Two hands playing with legos
Written by: 
Amy Peterson
Illustrated by: 
Ke Zhang

show/hide words to know

Ancestor: an organism from which others have evolved. In humans, a relative from whom one is descended, who lived at least several generations ago.

Dexterity: skill doing tasks that are delicate, usually meaning with the hands.

Flexible: able to bend easily without breaking.

Hominin: humans and all of their extinct relatives. Some of the best known hominin genera include Australopithecus, Paranthropus, and our genus, Homo.  ... more

Before you begin

Our hands allow us to use delicate tools like this one.This experiment will test the dexterity and flexibility of our hands.

Our fingers let us do many things easily and precisely. We can get food, make tools, and play with toys. When you put on the mitts and try to build a structure, you will get a sense of how hard it would be to do things that we do every day if our hands were shaped differently.

The human body has evolved through time in response to our environment. Before human hands evolved to their modern form, our hominin ancestors began walking upright. This left their arms and hands free to carry things and make tools. Tools provided our ancestors with a great advantage, and so human hands—and brains—continued to evolve to allow tool use. The need for us to use tools is the reason our hands are so flexible.

What you will need

  • Pair of oven mitts or mittens
  • Toy building bricks in large and regular sizes (Lego® and Duplo® or similar)
  • Experiment packet [PDF]

Procedure

Logos on a table

1. Put on the oven mitts or mittens, making sure that you cannot touch your thumb to your individual fingers.

Picking up legos with oven mitts

2. Take the blocks and attempt to build the Lego structure in the pictures below.

Use this diagram as a map to show you how to build this structure.

3. Now, take off your mitts and try to build the structure again.

Making a lego sturcture with bare hands

Learn more

From this experiment, we learned that our hands are very flexible—when not wearing mitts. The flexibility of our hands allows us to accomplish tasks that other animals can’t, like building this structure.

Many other animals don’t have hands like we do. They might have paws, hooves, or fins, which are better suited to the places they live and the things they do to survive. For example, dog paws and horse hooves are adapted for running quickly. They’re much faster than we are, but they can’t do delicate work like we can.

Our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, have hands and feet that are similar to ours, but with some key differences. Chimps use their hands when they walk on the ground, which is called knuckle walking. So, chimps have thicker finger bones and stiffer wrists to support their weight. They spend a lot time in trees, so they also have opposable toes (like thumbs) on their feet that let them easily climb and hold onto branches.

View Citation

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Bibliographic Details

  • Article: Hand Made
  • Author(s): Amy Peterson
  • Publisher: Arizona State University Institute of Human Origins Ask An Anthropologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask An Anthropologist
  • Date published: February 4, 2019
  • Date modified: January 23, 2020
  • Date accessed: September 29, 2020
  • Link: https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/hand-made

APA Style

Amy Peterson. (2019, Feb 04). Hand Made. Retrieved September 29, 2020, from https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/hand-made

American Psychological Association, 6th ed., 2nd printing, 2009.
For more info, see the APA citation guide.

Chicago Manual of Style

Amy Peterson. "Hand Made." ASU - Ask An Anthropologist. Published February 4, 2019. Last modified January 23, 2020. https://askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/hand-made.

Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed., 2017.
For more info, see the Chicago Manual citation guide.

MLA Style

Amy Peterson. Hand Made. ASU - Ask An Anthropologist. February 4, 2019, askananthropologist.asu.edu/experiments/hand-made. Accessed 2020 September 29.

Modern Language Association, 8th ed., 2016.
For more info, see the MLA citation guide.

When did human ancestors begin walking on two legs and how do we know?
Answer »

Experiment Packet

PDF icon Download PDF (1.91 MB)

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