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Thumb Study Reveals Why One Ancient Human Had the Upper Hand Over Another

Here's a finding that provides fascinating clues for ...further study. Archaeologists have found tools used by both Neanderthals and early modern humans, and a deep dive into their thumbs sheds light on how they used those tools. Scientists from the University of Kent measured the shape of thumb bones, specifically the bone connected to the wrist, on a microscopic level to determine the most common grip used by Neanderthals and Homo sapiens

"The joint at the base of the thumb of the Neanderthal fossils is flatter with a smaller contact surface between the bones, which is better suited to an extended thumb positioned alongside the side of the hand," Bardo says. "This thumb posture suggests the regular use of power ‘squeeze’ grips, which is the grip we use when we hold tools with handles, like a hammer."

On the other hand, human "joint surfaces are generally larger and more curved," a shape which lends itself well to "gripping objects between the pads of the finger and thumb, known as a precision grip," Bardo explains.

It's not that the Neanderthals couldn't use precision grips, but rather they would have found them difficult. Instead, they adapted better to power grips for handling tools.

How did the different grips affect the two species' everyday lives? We don't know. Did the difference between grips contribute to the Neanderthals' downfall? We don't know that, either. It may have been a tiny adaptation that made less of a difference than, say, war. But it opens up a field of study that may provide answers down the line regarding the ascendence of Homo sapiens and the extinction of
Homo neanderthalensis. Read more about the study at Inverse. -via Damn Interesting

(Image credit: Ameline Bardo)

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