Tool Use

In October, 1960, Jane Goodall found a chimp that she had named David Greybeard squatting on a termite mound. Not wanting to startle him, she stopped some distance away and could not see clearly what he was doing. From a distance, he seemed to be poking pieces of grass into the mound, then raising them to his mouth. When David had finished, Jane approached the mound. She inserted one of the abandoned grasses into a hole in the mound and found that the termites bit onto it with their jaws. David had been using the stem as a tool to "fish" for insects!

Soon after this discovery, Jane observed David and other chimps actually picking leafy twigs then stripping the leaves so that the twig was a suitable tool. This modification of an object to make a tool signifies the beginning of tool making. Until that time scientists thought that only humans used and made tools; our species was defined as "Man the Tool Maker." When Louis Leakey received an excited telegram from Jane describing her discoveries he made his infamous response:

"Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans."

Eventually it was discovered that the Gombe chimpanzees use objects — stems, twigs, branches, leaves, and rocks — in nine different ways to accomplish tasks associated with feeding, drinking, cleaning themselves, investigating out-of-reach objects, and as weapons — flailing branches and throwing rocks as missiles. In communities outside Gombe, chimpanzees use objects for different purposes. These behaviors, passed down from one generation to the next through observational learning have been regarded as primitive cultures.