey processed with stone tools by Burmese long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis aurea) in intertidal habitats. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 149:447-457.

Haslam M, Gumert M, Biro D, Carvalho S, and Malaivijitnond S. 2013. Use-wear patterns on wild macaque stone tools reveal their behavioural history. PLoS One 8:72872.

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