Magazine article Science News

Neandertals and Humans Each Get a Grip

Magazine article Science News

Neandertals and Humans Each Get a Grip

Article excerpt

At Middle Eastern sites ranging from 140,000 to 50,000 years old, Neandertals and ancient humans left behind a puzzling legacy. Although, for many researchers, Neandertal's brawny bodies, sloping faces, and other skeletal mark them as a separate species modern Homo sapien, the two groups in this region made virtually identical sharpened stone tools. That's hardly a sign of a parting of the ways between species.

The key to unravelling this evolutionary paradox lies not in the nature of ancient implements but in the design of the hands that use them, according to a report in an upcoming PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL, ACADEMY OF SCIENCES.

An analysis of fossil band remains. conducted by anthropologist Wesley A. Niewoehner of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, indicates that Neadertals from the Middle East and Europe had hands with a structure well-suited to gripping relatively broad objects, such as pieces of stone that they used to hammer flakes off smaller stones.

In contrast, according to Niewoehner, early H. sapiens in the Middle East resembled more-recent human populations by having hands better suited for gripping tools with handles and making precise finger movements. The existence of this so-called "precision grip" exclusively among ancient humans in the Middle East indicates that they used tools with handles much more frequently than their Neandertal neighbors did Niewoehner theorizes.

Niewoehner used a computer program to generate and compare three-dimensional images of the joint surfaces of fossil finger and hand bones. …

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