Ancestors’ flying fists shaped human evolution

punch evolution face fight fist
Boom! Punches like this one have shaped the human face.
Credit: Getty

Human faces might have been shaped by violent fist fights. The University of Utah’s findings deal a heavy to blow to previous research that changes in bone structure were down to the dietary need to crush hard foods such as nuts. Lead researcher David Carrier explains to Metro why stronger bones were needed to act as a buttress against a new form of boxing.

Most men have had their fair share of booze-fueled scraps. But what were our ancestors fighting about?

I think it would have been pretty much the same as gorillas and chimpanzees: competition over females, territory and defense of one’s family and offspring. So in some ways it’s similar to today.

How do the changes that occurred in hominins and australopiths – the ancestors of homo sapiens – compare to gorillas?

If you compare the face of a chimpanzee or a gorilla to that of an australopith, it’s more stout and robust. The mandible, molar teeth, brow ridges, orbit (socket of the skull), cheekbones and the pillars along the edge of the nose, which provide support, are much thicker. In the early australopiths these parts of the face were absolutely more robust than the same part of the face as male gorillas, which are four-times the size.

So why was there a need for such considerable facial reconstruction?

This evolution occurred at the same time that our hands were changing in proportion to allow us to make a fist-like club. The bones which are susceptible to fracturing during a fist fight have increased in both early australopiths and humans. And it’s the same bones that show the greatest difference betwees male and female australopiths and homo lines, including homo sapiens.

So if their hands were like a club, was their fighting technique more a battering motion than a punch?

That’s possible but we don’t know. The australopiths were the first to be capable of a forward striking punch or a modern’s human punch — the anatomy is there 4-5 million years ago to form a clenched fist.


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