Oldest humanlike hand bone discovered

Found at Tanzania’s Olduvai Gorge, pinkie bone is 1.84 million years old

OLD BUT MODERN  A newly discovered hominid finger bone dating to at least 1.84 million years ago is shown from two sides (right) and overlaid on a modern human hand (left).  A team of scientists regards the fossil as the oldest known humanlike hand bone.

From left: Jason Heaton; M. Domínguez-Rodrigo  

Excavations at Tanzania’s famed Olduvai Gorge have uncovered the oldest known fossil hand bone resembling those of people today. The bone from a hominid’s left pinkie finger dates to at least 1.84 million years ago and looks more like corresponding bones of modern humans than like finger fossils of previously discovered Olduvai hominids, say paleoanthropologist Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo of Complutense University in Madrid and his colleagues.

This ancient hominid’s entire hand probably looked humanlike, the researchers propose August 18 in Nature Communications. An Olduvai hominid with humanlike hands would have been capable of making stone tools, they say.

The new finger fossil is more humanlike than comparably ancient Olduvai hand fossils from Homo habilis, or handy man, and Paranthropus boisei, or Nutcracker Man, the scientists find.    

H. habilis and P. boisei lived at Olduvai alongside a hominid species represented by the new finger fossil, Domínguez-Rodrigo’s team argues. But using just one or a few fossils to define a new hominid species is controversial (SN: 6/27/15, p. 7).

Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences for Science News since 1984. He writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues.

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