Why are humans so good at throwing?

Why are humans so good at throwing? This simple question may seem like an idle toss of the intellectual football, but it has fascinated generations of minds all the way back to Charles Darwin. Now, thanks to a GW researcher's discovery, tying the ability to throw with evidence of hunting is the latest breakthrough in our understanding of human evolution.

Neil Roach and his colleagues’ findings, which are featured on the cover of the June 27 issue of the influential science journal Nature, concluded that during a throw the human shoulder stores and releases energy like a slingshot.  The anatomical features in the torso, shoulder and arm that evolved to make this energy storage possible first appear together in Homo erectus approximately 2 million years ago—or the same time that archeological evidence of early hunting activity appears.

As it turns out, there is a lot that anatomical features, like bones and teeth, can tell us about physical behaviors such as walking, throwing and chewing. Even now, researchers continue to identify physical traits and behaviors that make both ancient and modern humans unique.  Minds from GW’s Center for the Advanced Study of Hominid Paleobiology, in partnership with the Human Origins Program of the Smithsonian Institution, work across many disciplines to address fundamental questions related to human evolution: What enabled our ancestors to walk upright?  What did these people eat?  How did their diet change over time? How did their bodies and behaviors change and adapt? 

Contrary to the idea that they were mainly meat eaters, work by GW researcher Alison Brooks and colleagues revealed Neanderthals ate and even cooked plants. In addition, researcher Brian Richmond was part of a team that discovered 1.5 million-year-old footprints in Kenya.  Studies showed that by that time, our ancestors had foot function very similar to modern humans, and a walking style we would recognize.

By combining knowledge from the humanities, natural sciences and social science, anthropologists at GW are not only painting a picture of the evolution of man that continues to amaze and inspire, they are advancing knowledge that takes us all forward—no matter what’s thrown their way.