GW professor finds humans hands have not changed much over time

A new professor at GW has found that the human hand isn't as evolved as the hands of chimpanzees. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Thomas Lersch used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
A new professor at GW has found that the human hand isn’t as evolved as the hands of chimpanzees. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Thomas Lersch used under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

When it comes to his new research on the evolution of the human hand, one GW professor isn’t monkeying around.

Sergio Almécija, an assistant professor of anthropology, released a study Tuesday that found the human hand has not evolved much from the hands of primitive chimpanzees.

Almécija and colleagues hypothesized that a human hand structure with a long thumb to finger ratio, which helps humans to grasp items between their thumb and fingers, has not evolved as recently as some scientists previously believed. The researchers found that the structure of the human hand closely resembles early chimpanzees and orangutans’ finger lengths, while those animals’ fingers have elongated over time.

“In studying the hominoid fossil record, myself and others have agreed based on eyeballing of fossils great apes and early hominins that the living apes are the weird apes. Weird meaning extremely derived, in different ways. Most fossil apes shared a more generalized body form, and this includes also the hand length proportions,” Almécija said in an interview.

Almécija said his research changes the way people think about the human hand, because it is often assumed that finger-thumb ratios evolved to allow humans to grasp objects better. He said humans were naturally successful at creating tools with their hands because of their neurological composition.

“An important take home message is that if the human hands are largely primitive, the relevant changes promoting the emergence of widespread reliance on stone tool culture were probably neurological,” he said.

Almécija conducted his research as a faculty member at Stony Brook University in New York before officially beginning his time at GW on July 1.

“I am planning to keep doing research in human and ape origins and evolution,” Almécija said. “I’m very excited about working there, and developing new research projects with my GW colleagues and students.”

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