How similar are nut-cracking and stone-flaking? A functional approach to percussive technology
Various authors have suggested similarities between tool use in early hominins and chimpanzees. This has been particularly evident in studies of nut-cracking which is considered to be the most complex skill exhibited by wild apes, and has also been interpreted as a precursor of more complex stone-flaking abilities. It has been argued that there is no major qualitative difference between what the chimpanzee does when he cracks a nut and what early hominins did when they detached a flake from a core. In this paper, similarities and differences between skills involved in stone-flaking and nut-cracking are explored through an experimental protocol with human subjects performing both tasks. We suggest that a ‘functional’ approach to percussive action, based on the distinction between functional parameters that characterize each task and parameters that characterize the agent's actions and movements, is a fruitful method for understanding those constraints which need to be mastered to perform each task successfully, and subsequently, the nature of skill involved in both tasks.