A genetic mutation known as the Styloid process was fond in a hand fossil dated to be 1.42 million years old was discovered with a very modern adaptation. The fossils genetic mutation suggest that humans may have inherited this modern adaptation much earlier than previously believed. The ability to create and manipulate complex tools has been one of the most crucial adaptations humans have inherited. Without this unique mutation in the hand, Humans would have never been able to create primitive hunting implements. A precursor to the many complex tools now used by modern man. Anything from typing on a keyboard to shooting an arrow are all possible because of the genetic mutations that were passed down through genetics. Although modern ape hands have similar anatomies to humans, they lack a fundamental mutations necessary for the degree of control and flexibility exhibited by humans.
Researchers for the University of Missouri have found a fossil of a human hand with what is known as the Styloid process. A small projection of the third metacarpal that helps lock the hand to the wrist. Allowing for greater pressure to be applied on the palms and wrists. This adaptation, along with many other features; Are what have allowed humans to create and manipulate such complex tools. Until recently the Styloid process had only been found in modern humans, Neanderthals and other possible subspecies. Paleoanthropologist, Carol Ward stated to Live science “We had thought the modern human hand was something relatively recent, maybe something that appeared as a recent addition near the origin of our species.” It is still unknown exactly when this adaptation appeared in the course of human evolution. The fossil itself was dated to be at least 1.42 Million years old. Suggesting the Styloid process occurred at least 500,000 years earlier than previously thought. Researchers believe the bone to be from the now extinct Homo Erectus, predecessor to Neanderthals.
Carol Ward and her colleagues found the fossilized hand bone near the Acheulean site, in northern Kenya. The site was named after St. Acheul in France. Made popular for the collection of various stone tools, such as hand axes and cleavers that were found back in 1847. At the time the hand fossil dates, Ward explains the Acheulean site was a vast open woodland. Lush with grass fields and trees that followed the waters bend. Now the site is home to an arid badlands. As the land dried down it left behind deposits of rock and cobble. There, Carol Ward and her associates set their effort; hoping to find more fossils along the river bed. They’re focus is now on finding older hand fossils with the mutation. This would allow them to narrow down the time frame in which the mutation occurred. There are various other mutations that have been studied in regards to the course of human evolution but the human hand is especially insightful. Providing a greater scope to the evolutionary process of humans that has allowed technological advancement. Ward and her colleagues have published their findings with the National Academy of Science. Ward believes the Styloid process found in the fossil, although a slight mutation, was fundamental to mankind’s survival.
By Eric Ohm
National Academy of Science