Neanderthals: Our distant relatives could hold a hammer but had to fight to get a coin

Neanderthals could hold the hammer but had to fight to pick up a coin because the joints of their thumbs gripped them more accurately than the ‘power squeeze’.

  • Researchers have compared Neanderthals and modern human finger bones
  • The joints in the anterior were flattened and had a small contact surface
  • It may have more suitable grips to keep the thumb extended
  • Neanderthals were able to enable precise grips – not just easily

One study found that Neanderthal thumbs meant they could easily grab a tool like a hammer, but had to fight to lift a coin, a study found.

UK-led experts have compared the thumbs of Neanderthals and modern humans – they found that the former were more suited to ‘power squeeze’ grips

Neanderthals had a flattened, small contact surface between the first metacarpal and trapezium bones – for which such grips with extended thumbs are easier.

In contrast, our hands have evolved better for so-called precision grips, in which objects are placed at the thumb and fingertips.

Hold down the power Look at the objects between the fingers and palms instead of the grips – the thumb extends straight and is used to apply direct force.

The Neanderthal thumbs up meant they could easily grab a hammer-like tool, but had to fight to pick up a coin. Pictured, the finger bones of a modern man (left) and the five Neanderthals (right). Yellow highlights represent the surface of contact

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In their study, University of Kent anthropologist Amalin Bardo and colleagues mapped three dimensions of the so-called trapeziomitacral complex – the joints between the bones of five Neanderthals thumb

They compared these reconstructions with similar ones taken from the remains of five early humans and 50 adult humans to date.

The team discovered that the relative size and relative orientation of these joints between Neanderthals and modern humans is indicative of different styles of repetitive finger movement.

The joint at the base of the Neanderthal thumb was flattened, had a small contact surface – and was well suited for an extended thumb located on the side of the hand, the researchers concluded.

They added, this thumb posture suggests regular use of grease grips of energy – as people now use to hold tools with handles.

In modern humans, the same joint surfaces are usually wider and more curved, a configuration that is convenient when holding objects between the finger and thumb pads, known as precision grip.

The researchers said that although the thumb morphology of Neanderthals seems to be better suited for power-shrinking grips, they will still be able to pose with perfect hands.

However, they found it more challenging than modern humans.

Comparing the size of Neanderthal hand bones from fossils can give us more insight into the behavior of our ancient relatives with modern humans and the use of primary tools, the group said.

“The results show a distinct pattern of shape covariance in Neanderthals, consistent with more extended and adhered finger postures that may reflect the habitual use of grips commonly used for hafted tools,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The findings, they added, “emphasized the importance of overall collective size analysis for understanding the functional potential and evolution of modern human thumbs.”

Complete data from the study were published in the journal Science.

Neanderthals had a flattened, small contact surface between the first metacarpal and trapezium bones - for which such grips with extended thumbs are easier.  In contrast, our hands have evolved better for so-called precision grips, where objects are placed between the thumb and the tip of the finger as images.

Neanderthals had a flattened, small contact surface between the first metacarpal and trapezium bones – for which such grips with extended thumbs are easier. In contrast, our hands have evolved better for so-called precision grips, where objects are placed between the thumb and the tip of the finger as images.

A close relative of modern humans, Neanderthals became extinct 40,000 years ago

The Neanderthals were a close human ancestor who mysteriously died some 40,000 years ago.

The species lived in Africa with primitive humans for millennia before migrating to Europe about 300,000 years ago.

They later joined humans, who entered Eurasia about 48,000 years ago.

Neanderthals are humans of the same cousin species but not direct ancestors - the two species split from a common ancestor - which became extinct about 50,000 years ago.  A Neanderthal museum exhibition depicted

Neanderthals are humans of the same cousin species but not direct ancestors – the two species split from a common ancestor – which became extinct about 50,000 years ago. A Neanderthal museum exhibition depicted

These were the original ‘cavemen’, historically seemingly faint-witted and barbaric compared to modern humans.

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Although in recent years, and especially in the last decade, it has become increasingly clear that we are selling Neanderthals briefly.

A growing body of evidence shows a more sophisticated and multi-talented kind of ‘caveman’ than anyone would consider possible.

Perhaps now it seems that Neanderthals buried their dead, painted them, and even interfered with humans.

They used body art such as pigments and beads, and with the Neanderthal cave art (and symbolism) of Spain they were almost the first artists to predict modern human art of the early period, probably for about 20,000 years.

They are believed to have hunted on the land and caught some fish. However, after the success of Homo sapiens in Europe, they became extinct about 40,000 years ago.

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