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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/468

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464
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of an arboreal habit of life. The means of support afforded by the branches is too precarious, the form of locomotion which practical conditions impose upon the animal too restricted and interrupted to make the development of such a limb as the human leg possible. The need of supplementary support to which an unstable balance must give rise and the facility with which the arms can come to the aid of the legs as the animal makes its way from tree to tree are likewise factors which retard the development of efficient bipedal locomotion. The freeing of the hands may therefore be regarded as a concomitant of the return of man's progenitor to a terrestrial habitat, in which free, large and continuous movements of locomotion were both possible and necessary. Only on the wide, open spaces of the ground can we conceive the apeman to have become a swift and sustained runner, holding the body upright and the arms free.

At the same time with the changes in the leg already described the habit of traveling over the level surface of the ground would tend to produce a closer knitting of the ligaments of the foot and a greater compactness and rigidity in its general structure. The opposition of the great toe, no longer necessary to preserve the animal's equilibrium—since this is sufficiently secured in a lateral direction by the relation of the two legs—becomes a distinct impediment to land travel, owing to its interference with the movements of the fellow limb and its liability to injury by striking upon the objects among which the animal walks. With the further development of the foot, however, whether degenerative or other, we have not here to do.

As regards the special causes which led to the adoption of a terrestrial habitat in preference to the earlier arboreal life, it is probable that the change was intimately related to the development of the opposable thumb. The platyrrhine monkeys have the same type of foot as that possessed by the man-ape and do not progress predominately by swinging as do the long-armed apes. Anatomically, therefore, they differ from the progenitor of man chiefly in the fact that, unlike him, they have retained the parallel-fingered hand. In this differential feature resides their disability. The monkey form of hand is adequate for seizing and clinging to branches, but deficient in adaptability to all other mechanical purposes. For grasping and pulling, for digging and tearing, for handling stones and sticks the human hand with its opposable thumb is incomparably superior. Among the uses for which, in virtue of these capacities, it is especially fitted are the employment of weapons, the construction of means of defense from attacks by carnivorous beasts and later the use of tools.

The relinquishment of an arboreal habit involved the giving up of an important refuge and the assumption of a mode of life assailed by many new and grave dangers. The tree is a place of safety; it affords a secure retreat from some enemies and concealment from many others.