Chimps Spears Pitching Baseballs

 chimps with spears

The Los Angeles Times reports that a recent study at Harvard studies spear throwing, chimpanzees and pitching baseballs.

In a series of experiments, researchers strapped braces on the limbs of Harvard baseball players in order to isolate movements involved in the process of pitching.

They found that such human characteristics as low, wide shoulders, a flexible waist, the ability of the upper arm to rotate during the throw, as well as the capacity of humans (at least in modern times) to store energy in the tendons and ligaments, optimized pitching ability.

Pitching allowed humans to kill large animals.  This was fortunate, because humans started eating meat about 2.6 million years ago.

Evolutionary biologist Neil T. Roach, lead author of the Harvard study, said that the combination of throwing features first appeared in Homo erectus. They were extant between 70,000 and 1.8 million years ago.  It was around that time that humans started developing narrow bodies and long legs for traveling.  Smaller intestinal tracts allowed more energy to be available to work on brain-building.  The increase in brain size started happening between 1.8 and 1.9 million years ago.  That was also the period in which man started making tools.

The ability to throw also helped humans to develop large brains and evolve cognitive abilities. Humans started communicating with symbols around 250,000 years ago.

Our chimpanzee cousins lack most of the anatomical features to make 100 mile-per-hour overhand pitches, as humans can.  They must make do with an underhanded style.  They can be observed doing so at the local zoo, when they hurl feces.

On the other hand apes have been observed to make spears.  Chimpanzees near Kédougou, Senegal create spears by breaking straight limbs off trees, stripping them of their bark and sharpening one end with their teeth. The chimps use the weapons to hunt galagos sleeping in hollows. Galagos also known as “bushbabies,” are small nocturnalprimates.

Orangutans also been seen to use spears in order to fish.  They may have started engaging in that practice after watching humans doing it.

But chimpanzees never got power-pitching down.  They couldn’t throw spears so they couldn’t qualify for the majors.

Humans parted company with chimps more than six million years ago, when Homininae, the tribe that includes the human beings, disassociated themselves from the Panini tribe.  The Panini tribe was composed of chimpanzees. Homininae is a subfamily of Hominidae, which includes humans, gorillas and chimpanzees, and some extinct human relatives.

Compared to the chimpanzee brain, the human brain is not only larger, but certain brain regions also became more refined.  Anyway, humans are the only Homininae that survived after the rift with the chimps.

Men used sharpened sticks until they figured out how to incorporate stone tips onto the shafts, thereby turning sticks to spears.  The earliest (at least potential) arrow heads, dating from about 64,000 years ago, were found in South Africa.  Short one-handed spears featuring socketed metal heads were used in conjunction with a shield by the earliest Bronze Age cultures, which lasted from 3150 BCE to the 11th century BCE. The spear is the main weapon of the warriors in Homer’s Iliad. Single thrusting spears and throwing spears are mentioned. During the 3rd century AD, Roman legionaries usually were equipped with throwing and thrusting spears.

Around the 12th century BCE, the Chinese were using the fire-lance, a gunpowder-filled tube used as a flamethrower.  The cannon are a descendant of the fire lance.

Roach believes that athletes are overusing their ability for pitching overhand, resulting in frequent injuries.

Perhaps the jump from spears to baseballs was a bad idea. The chimps obviously think so.

By:  Tom Ukinski

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