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Researchers say ability to throw played a key role in human evolution

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Posted June 27, 2013
Dr. Neil Roach, a postdoctoral scientist in GW's Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at the George Washington University, is the lead researcher for a study published on the cover of the June 27 edition of the journal Nature. By examining evolutionary anatomy and conducting an experiment with baseball players, Dr. Roach and colleagues found that certain anatomical features allow humans to store and release energy in the shoulders-- features that first appeared 2 million years ago when man began to hunt. Credit: William Atkins

Dr. Neil Roach, a postdoctoral scientist in GW’s Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at the George Washington University, is the lead researcher for a study published on the cover of the June 27 edition of the journal Nature. By examining evolutionary anatomy and conducting an experiment with baseball players, Dr. Roach and colleagues found that certain anatomical features allow humans to store and release energy in the shoulders– features that first appeared 2 million years ago when man began to hunt. Credit: William Atkins

It’s easy to marvel at the athleticism required to throw a 90-mile-per-hour fastball, but when Neil Roach watches baseball, he sees something else at work – evolution.

That ability – to throw an object with great speed and accuracy – is a uniquely human adaptation, one that Roach believes was crucial in our evolutionary past. How, when and why humans evolved the ability to throw so well is the subject of a study published today (June 26) in the journal Nature. The study was led by Roach, who recently received his Ph.D. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and is now a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University, with Madhusudhan Venkadesan of NCBS at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Michael Rainbow of the Spaulding National Running Center, and Daniel Lieberman, the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard. They found that a suite of changes to our shoulders and arms allowed early humans to more efficiently hunt by throwing projectiles, helping our ancestors become part-time carnivores and paving the way for a host of later adaptations, including increases in brain size and migration out of Africa.

“When we started this research, there were essentially two questions we asked – one of them was why are humans so uniquely good at throwing, while all other creatures including our chimpanzee cousins are not,” said Roach. “The other question was: How do we do it? What is it about our body that enables this behavior, and can we identify those changes in the fossil record?”

What they found, Roach said, were a suite of physical changes – such as the lowering and widening of the shoulders, an expansion of the waist, and a twisting of the humerus – that make humans especially good at throwing.

Read more at: Phys.org

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