Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Throwback: Homo coniectis

Perhaps the decisive step to modern man was development of the ability to throw hard and with accuracy. Our Chimp cousins are much stronger than us, faster, and far more agile. One thing that they can't do, though, is throw hard and with accuracy. Good baseball pitchers can throw at 90 mph and place the ball rather precisely at distance. Chimps can throw at about 20 mph and have trouble hitting the broad side of a barn. That speed difference translates to a kinetic energy difference of a factor of twenty.

Lenny Bernstein reports today in the Washington Post that researchers have identified the anatomical changes that made us such superior performers in throwing:

The reason for the difference is anatomical, the result of critical physical changes in the shoulder, arm and torso of the species Homo erectus that first appeared 2 million years ago, a team of scientists suggested Wednesday in the journal Nature. These adaptations allow the storage and rapid release of the elastic energy that powers the arms of flame-throwing hurlers such as the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg.

The changes, the researchers believe, also might have had far-reaching implications, giving early humans a singular advantage in hunting faster, stronger animals with spears and projectiles. That development might have greatly improved our ancestors’ diet, providing more protein that led to larger bodies, bigger brains and the ability to roam more territory, the study hypothesized.

The ability to hunt big game affects a lot of things, including upright posture and the potential and necessity for group living and cooperation.