The human species is believed to be the most evolved of all living animals, but a new study suggests that things may be a little different. According to the research, human have hands less evolved than chimpanzee hands, our closest living relatives.
The researchers who conducted the study found that while the proportions of the human hands have suffered minor changes compared to those of the last common ancestor of chimps and humans, the chimpanzees and orangutans hands kept evolving.
Kurtis Hiatt, researcher at the George Washington University, explained that the new study shows how the structure of the human hand is quite primitive, compared to that of the chimp, regardless of the fact that our hands are more capable of producing stone tools.
The new study was written by researcher Sergio Almécija from the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology, in collaboration with scientists William Jungers and Jeroen Smaers.
The researchers came to these conclusions after extensive analysis of human, chimpanzees and orangutan hands, as well as ancient hand bones belonging to human primate ancestors known as Australopithecus sediba, Ardipithecus ramidus and early apes like the Proconsul heseloni.
The team of researchers discovered that our hands are not very different than those of early human ancestors. Hiatt said that the hands of the modern human are marked by a relatively longer thumb, compared to the other four fingers. This feature is what makes our hands stand out compared to other animals, because it makes it easier for us to grip.
On the other hand, the chimpanzees have longer and narrower hands, with shorter thumbs. The chimp’s thumb can meet up with its palm, while the other four fingers can extend upward. Compared to humans, chimpanzees and orangutans do not have opposable thumbs. The study also suggests that gorillas have similar hands to ours, which means theirs are also more primitive, compared to chimpanzee hands. They have four fingers and an opposable thumb. Their feet are similar to humans’ too: they also have five toes like us, except that their big toe is opposable and more flexible than ours.
The scientists believe that all modern primates managed to survive an extinction event that occurred in the late Miocene, 12 to 5 million years ago, by adapting to different habitats. Chimpanzees and orangutans specialized in climbing trees, while humans and gorillas remained terrestrial animals.
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