Thumb dexterity helped spark development of human culture

The mobility of the human thumb gave mankind decisive advantages in evolution. The ability to grasp precisely allowed early humans to be better at tool production and use, and to expand their food spectrum, for example. An interdisciplinary research team led by Professor Katerina Harvati, head of Paleoanthropology at the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment (SHEP), University of Tübingen, has now shown that this devel-opment could have appeared some two million years ago. The researchers analyzed fossil thumb bones and used virtual modeling to calculate manual dexterity of different human species. This research was conducted in close collaboration with the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH), the Natural History Museum in Basel and the Medical School of Athens. The results have been published in the latest edition of the journal Current Biology.

Systematic stone tool production and use are regarded as one of humanity’s defining characteristics and a pillar of our bio-cultural evolution, closely connected with our increased manual dexterity and ability for precise grasping motions. However, even though heightened manual dexterity is critical for human behavior and subsistence, its role in the development of early human culture remains unclear, as does the timing of its appearance and the hom-inin species with which it was first associated.

The team addressed this research gap through a new, integrative approach for analyzing fossil thumb bones from different human species – including from early modern humans, Neanderthals, Australopithecus and Homo naledi

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