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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/465

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461
EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN HAND.

The first of these functions appears to be essentially connected with the habit of walking on the sole of the foot—plantigrade locomotion—and not on the knuckles or toes—digitigrade locomotion. Another method of climbing exists which is common to the rodents and the cats. In these animals the act of climbing depends upon the development of claws sufficiently long, strong and sharp to be attached like hooks to the roughened surfaces upon which the animal climbs and thus to support the body. In such forms the modification is of a superficial feature of the body structure and is probably a secondary function, the claws having been developed in connection with habits of seizing prey rather than of climbing. There is here no essential modification in the anatomical relations of the various parts of the limb, and it is inconceivable that any such subsequent development should be connected with this form of climbing organ as is presented in the limbs of the anthropoid apes and man.

In the plantigrade animal, on the other hand, the disposition of the limb is such that when the weight of the body is thrown upon it the toes tend to be thrust apart even when the foot is resting on a flat surface, and to be forced into a concave shape when pressed upon a rounded object. It is probable that a fair degree of development in the joints of the limbs had taken place in both flexion and separation before they were used for the purpose of climbing. But flexibility and separability of the digits form only the intial step in the process by which adaptation to an arboreal life was perfected. The second—and beyond all other changes important—modification consisted in the structural opposition of one digit to the remaining group. This differentiation occurs also in the lizards, e. g., the chameleon, and in the birds, under similar conditions of climbing and perching; but in connection with such specialization of the limbs in other regards and such modification of the body system as a whole that important service in the evolution of intelligence was precluded.

In the production of opposition changes took place in the hind limbs first and most generally, since all species in which the thumb is opposed possess opposable great toes also—except in the single case of man—while many species occur in which opposition is presented by the hind limbs alone. In this adaptation of the foot to climbing three structural changes were effected—the parts of the limb became more flexible, the joints more widely separable, and the great toe, as has been said, opposed to the group formed by the remaining digits. All these are important features in rendering the limb a more efficient tool.

For the development of those peculiar functions which characterize the human hand, however, a further change in the use of the fore limb was necessary, by which it was relieved from participation in the support of the body and in primary locomotion. This relief must