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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/467

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463
EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN HAND.

and other parallel fingered species soon after their adoption of the arboreal habit—or at least before the appearance of any important modification of the earlier structural relations of their limbs—took to a form of locomotion in which the body was partly supported from beneath by the hind limbs and partly steadied or suspended from above by the grasp of the fore limbs; so that the peculiar modification which the arboreal form of life contributed to the animal type was incorporated in the hind limbs alone. The anthropoid apes, on the contrary, which show this specialization in fore as well as hind limbs, we shall conceive to have persisted in the quadrupedal habit during a period the continuance of which was sufficiently protracted to allow of the appearance of similar modifications in all four limbs. Only subsequent to this process of adaptation should we imagine the progenitor of man to have arisen from the quadrupedal position and to have used the fore limbs for the secondary support of the body by grasping the upper branches.

In this new function the limb specialized by opposition had probably little advantage over the more primitive hand of the monkey, in so far as suspensional support was concerned. In respect to those other uses upon which the subsequent development of man in all kinds of mechanical skill depends, this new structural variation was of the highest significance. The monkey tribe gave up the habit of walking on all-fours too early and is suffering from the consequences to the present day.

This stage of development, however, represents a condition in which the factors of further evolution are confused and the various parts of the organism imperfectly adapted to the functions they are hereafter to perform. Hands and feet conform to the same architectural type. Both share in the unitary process of locomotion; the hands are capable of supporting the fore part of the body in moving, the feet are still prehensile organs. There is no exclusive functional specialization by which fore and hind limbs may be set off from each other. This subdivision of labor must come about through a development of the lower limbs by which they become capable of the sole support of the body at rest and in progress. In other words, the hands can not be released from their office of steadying and supporting the body until sufficient skeletal changes and muscular growth have taken place in the lower limbs to enable them to carry on the function of locomotion alone. The freeing of the hand for exclusively manipulative purposes thus depends upon the replacement of the semi-erect posture by a fully erect one, in which process the calf develops, the joints are straightened and the whole limb rotates upon its point of attachment to the body until the main axes of the two are parallel and each is vertical in position.

These changes could hardly have taken place during the continuance