stacks



the primate hand

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Versatility is the hallmark of the primate hand.

With minor variations between species, thirty-five joints accommodate the palm and fingers to branches and objects of all sizes, shapes, and orientations.

Six layers of muscles produce movements that propel the animals and effect gripping patterns used in maintaining feeding and resting positions, securing an infant's hold on its mother, removing parasites from the fur, catching insects, plucking fruits, extracting foods from their source, and positioning objects for tactile, olfactory, and visual scrutiny.

Multiple structural constraints on mobility stabilize joints in regions that are habitually exposed to stresses during these positional and manipulatory activities.

The locations and configurations of these constraints vary considerably among species, as do the relative proportions of hand segments, reflecting the diversity of their locomotor and feeding patterns.

The key to the versatility of primate hands is to be found in the nature of the thumb and the fingertips.

The thumb is structurally and functionally differentiated from the rest of the fingers.

The tips of all five digits are relatively broad, with moist, ridged, sensitive palmar pads that are supported by nails.

The advantages of a grasping hand are most apparent in the levels of the forest where vines, bushes, and the slender upper and outer branches of the canopy offer the least purchase to a paw with claws on the fingertips.

Differentiation of the thumb provides the ability for prehension of objects by one hand.

The variety and skill of prehensile activities depend upon the details of joint structure, the relative length of the thumb and fingers, the sensory nerve supply to the distal digital pads, and the motor control of hand movements by the brain.



human hand

the human hand

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Pounding with hand-held hammer stones has possibly been the tool-using and tool-making activity with the greatest frequency and antiquity in hominid evolution.

It is an activity which directs large, repetitive forces toward the central region of the palm.

Production of forceful and accurate blows by a hand-held stone requires control of the hammer stone by firm precision grips which assure both retention of the stone in the hand and fine adjustments in its orientation by the thumb and fingers.

When a mammal is motivated to learn, the brain responds plastically.

Repetitious hand movements actually change brain structure.

As brain maps grow larger individual neurons get more efficient in two stages.

Initially individual neurons within the map grow and became more efficient.
Progressively fewer neurons are required to perform the task as the brain responds.

Stabilization of objects that are held in the other hand and pounded by hammer stones in the production of tools also requires firm precision grips and the ability to vary the orientation of the stone.

The central region of the modern human palm is stabilized, buttressed, and protected against intrinsic and extrinsic forces associated with the grasp and manipulation of stones in pounding by robust bones and a fat-pad.

A secure grasp and controlled maneuvering of stones by the thumb, fingers, and palm are facilitated by a unique pattern of hand proportions and joint-and-muscle configurations that permit cupping of the hand and the formation of a wide variety of grips.

The proportionately long thumb and short fingers with broad fingertip pads are able to maneuver the stones and to hold them firmly, exploiting the leverage of the fingers, or bracing the stones against the palm.

The unique arrangement of intrinsic musculature and orientation of joints along the second, third, and fifth rays, favoring rotation of the fingers, allow optimal positioning of the thumb and fingers for grasping and orienting the stones.

Grips that were found through experimentation to accommodate and control the stones most comfortably and effectively involved primarily the thumb, index, and third fingers.

These included the pad-to-side and three-jaw-chuck thumb/finger grips and extensions of these grips that incorporate the palm as a passive buttress.

The three-jaw-chuck thumb/finger grip is most effective both for wielding hammer stones and for throwing stones.

Stones of about 500 grams, comparable in size to tennis balls, are held by the thumb, index, and third fingers, frequently against the side of the flexed fourth finger which in turn is buttressed by the flexed fifth finger as a support.

The tip of the thumb and index and third fingertips control the orientation of the stone and keep it away from the palm, so that the leverage of these rays is exploited in propelling the stone.

The pressure and leverage of these rays are important factors in controlling the rotation and speed of an object thrown by the hand.

The modern human hand structure of the joints along the fifth ray probably contributes to the effectiveness of the finger/active-palm squeeze grip, which employs all the fingers and active convergence of the palm around a cylindrical tool, such as an antler hammer, to secure it, so that the tool functions as an extension of the hand and/or arm.

The use of small modern tools such as needles and pencils involves the rotation and translation of objects by the pads of the fingertips opposed to the tip of the thumb pad, exploiting a unique human compartmentalization of these pads.




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