Scientists have discovered that one of the primary things that has made us human is a surprising one: our ability to throw.
Researcher Neil T. Roach proposes that this ability first evolved nearly 2 million years ago to aid in hunting. Humans are unique in their throwing ability, even when compared to our chimpanzee cousins.
He says, "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." (Throwing sports, like baseball, are literally in our genes.)
Using a 3-D camera system, like those used to make video games and animated movies, Roach recorded the throwing motions of collegiate baseball players, finding that the human shoulder acts much like a slingshot during a throw, storing and releasing large amounts of energy.
Roach says, "When humans throw, we first rotate our arms backwards away from the target. It is during this ‘arm-cocking’ phase that humans stretch the tendons and ligaments crossing their shoulder and store elastic energy, When this energy is released, it accelerates the arm forward, generating the fastest motion the human body produces, resulting in a very fast throw."
The ability to throw objects a long way almost certainly led a very early form of tool use, which was hurling stones, then later, spears. This would have made us extremely efficient hunters in comparison to the rest of the animal world, and started us on our journey to ever more tool use.
Dr. Roach’s study may also have important modern-day implications for athletes, duch as Baseball pitchers, who, throw much more frequently than our ancestors probably did. Roach says, "despite the fact that we evolved to throw, when we overuse this ability it can end up injuring us."
With so many players being benched for injuries this season, baseball players would agree!
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