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Darwiniusfig-s62cropped

Life restoration of Darwinius showing it using its opposable thumbs.

The thumb is the lateral-most digit of the hand.

Origin of the human thumbEdit

The feature of opposable thumbs is shared by many primates, including most simians, and some prosimians. Remarkably, the transitional form between simians and prosimians, Darwinius masillae, living about 47 million years ago, already had opposable thumbs, providing a "precision grip" useful for climbing and gathering fruit.[1]

The evolution of the fully opposable or prehensile thumb is usually associated with Homo habilis, the forerunner of Homo sapiens.[2][3][4] This, however, is the suggested result of evolution from Homo erectus (around 1 mya) via a series of intermediate anthropoid stages, and is therefore a much more complicated link.

The most important factors leading to the habile hand (and its thumb) are:

  • the freeing of the hands from their walking requirements—still so crucial for apes today, as they have hands for feet, which in its turn was one of the consequences of the gradual pithecanthropoid and anthropoid adoption of the erect bipedal walking gait, and
  • the simultaneous development of a larger anthropoid brain in the later stages.

It is possible though that a more likely scenario may be that the specialized, precision gripping hand (equipped with opposable thumb) of Homo habilis preceded walking, with the specialized adaptation of the spine, pelvis and lower extremities preceding a more advanced hand. And, it is logical that a conservative, highly functional adaptation be followed by a series of more complex ones that complement it. With Homo habilis an advanced grasping-capable hand was accompanied by facultative bipedalism, possibly implying, assuming a co-opted evolutionary relationship exists, that the latter resulted from the former as obligate bipedalism was yet to follow.[5] Walking may have been a byproduct of busy hands and not vice versa.

ReferencesEdit

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