Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Human Hand Makes a Good Fist

One of the defining features of humans is that the shape of our hands and fingers allows us to touch the tips of our fingers with our thumbs. As a result, we are able to pick up and manipulate very small objects – something other primates can’t do. Textbooks describe this human anatomical feature as having “opposable thumbs”. Allegedly it is a feature that has given us an evolutionary advantage.

Now researchers report that there’s another unique feature of the human hand that also confers an evolutionary advantage. According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, the structural arrangement of the bones in the hand and the wrist allow us to make a very effective fist, for use as a weapon. The report demonstrates rather convincingly that when we curl the four fingers into the palm and then position the thumb over the index and second finger, the unique shape of the human fist allows the palm to buttress and support the fingers when we strike a blow. As a result, more force is transmitted by the knuckles than would be possible with the hand anatomy of other primates.

The authors of the study suggest that being able to use the fist as a weapon confers an evolutionary advantage. In other words, our hand evolved not only to be able to manipulate small objects easily, but also to fight effectively.

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