But Holly Dunsworth, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Rhode Island who has studied human throwing, said Roach’s study advances our understanding by pairing its theory on the biomechanics of throwing with the fossil record on hunting.
Human ancestors known as hominins were “eating meat at least 2.6 million years ago and were probably hunting large prey 1.9 million years ago,” according to the study. The research also suggests that throwing might have allowed our ancestors to defend carcasses from stronger competitors that had claws and fangs.
When it comes to throwing, humans are far superior to chimps.
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While the study does not present a complete theory of how various human ancestors evolved into hunters, Dunsworth said, it does force us “to think of traits evolving complexly together,”rather than sequentially, she said.
“It is a novel approach in paleobiology,” she added.
William Hopkins, a professor of neuroscience at Georgia State University who has studied the brain’s role in the evolution of throwing, also praised the new research. Despite considerable research in the area, he said, “the paper in my view is one of the first that has tried to explain what allowed humans to go out and develop this remarkable throwing ability.”
While the timing of various developments millions of years ago is “a little iffy,” Hopkins said, the study is a “pretty large step in understanding physical changes in humans” that allowed them to throw so well.
Chimps generally throw randomly during displays of dominance or warning, Hopkins said. But he has occasionally seen some stand upright and throw with purpose, just like humans.
Glen Fleisig, a biomechanical engineer and research director at the American Sports Institute in Birmingham, Ala., said the paper’s description of the critical aspects of throwing hard and accurately are valid, though the research “doesn’t mean anything directly applicable to sports.”
But Roach, in the interview, said the severe forces a pitcher places on the upper arm bone as he practices his craft do result in visible changes. His findings, he said, might be able “to tell people whether they’re more likely to get injured.”