A species of apes has entered its own Stone Age period and is using tools in a way which would have been familiar to our caveman ancestors.
Scientists have discovered the first evidence of a non-human species changing the way it uses instruments to process its food.
In a remote part of Brazil’s Serra da Capivara National Park lives a species of capuchin monkey.
Scientists said these beasties have left an archaeological record a bit like our own, dumping the tools they have used over the past three millennia on the forest floor.
Roughly 3,000 years ago, they first began using quartz stones to crack open seeds or fruits.
Then at some point about 300 years ago, they began using larger rocks to smash open tougher foodstuffs like cashew nuts.
The initial discovery of capuchin monkeys using tools was announced last year, but the new research is the first to identify changes in the way the animals use their stone implements.
‘The human archaeological record changes over time,’ a team from University College London said in their report.
‘We identify monkey stone tools between 2,400 and 3,000 years old and, on the basis of metric and damage patterns, demonstrate that capuchin food processing changed between [approximately] 2,400 and 300 years ago, and between [roughly] 100 years ago and the present day.
‘We present the first example of long-term tool-use variation outside of the human lineage, and discuss possible mechanisms of extended behavioural change.’
Humanity doesn’t have much to worry about the capuchins just now, because the beasts reach a maximum height of under two feet and haven’t worked out how to design guns or any other technology which would compete with our own weaponry.
However, we might have to watch out for the monkeys in a few million years time.
The human Stone Age lasted more than three million years and ended between 8700 BC and 2000 BC.
If the monkeys follow a similar evolutionary process to humans, they will develop nuclear weapons at some point after the year 3,500,000.
We’re glad to report that the nightmare scenario of (another) nuke-crazed ape species running wild on our planet is unlikely to come to pass.
Even though the capuchins are the smartest New World monkeys and have opposable thumbs like humans, they have much smaller brains than us so will probably not evolve to become genocidal simians hellbent on exterminating our species.
And besides: just think of the weaponry we’ll have in three million years’ time. The monkeys won’t stand a chance.