Science2015-01-23 3:21 PM

Human-like hand use in Australopithecus africanus

Matthew M. Skinner1,2,3,4,*, Nicholas B. Stephens3, Zewdi J. Tsegai3, Alexandra C. Foote2, N. Huynh Nguyen3, Thomas Gross5, Dieter H. Pahr5, Jean-Jacques Hublin3, Tracy L. Kivell1,3,4,*


Abstract

The distinctly human ability for forceful precision and power “squeeze” gripping is linked to two key evolutionary transitions in hand use: a reduction in arboreal climbing and the manufacture and use of tools. However, it is unclear when these locomotory and manipulative transitions occurred. Here we show that Australopithecus africanus (~3 to 2 million years ago) and several Pleistocene hominins, traditionally considered not to have engaged in habitual tool manufacture, have a human-like trabecular bone pattern in the metacarpals consistent with forceful opposition of the thumb and fingers typically adopted during tool use. These results support archaeological evidence for stone tool use in australopiths and provide morphological evidence that Pliocene hominins achieved human-like hand postures much earlier and more frequently than previously considered.


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