The Human Face Developed By Fist Fghting
June 18, 2014

The Human Face Developed By Fist Fghting

When humans fight, what is the main area to strike? The face, of course. Early humans known as australopiths developed hand functions to make a fist, which is ideal for fighting. According to recent science, the human face evolved to minimize injury when struck.

A new study published on June 9 in the journal Biological Reviews suggests that the human face evolved from fights between our male ancestors, as the bones that most often break are in the same area of the skull in both australopiths and humans, including the differences in male and female facial structure. The study also revealed whether our ancient ancestors were violent.

“The australopiths were characterized by a suite of traits that may have improved fighting ability, including hand proportions that allow formation of a fist, effectively turning the delicate musculoskeletal system of the hand into a club effective for striking,” study author David Carrier, a biologist at the University of Utah, said in a university news release. “If indeed the evolution of our hand proportions were associated with selection for fighting behavior you might expect the primary target, the face, to have undergone evolution to better protect it from injury when punched,” he added.

“Studies of injuries resulting from fights show that when modern humans fight, the face is the primary target. The bones of the face that suffer the highest rates of fracture from fights are the bones that show the greatest increase in robusticity during the evolution of early bipedal apes, the australopiths,” Carrier said.

The study also revealed similar characteristics between apes and humans.

“What our research has been showing is that many of the anatomical characters of great apes and our ancestors, the early hominins (such as bipedal posture, the proportions of our hands and the shape of our faces) do, in fact, improve fighting performance,” Carrier said.

“In other words, male and female faces are different because the parts of the skull that break in fights are bigger in males. Importantly, these facial features appear in the fossil record at approximately the same time that our ancestors evolved hand proportions that allow the formation of a fist,” he explained. “Together, these observations suggest that many of the facial features that characterize early hominins may have evolved to protect the face from injury during fighting with fists,” Carrier added.

Anthropologists have long thought the development of facial features in the first apes were from diet including hard objects which could explain the facial structure. However, the new findings suggest most of the creatures did not eat hard object by the wear patterns in their teeth.

The australopiths preceded our genus more than four million years ago in Africa. They were bipedal and smaller than us, possessing a combination of both ape and human traits.

“Comparing great apes such as chimps and gorillas to australopiths, what changed in the face was a reduction in the length of the jaws, a great increase in the robustness and strength of the jaws, molar teeth and jaw muscles, a substantial increase in the size and strength of the cheek bones, and an increase in the part of the face that surrounds the eyes,” Carrier added.

Michael Morgan, a University of Utah physician who was also involved in the study, noted, “I think our science is sound and fills some longstanding gaps in the existing theories of why the musculoskeletal structures of our faces developed the way they did.”

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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