Consider yourself more advanced than a chimpanzee? When it comes to your hands, at least, you might be wrong. American and Spanish researchers who studied the hands of chimps, orangutans, humans, as well as those of human ancestors and ancient apes, say a chimp’s hands have evolved significantly since humans and chimps diverged on the evolutionary path some 7 million years ago. Initially displaying a long thumb and shorter fingers, chimp and orangutan fingers elongated to allow them to swing among the trees, reports AFP. But human hands—with a long thumb for grasping objects—have changed little over millions of years, a Nature study finds. When early humans "started producing flaked stone tools in a systematic fashion, probably as early as 3.3 million years ago, their hands were—in terms of overall proportions—pretty much like ours today," explains study author and George Washington University scientist Sergio Almécija.
Almécija suggests the hands of early humans as far back as 6 million years ago may have been similar as well, Science reports. The whole idea challenges the long-held view that our earliest ancestors had chimplike hands that evolved over time. "The findings suggest that the structure of the modern human hand is largely primitive in nature, rather than, as some believe, the result of more recent changes necessary for stone tool-making," a university rep tells Discovery News. Almécija adds the human changes that allowed for toolmaking likely occurred in the brain. So why were our ancestors capable of precision grasping if not to snatch up tools? Almécija suggests the adaptation made them better at gathering foods. Humans apparently weren’t the only ones to have that skill. The study suggests capuchins, baboons, and gorillas, developed a strong grip at the same time. (Another researcher claims our hands evolved for punching.)