Scientists collected motion data from baseball players to uncover why humans are such good throwers. (Photo : George Washington University)
Humans and apes such as chimpanzees might share 99 percent of the same DNA, but one eccentric difference that might have aided in us becoming the more dominant species that we can throw faster.
Why is this so important? Because it highlights a distinct evolutionary path, one where humans have become the single most powerful species on the planet. One where throwing evolved as a useful skill some two million years ago in order to up the ante in hunting, according to George Washington University researcher Neil Roach.
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"Some primates, including chimpanzees, throw objects occasionally, but only humans regularly throw projectiles with high speed and accuracy," reads the abstract from the study in the journal Nature detailing the findings.
"Chimpanzees are incredibly strong and athletic, yet adult male chimps can only throw about 20 miles per hour -- one-third the speed of a 12-year-old little league pitcher," said lead author Dr. Roach.
This may seem like a little league game of "who do we put on the mound?" but the team of scientists used the ability to throw as a stepping stone to shine more light on the path that humans took throughout history.
When humans throw, there is backwards "arm-cocking" motion that stretches ligaments and builds up a store of energy that is then released. It might seem natural to most of us, but this ability has its roots in physiological evolutions. According to Dr. Roach, it was our ancestors two million years ago that first exhibited the proper torso, shoulder, and arm makeup to begin throwing as we know it.
"We think that throwing was probably most important early on in terms of hunting behavior, enabling our ancestors to effectively and safely kill big game," Dr. Roach said. "Eating more calorie-rich meat and fat would have allowed our ancestors to grow larger brains and bodies and expand into new regions of the world -- all of which helped make us who we are today."