Paper Of The Week: Benito-Calvo et al. 2015. First GIS Analysis of Modern Stone Tools Used by Wild Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) in Bossou, Guinea, West Africa

15 Apr

GIS is an extremely powerful tool that can be put to a very wide range of uses in biological research, and this week’s paper of the week is a really nice example of just how wide this range can be. While most studies which use GIS seek to make maps of some kind or other, Benito-Calvo et al. (2015) use GIS to examine and model the surface of stone tools used by chimpanzees to crack open nuts.

This might, at first, seem like a strange thing to do, but when you think about it, examining the topography of the surface of a stone tool is no different from examining the topography of a mountain, it’s just done at a much, much smaller scale. This means that the same GIS tools that can be used to quantify the physical characteristics of mountains (such as the creation of Digital Elevation Models, and the calculation of slope and aspect) can also be used to quantify the shape of stone tools. This, in turn, can help identify patterns in wear, damage and other characteristics that can provide insights into how a tool was used.

Why is this important? Well, it not only helps us understand how our closest relatives use tools (something that not so long ago was thought to be a purely human occupation), it also provides a potential window into our own archaeological past. By using GIS to analyse stone tools from archaeological sites, and comparing them to what has been found in the analysis of chimpanzee tools, we can potentially get a much greater understanding of how tool use in humans developed over time.

So, if you’re interested in seeing how GIS can be used in biological research for purposes other than creating maps, then take a look at Benito-Calvo et al. (2015) as it’s a great example of this type of ‘outside-the-box’ usage of GIS.

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Dr Colin D. MacLeod,
Founder, GIS In Ecology
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