Primate Archaeology

An evolutionary context for the emergence of technology

Technology is essential to human survival. Our use of tools, and the construction of artificial items ranging from knives to space shuttles may seem natural to us, but we are the only species ever to have evolved such reliance on technology. The Primate Archaeology project (PRIMARCH for short) gives us a new perspective on this extraordinary aspect of the human lineage, placing it into a comparative evolutionary context by exploring the archaeological record left by other members of our own order, the Primates.
As part of this work, a team of primatologists and archaeologists are examining the evolution of tool use for three wild non-human primate species - chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in tropical Africa, bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) in Brazil, and long-tailed macaque monkeys (Macaca fascicularis aurea) in Thailand. We are also using the lessons learned from studying primate stone tool use to search for evidence of similar tools in the early human archaeological record in Kenya. These three primate species were selected because they are currently known to use stone tools in the wild (including using stones to break open hard nuts and other food), and this behaviour will result in long-term archaeological survival of the remains of their activities. That survival will allow us to track changes in behaviour over time, just as we do for human societies. This research will also be exploring how different groups of animals within each of these species use different types of tools, in the same way that humans from different cultures have their own distinct traditions.
The PRIMARCH project is funded from 2012 to 2016 by a European Research Council Starting Grant, awarded to Dr Michael Haslam of the Oxford University School of Archaeology. This interdisciplinary work involves a shift in the way we view archaeology, away from the study of just humans and our immediate ancestors, to include the behavioural evidence left by non-human animals. The work will contribute to a better understanding of how technology changes through time for multiple primate species, providing reference points for the study of early human tool use and giving us greater appreciation of the capabilities of our evolutionary relatives.

Visit the Project website for more information: