Oldest human hand bone found according to New Scientist 18 August 2015 and ABC News in Science 19 August and Nature Communications doi:10.1038/ncomms8987. An international team of scientists led by Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo from the Institute of Evolution in Africa, in Madrid, Spain, have studied a finger bone found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The bone has been named OH 86 and the researchers concluded: “On the basis of several lines of morphometric evidence, as well as qualitative features, we assign OH 86 to the fifth ray of the left hand”. In plain English, this means they carefully measured the bone and studied its shape, and decided it was a bone from the little finger of the left hand. The bone is a proximal phalanx, i.e. the finger bone closest to the knuckle.
The site where the bone was found is dated as 1.8 million years old, making the bone the “earliest modern human-like hand bone” found. According to New Scientist this means “we came down from trees earlier than thought”. Tree dwelling primates have a distinct curve in their finger bones, but this bone is straight. Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo commented: “This bone belongs to somebody who’s not spending any time in the trees at all”.
According to Brian Richmond of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, “This provides good evidence supporting the hypothesis that, by about 2 million years ago, our early ancestors lost the anatomy linked to our tree-climbing past”. According to the ABC the bone “pushes back in time a key step in the evolution of our forebears from tree-climbing foragers to tool-wielding hunters”.
Dominguez-Rodrigo explained: “Our hand evolved to allow us a variety of grips and enough gripping power to allow us the widest range of manipulation observed in any primate. It is this manipulation capability that interacted with our brains to develop our intelligence, mainly through the invention and use of tools”.
Editorial Comment: The story about humans coming down from the trees two million years ago is an idea imposed on the evidence, not derived from it. If this bone had been found in a place that had been given a more recent date, no-one would call it a “human-like” bone. It would be recognised for what it is – a genuine human finger bone.
The story about hands evolving and then interacting with our brain to develop intelligence is another piece of evolutionary wishful thinking. Having hands with straight fingers is not going to change any genes that control brain development. Manipulative ability depends on the brain already having the circuits to control hand muscles irrespective of what shape the fingers are. Just ask anyone who has had a stroke and lost use of the part of the brain region that controls the hand. The invention and use of tools requires both brain power and correct hand structure. One does not make the other.
Human ability to invent things and use them creatively is testimony to the fact that both hands and brains were given to us at the same time by the Creator, who is outside us and far greater than us. Therefore, we should use our hands and brains to serve and honour Him. We should follow the example of Moses, who prayed: “May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us yes, establish the work of our hands”. (Psalm 90:17) (Ref. anthropology, fossils, anatomy, osteology)
For another story on an isolated human bone being assigned to a hypothetical human ancestor see our report Lucy Gets a Bone Graft.