The ecology of primate material culture.
Tool use in extant primates may inform our understanding of the conditions that favoured the expansion of hominin technology and material culture. The 'method of exclusion' has, arguably, confirmed the presence of culture in wild animal populations by excluding ecological and genetic explanations for geographical variation in behaviour. However, this method neglects ecological influences on culture, which, ironically, may be critical for understanding technology and thus material culture. We review all the current evidence for the role of ecology in shaping material culture in three habitual tool-using non-human primates: chimpanzees, orangutans and capuchin monkeys. We show that environmental opportunity, rather than necessity, is the main driver. We argue that a better understanding of primate technology requires explicit investigation of the role of ecological conditions. We propose a model in which three sets of factors, namely environment, sociality and cognition, influence invention, transmission and retention of material culture.