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Children’s Tool Use Is Similar to That of Wild Great Apes

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND—It had been thought that children only learn to use tools from other humans, but a new study conducted at the University of Birmingham by Eva Reindl and Claudio Tennie has shown that, like wild chimpanzees and orangutans, human children can invent tool behavior. The researchers asked 50 children between two-and-a-half and three years old to solve 12 problems similar to those faced by great apes, such as retrieving objects from a small box with a stick. They found that in 11 of the tasks, the children, who were provided with the raw materials but not told they would need to use a tool, invented the correct tool behavior. “While it is true that more sophisticated forms of human tool use indeed require social learning, we have identified a range of basic tool behaviors which seem not to. Using great ape tasks, we could show that these roots of human tool culture are shared by great apes, including humans, and potentially also their last common ancestor,” Reindl said in a press release. For more on tool use by great apes, go to "Cultured Cousins?"

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