Evolution of the human hand: Approaches to acquiring, analysing and interpreting the anatomical evidence

Mary W. Marzke, R. F. Marzke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

117 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The discovery of fossil hand bones from an early human ancestor at Olduvai George in 1960, at the same level as primitive stone tools, generated a debate about the role of tools in the evolution of the human hand that has raged to the present day. Could the Olduvai hand have made the tools? Did the human hand evolve as an adaptation to tool making and tool use? The debate has been fueled by anatomical studies comparing living and fossil human and nonhuman primate hands, and by experimental observations. These have assessed the relative abilities of apes and humans to manufacture the Oldowan tools, but consensus has been hampered by disagreements about how to translate experimental data from living species into quantitative models for predicting the performance of fossil hands. Such models are now beginning to take shape as new techniques are applied to the capture, management and analysis of data on kinetic and kinematic variables ranging from hand joint structure, muscle mechanics, and the distribution and density of bone to joint movements and muscle recruitment during manipulative behaviour. The systematic comparative studies are highlighting a functional complex of features in the human hand facilitating a distinctive repertoire of grips that are apparently more effective for stone tool making than grips characterising various nonhuman primate species. The new techniques are identifying skeletal variables whose form may provide clues to the potential of fossil hominid hands for one-handed firm precision grips and fine precision manoeuvering movements, both of which are essential for habitual and effective tool making and tool use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-140
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Volume197
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2000

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hands
Hand
fossil
Fossils
Olduvai event
tool use
primate
Hand Strength
bone
muscle
fossils
Hominidae
hominid
Primates
ancestry
mechanics
comparative study
Hand Joints
Hand Bones
kinematics

Keywords

  • Biomechanics
  • Manual function
  • Paleoanthropology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Anatomy

Cite this

Evolution of the human hand : Approaches to acquiring, analysing and interpreting the anatomical evidence. / Marzke, Mary W.; Marzke, R. F.

In: Journal of Anatomy, Vol. 197, No. 1, 2000, p. 121-140.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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