the primate hand
Versatility is the hallmark of the primate hand.
With minor variations between species, thirty-five joints accommodate
the palm and fingers to branches and objects of all sizes, shapes, and
Six layers of muscles produce movements that propel the
animals and effect gripping patterns used in maintaining feeding and resting
positions, securing an infant's hold on its mother, removing parasites from the
fur, catching insects, plucking fruits, extracting foods from their
source, and positioning objects for
tactile, olfactory, and visual scrutiny.
constraints on mobility stabilize joints in regions that are habitually exposed
to stresses during these positional and manipulatory activities.
locations and configurations of these constraints vary considerably among
species, as do the relative proportions of hand segments, reflecting the
diversity of their locomotor and feeding patterns.
The key to the
versatility of primate hands is to be found in the nature of the thumb and the
The thumb is structurally and functionally differentiated
from the rest of the fingers.
The tips of all five digits are
relatively broad, with moist, ridged, sensitive palmar pads that are supported
The advantages of a
grasping hand are most apparent in the levels of the
forest where vines, bushes, and
the slender upper and outer branches of the canopy offer the least purchase to
a paw with claws on the fingertips.
Differentiation of the thumb
provides the ability for prehension of objects by
The variety and skill of prehensile activities depend upon the
details of joint structure, the
relative length of the thumb and fingers, the sensory nerve supply to the
distal digital pads, and the motor control of hand movements by the
Pounding with hand-held hammer stones has been the tool using and
making activity with the greatest frequency and antiquity in hominid
This activity directs large, repetitive force to the central
region of the palm.
Production of forceful accurate blows with a
hand-held stone requires control of the stone with a firm precision grip
assuring both retention of the stone in the hand while still allowing for fine
adjustments in orientation.
When a mammal is motivated to
learn, the brain responds plastically.
Repetitious hand movements
actually change brain structure.
As brain maps grow individual
neurons get more efficient in two stages.
individual neurons within the
map grow and became more efficient.
Fewer neurons are required to perform the task as
the brain responds.
Stabilization of objects that are held in the
other hand and pounded by hammer stones in the production of tools also
requires a firm precision grip and the ability to vary the orientation of the
The central region of the modern human palm is stabilized,
buttressed, and protected against intrinsic and extrinsic forces associated
with the grasp and manipulation of stones in pounding by robust bones and a
A secure grasp and controlled maneuvering of stones by the
thumb, fingers, and palm are facilitated by a unique pattern of hand
proportions and joint-and-muscle configurations that permit cupping of the hand
and the formation of a wide variety of grips.
The proportionately long
thumb and short fingers with broad fingertip pads are able to maneuver a stone
and to hold it firmly, exploiting the leverage of the fingers while bracing the
stone against the palm.
The unique arrangement of intrinsic musculature
and orientation of joints along the second, third, and fifth rays, favoring
rotation of the fingers, allow optimal positioning of thumb and fingers for
grasping and throwing stones.
Grips found through experimentation
to control stones most comfortably and effectively involved primarily the
thumb, index, and third fingers.
These included the pad-to-side and
three-jaw-chuck thumb/finger grips and extensions of these grips that
incorporate the palm as a passive buttress.
thumb/finger grip is most effective both for wielding hammer stones and for
Stones of ~ 500 grams, comparable to tennis balls, are
held by the thumb, index, and third fingers, frequently against the side of the
flexed fourth finger which in turn is buttressed by the flexed fifth finger as
The tip of the thumb and index and third fingertips control
the orientation of the stone and keep it away from the palm, so that the
leverage of these rays is exploited in propelling the stone.
pressure and leverage of these rays are important factors in controlling the
rotation and speed of an object thrown by the hand.
The modern human
hand structure of the joints along the fifth ray probably contributes to the
effectiveness of the finger/active-palm squeeze grip.
finger/active-palm squeeze grip employs all the fingers in convergence of the
palm around a cylindrical tool, such as an antler hammer, to secure it, so that
the tool functions
as an extension of the hand and/or arm.
The use of small modern
tools such as needles and pencils involves the rotation and
translation of objects by
the pads of the fingertips opposed to the tip of the thumb pad, exploiting
a unique human
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