The Evolution of the Hand in Pleistocene Homo

  • Erik TrinkausEmail author
Part of the Developments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects book series (DIPR)


The hand remains of Pleistocene Homo provide a functional morphological pattern that indicates the full range of recent human manipulative abilities, and the hand remains of Homo naledi closely approximate this pattern. They all have (or appear to have) overall finger length proportions similar to those of recent humans, although the western Eurasian archaic humans exhibit pollical phalanx length proportions with modestly shorter proximal ones and especially longer distal ones. There is variability in the first to third carpometacarpal (CMc) articulations, with archaic humans tending to have dorsopalmarly flatter CMc1 surfaces and more parasagittally oriented capitate-Mc2 facets. Most Pleistocene Homo Mc3s (but not including the H. naledi ones) have distinctly human styloid processes, albeit generally shorter than those of recent humans. The length and articular patterns occur in the context of generally robust hand remains through archaic Homo, reflected in often large carpal palmar tuberosities, marked opponens muscle insertions, broad epiphyses, and large apical tufts, features which variably reduce with early modern humans. These changes largely correspond to the evolution of human technology through the Pleistocene, although aspects of the robust Neandertal hands appear anomalous (and probably ancestral retentions) given the technological advances of the Middle Paleolithic.


Late Pleistocene Modern Human Styloid Process Distal Phalange Genus Homo 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This summary has only been possible through the willingness of C. Lorenzo to share unpublished data and images on the Atapuerca human hand remains. I. Crevecoeur, B. Maureille, J.H. Musgrave, W.A. Niewoehner, and C.V. Ward provided comparative data; F.K. Manthi and C.V. Ward furnished the KNM-KP 51260 image; R.L. Susman provided the Swartkrans images; T.L. Kivell helped with the integration of the Dinaledi hand remains into the discussion; and curators and colleagues too numerous to mention individually have permitted access to the original human remains that make up the core of the comparisons here. Portions of this work have been funded by the National Science, Wenner-Gren and Leakey Foundations. To all I am grateful.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyWashington UniversitySaint LouisUSA

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