ROCA - An Ontology for Capturing and Analysing Tool Use and Tool Making



The ROCA ontology (RObotics, Cognition, Archaeology) is a novel ontology designed to describe behavioural processes such as tool use and tool making in the context of robotics, archaeology, and primatology, with a focus on observational data. To contribute to current discussions on the complexity of extinct and modern primate tasks, we explored if ontologies are helpful as a means of representing tool tasks. We thus hope to help understand the cognitive requirements of tool tasks (took making and tool use), such as breaking open a nutshell between a wooden anvil and a stone hammer to access its nutritious contents or fishing for termites with a leaf midrib, better. Representing tool use and tool making with an ontology provides a uniform, unified, acentric, dynamic, and human-readable way to handle knowledge obtained from literature and to perform knowledge discovery.
We are currently working on extending the ROCA ontology to include predictive accounts of awareness, as part of the European Innovation Council (EIC) Pathfinder Challenges "Awareness Inside": METATOOL: A metapredictive model of synthetic awareness for enabling tool invention (grant agreement No 101070940). In the METATOOL project, we use data from our human tool making past to create the foundation to model tool creating robots. More on the project.

The origin

The Ancient Adhesives project, led by Dr. Geeske Langejans, aims to create new computational methods to study technological complexities in (pre)historic times to shed light to the evolution of hominin cognitive capabilities. In particular, the project employs automated formal methods to model and compare adhesive technologies, that are the oldest examples of highly complex technology. A spin-off project named ROCA (Rrobotics and cognitive archaeology) was launched in partnership with Pierre Mercuriali and Carlos Hernandez Corbato of the Cognitive Robotics Department at TUDelft. The ROCA ontology hosted in this website is an output of this project.

The authors

  • Pierre R. Mercuriali 1
  • Carlos Hernandez Corbato 1
  • Geeske H.J. Langejans 1,2
1 - Faculty of Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering, TUDelft
2 - Palaeo-research Institute, University of Johannesburg


The ontology: roca.owl

The ROCA ontology is split into two:
  • Concepts and relations: roca.owl
  • Instances: roca_instances.owl
    (instances of primate behaviour curated from the literature and described using the concepts and relations)


What are ontologies?

Ontologies can be seen as more expressive taxonomies. Like taxonomies, ontologies contain subsumption relations, e.g., to express that the concept of a Hammer is more specific than the concept of a Tool. Ontologies can also contain more complex relations, such as temporal relationships between actions, as well as concrete instances of concepts, such as a specific chimpanzee being observed as opposed to the general concept of Chimpanzee. Ontologies are widely used in domains such as linguistics, medicine, archaeology, and cultural heritage, to help experts organize, reason on, and discover new knowledge in their field.


  • ROCA – AN ONTOLOGY FOR CAPTURING AND ANALYSING TOOL USE AND TOOL MAKING Pierre R. Mercuriali, Carlos Hernandez Corbato, Geeske H.J. Langejans bioRxiv 2022.09.29.510031; doi: Preprint


  • List of articles used as source for the ontology concepts and instances. corpus.xlsx