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Am J Phys Anthropol. 1997 Jan;102(1):91-110.

Precision grips, hand morphology, and tools.

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Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University, Tempe 85287-2402, USA.


This study asks whether there are discernable links between precision gripping, tool behaviors, and hand morphology in modern hominoids, which may guide functional interpretation of early hominid hand morphology. Findings from a three-pronged investigation answer this question in the affirmative, as follows: (1) Experimental manufacture of early prehistoric tools provides evidence of connections between distinctive human precision grips and effective tool making. (A connection is not found between the "fine" thumb/index finger pad precision grip and early tool making.) (2) Manipulative behavior studies of chimpanzees, hamadryas baboons, and human show that human precision grips are distinguished by the greater force with which objects may be secured by the thumb and fingers of one hand (precision pinching) and the ability to adjust the orientation of gripped objects through movements at joints distal to the wrist (precision handling). (3) Morphological studies reveal eight featured distinctive of modern humans which facilitate use of these grips. Among these features are substantially larger moment arms for intrinsic muscles that stabilize the proximal thumb joints. Examination of evidence for these reveals that three of the eight features occur in Australopithecus afarensis, but limited thumb mobility would have compromised tool making. Also, Olduvai hand morphology strongly suggests a capacity for stone tool making. However, functional and behavioral implications of Sterkfontein and Swartkrans hand morphology are less clear. At present, no single skeletal feature can be safely relied upon as an indicator of distinctively human capabilities for precision gripping or tool making in fossil hominids.

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