Diversification and cumulative evolution in New Caledonian crow tool manufacture

Gavin R. Hunt , Russell D. Gray


Many animals use tools but only humans are generally considered to have the cognitive sophistication required for cumulative technological evolution. Three important characteristics of cumulative technological evolution are: (i) the diversification of tool design; (ii) cumulative change; and (iii) high–fidelity social transmission. We present evidence that crows have diversified and cumulatively changed the design of their pandanus tools. In 2000 we carried out an intensive survey in New Caledonia to establish the geographical variation in the manufacture of these tools. We documented the shapes of 5550 tools from 21 sites throughout the range of pandanus tool manufacture. We found three distinct pandanus tool designs: wide tools, narrow tools and stepped tools. The lack of ecological correlates of the three tool designs and their different, continuous and overlapping geographical distributions make it unlikely that they evolved independently. The similarities in the manufacture method of each design further suggest that pandanus tools have gone through a process of cumulative change from a common historical origin. We propose a plausible scenario for this rudimentary cumulative evolution.