Are Human Hands More Primitive Than Chimps'?

Thumbing through the pages of most manuals on human evolutionary history, a reader would soon latch onto the idea that our precision grip was a relatively recent addition to the human repertoire. Evolutionary researcher Sergio Almécija and colleagues have knocked the pins from under that bit of conventional evolutionary thinking. They are challenging the view that humans diverged from chimp-like ancestors with hands adapted to swing from tree limbs. They believe the human hand's precision grip is not advanced but instead represents the primitive condition much like that of the last common ancestor shared with apes.

Getting a Grip on Human Origins

"Human hands have not changed that much since they diverged from chimpanzees," Almécija says. "Chimpanzees have actually evolved more than humans."

Evolutionary wisdom holds that humans developed big brains and creative powers after coming down from the trees and evolving hands capable of manipulating the world around them. Such manual dexterity presumably gave our ancestors something to think about and made the manufacture of tools move past the fashioning of stone axes so they could adapt and evolve to hoist themselves into the modern world. Almécija's analysis of primate thumb-and-finger proportions published in Nature Communications overturns the view that we humans evolved our hands from chimp-like ancestors in favor of the notion that chimps evolved their hands from hands like ours.

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