Ancient chimps, early hominids may have used tools to search for food: Study

November 14th, 2007 - 10:37 am ICT by admin  

The study that appears in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that the chimps’ eagerness for buried treats offers new insights in an ongoing debate about the role of meat versus potato-like foods in the diet of our hominid ancestors.

First author Adriana Hernandez-Aguilar, who collected the field data from Tanzania for her doctoral research at the University of Southern California, said “Some researchers have suggested that what made us human was actually the tubers.”

Anthropologists had speculated that roots and tubers were mere fallback foods for hominids trying to survive the harsh dry season in the Savanna 3.5 million years ago and later.

But the study found that modern chimps only dig for roots during the rainy season, when other food sources abound.

Corresponding author Travis Pickering, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: “Savanna chimps, we would contend, are dealing with environmental constraints and problems - evolutionary pressures - that our earliest relatives would have dealt with as well.”

The tuber-digging chimps “suggest that underground resources were within reach of our ancestors,” added co-author James Moore of the University of California at San Diego.

The study was based on observation of 11 digging sites in the Ugalla Savanna woodland of western Tanzania.

Chimpanzees were linked to the excavated tubers and roots through knuckle prints, feces, and spit-out wads of fibers from those underground foods. Seven tools were found at three of the sites, with worn edges and dirt marking implying their use as digging implements.

Hernandez-Aguilar plans to conduct further observations in the area and to advocate for greater protection for Savanna chimps.

The research was funded by the LSB Leakey Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Jane Goodall Center at the University of Southern California, the University of California Committee on Research, the Palaeontology Scientific Trust and the Ugalla Primate Lab from UCSD. (ANI)

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