Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Handier than Homo habilis? Versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin

Date:
September 9, 2011
Source:
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Summary:
Hand bones from a single individual with a clear taxonomic affiliation are scarce in the hominin fossil record, which has hampered understanding of the evolution of manipulative abilities in hominins. An international team of researchers has now published a study that describes the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record, the hand of a 1.98-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa.

All of the right hand bones of Au. sediba rearticulated.
Credit: Peter Schmid

Hand bones from a single individual with a clear taxonomic affiliation are scarce in the hominin fossil record, which has hampered understanding of the evolution of manipulative abilities in hominins. An international team of researchers including Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany has now published a study that describes the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record, the hand of a 1.98-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa.

The researchers found that Au. sediba used its hand for arboreal locomotion but was also capable of human-like precision grips, a prerequisite for tool-making. Furthermore, the Au. sediba hand makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin hand than the Homo habilis hand, and may well have been a predecessor from which the later Homo hand evolved.

The extraordinary manipulative skills of the human hand are viewed as a hallmark of humanity. Over the course of human evolution, the hand was freed from the constraints of locomotion and has evolved primarily for manipulation, including tool-use and eventually tool-production. Understanding this functional evolution has been hindered by the rarity of relatively complete hand skeletons that can be reliably assigned to a given taxon based on a clear association with craniodental fossils.

Tracy Kivell of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany and colleagues from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, Duke University in Durham, USA and the University of Zurich in Zurich, Switzerland, now describe the earliest, most complete fossil hominin hand post-dating the appearance of stone tools in the archaeological record around 2.6 million years ago. The fossil remains of an adult female Au. sediba from Malapa, South Africa, include an almost complete right hand in association with the right forelimb bones, in addition to several bones from the left hand. "Almost all other fossil hominin hand bones prior to Neandertals are isolated bones that are not anatomically associated (i.e., do not belong to the same individual) and are not clearly attributed to a specific hominin species," says Kivell: "The Australopithecus sediba hand thus allows us for the first time prior to Neandertals to evaluate the functional morphology of the hand overall, rather than just from isolated bones."

The researchers reconstructed the Au. sediba hand, then compared it with other hominin fossils and investigated the presence of several features that have been associated with human-like precision grip and the ability to make stone tools. They found that Au. sediba has many of these features, including a relatively long thumb compared to the fingers -- longer than even that of modern humans -- that would facilitate thumb-to-finger precision grips. Importantly, Au. sediba has more features related to tool-making than the 1.75-million-year-old "OH 7 hand" that was used to originally define the "handy man" species, Homo habilis. However, Au. sediba also retains morphology that suggests the hand was still capable of powerful flexion needed for climbing in trees.

"Taken together, we conclude that mosaic morphology of Au. sediba had a hand still used for arboreal locomotion but was also capable of human-like precision grips," says Kivell and adds: "In comparison with the hand of Homo habilis, Au. sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin hand and the condition from which the later Homo hand evolved."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Tracy L. Kivell, Job M. Kibii, Steven E. Churchill, Peter Schmid, Lee R. Berger. Australopithecus sediba Hand Demonstrates Mosaic Evolution of Locomotor and Manipulative Abilities. Science, 2011; DOI: 10.1126/science.1202625

Cite This Page:

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Handier than Homo habilis? Versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 September 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908104201.htm>.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2011, September 9). Handier than Homo habilis? Versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908104201.htm
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. "Handier than Homo habilis? Versatile hand of Australopithecus sediba makes a better candidate for an early tool-making hominin." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110908104201.htm (accessed April 24, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Couple Finds Love Letters From WWI In Attic

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) — A couple found love letters from World War I in their attic. They were able to deliver them to relatives of the writer of those letters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

Erotic Art Offers Glimpse of China's 'lost' Sexual Philosophy

AFP (Apr. 16, 2014) — Explicit Chinese art works dating back centuries go on display in Hong Kong, revealing China's ancient relationship with sex. Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

French Historians Fight to Save Iconic La Samaritaine Buildings

AFP (Apr. 15, 2014) — Parisians and local historians are fighting to save one of the French capital's iconic buildings, the La Samaritaine department store. Duration: 01:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

More Coverage


Direct Ancestor of Homo Genus? Fossils Show Human-Like Hand, Brain and Pelvis in Early Hominin

Sep. 8, 2011 — The Australopithecus sediba discovered in 2008 could be the direct ancestor of the Homo genus. That is the conclusion of an international team of scientists. The researchers describe in five papers ... read more
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins