Discovery of 1.4 million-year-old fossil closes human evolution gap

Humans have a distinctive hand anatomy that allows them to make and use tools. Apes and other nonhuman primates do not have these distinctive anatomical features in their hands, and the point in time at which these features first appeared in human evolution is unknown.

Now, a University of Missouri researcher and her international team of colleagues have found a new hand bone from a human ancestor who roamed the earth in East Africa approximately 1.42 million years ago. They suspect the bone belonged to the early human species, Homo erectus. The discovery of this bone is the earliest evidence of a modern human-like hand, indicating that this anatomical feature existed more than half a million years earlier than previously known.

The styloid process allows the hand to lock into the wrist bones, giving humans the ability to apply greater amounts of pressure to the hand. This allows humans to make and use tools. Credit: University of Missouri

“This bone is the third metacarpal in the hand, which connects to the middle finger. It was discovered at the ‘Kaitio’ site in West Turkana, Kenya,” said Carol Ward, professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at MU. The discovery was made by a West Turkana Paleo Project team, led by Ward’s colleague and co-author Fredrick Manthi of the National Museums of Kenya. “What makes this bone so distinct is that the presence of a styloid process, or projection of bone, at the end that connects to the wrist. Until now, this styloid process has been found only in us, Neandertals and other archaic humans.”

The styloid process helps the hand bone lock into the wrist bones, allowing for greater amounts of pressure to be applied to the wrist and hand from a grasping thumb and fingers. Ward and her colleagues note that a lack of the styloid process created challenges for apes and earlier humans when they attempted to make and use tools. This lack of a styloid process may have increased the chances of having arthritis earlier, Ward said.

The bone was found near sites where the earliest Acheulian tools have appeared. Acheulian tools are ancient, shaped stone tools that include stone hand axes more than 1.6 million years old. Being able to make such precise tools indicates that these early humans were almost certainly using their hands for many other complex tasks as well, Ward said.

“The styloid process reflects an increased dexterity that allowed early human species to use powerful yet precise grips when manipulating objects. This was something that their predecessors couldn’t do as well due to the lack of this styloid process and its associated anatomy,” Ward said. “With this discovery, we are closing the gap on the evolutionary history of the human hand. This may not be the first appearance of the modern human hand, but we believe that it is close to the origin, given that we do not see this anatomy in any human fossils older than 1.8 million years. Our specialized, dexterous hands have been with us for most of the evolutionary history of our genus, Homo. They are – and have been for almost 1.5 million years – fundamental to our survival.”

Contributing Source : University of Missouri-Columbia

Previous post

Neanderthals buried their dead, new research concludes

Next post

Archaeologist suggests new evidence on collapse of Easter Island Culture



Heritage Daily is an independent online magazine for archaeological and associated disciplines, dedicated to the heritage and historical sector. We identified the need for a central resource offering the latest archaeological news, journals, articles and press releases.

  • sueellendarling

    Archaeos0up But Bishop Ussher says the world is only some 6000 yrs old! How can this BE?

  • Muthaaka

    sueellendarling Archaeos0up

  • sueellendarling

    Muthaaka Archaeos0up Sorry, the Irony was heavy in this. I think it is nonsense to disagree with science in favour of folk tales.

  • DennySmith45

    Floridaline VirgoJohnny clearly a plant by Satan.

  • Floridaline

    DennySmith45 Ha!

  • VirgoJohnny

    DennySmith45 Floridaline a plant by Satan must be devil weed

  • Archaeos0up

    sueellendarling Muthaaka Though to be fair it was a calculation – based on a folk tale… He was utterly wrong but at least he was trying.

  • sueellendarling

    Archaeos0up Wasn’t joking about Ussher, he did work that out. Was ironic about believing he right. Like some of my American relatives do..

  • Jimmyha33

    KatButler108 what “gap”?

  • KatButler108

    Jimmyha33 Earliest evidence of modern human hand.

  • Jimmyha33

    KatButler108 hmm, interesting research absolutely. not sure it really qualifies as a gap in evolution. Perhaps I’m nitpicking :-)

  • KatButler108

    Jimmyha33 It also proves the hand existed half a million years before we thought. shows we could use tools etc.

  • KatButler108

    Jimmyha33 I didn’t modify that tweet, just added a hastag and # science.

  • KatButler108

    Jimmyha33 It is a bit of sensationalism.

  • geezerpenguin

    The composite photo of the hand holding a bone detracts from a highly plausible article.  Look at the shadows.  The lighting on the hand, the bone, and the background comes from three different directions, and the shadow of the bone looks like airbrush.

  • JuliRJovanovska

    I don’t think that the photo is meant to show a person holding the bone that was discovered. I think that it’s showing where in the hand the bone is found. That’s why they say: 

    “This bone is the third metacarpal in the hand, which connects to the middle finger.”
    They aren’t showing it as, “hey, look what we found.” It’s “hey, look where this goes.”