A new study has made some surprising revelation related to the early man and human evolution. According to the researchers, the evolution of human-like today’s hands came much before the evolution of actual humans.
The researchers said the new findings have challenged an age-old notion that Homo habilis or “Handy Man” was the first to make stone tools.
The study’s findings suggested that the early not-quite-humans may be the first to process foods, develop tools and engage in sophisticated tasks.
Tracy Kivell, a paleoanthropologist at England’s University of Kent, said, ” I think our findings show that the traditional view that stone tool use was something that only members of our own genus Homo were capable of is outdated.”
For the study, the researchers closely analysed the fossilized hand bones, mainly the palm’s metacarpal bones that is responsible for controlling the fingers.
According to the scientists, the ‘soft’ metacarpal bones can serve greater purpose in revealing about the early man’s lifestyle as the spongy tissues at their ends (which gets altered with the use over a lifetime) can provide evidence to what work was being carried by the hands.
There is a clear difference in appearance between the metacarpal bones of modern human and those of apes, just to the fact that they both utilized their hands differently.
The analytical study of metacarpals from four individuals belonging to Australopithecus africanus race showed that while they were tree-dwellers, their metacarpal bones possessed signs of tightly pinching small objects. This clearly suggested that they may have been the first makers as well as users of simple stone tools, researchers said.
“This study is really interesting because it shows how the [A. africanus] hand was actually used, and that’s consistent with stone tool use,” said researcher Shannon McPherron, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
Australopithecus africanus, not-yet humans from around 3 million years ago, possessed mixed features of ape and human, with long arms best suited for climbing in trees and leg and foot bones more appropriate for walking upright.
According to the study, A. africanus has been already using its hands in a manner which was completely different from that of its own ancestors. The researchers further underscored that they found greater similarities between the A. africanus’ hand bones and humans compelling.
Researcher John Hawks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said, “The best explanation is that the difference reflects some powerful thumb-to-finger gripping.”
If so, it may serve as good evidence to the notion that our early ancestors have been using tools a half-million years earlier than prior thought.
The findings of the study were published in the journal Science.