Are Your Hands ‘Custom-Made’ To Throw Punches?

Fights, both physical and verbal, are never a good thing to engage in (although some would disagree). In terms of physical fights, they are even more savage and hurtful, and more often than not, fail to achieve any decisive or long-term solution to the problem at hand. Some people just like the idea of throwing punches, for some strange reason, much like this guy right here:

However, what if I told you that humans have actually evolved to engage in fistfights?

Let the Study Speak for Itself

A recent study, headed by biology professor David Carrier at Utah University, has suggested the idea that human hands evolved for the purpose of fistfights, and not simply to provide physical dexterity to humans. An experiment was carried out using cadaver hands (hands of dead people) to slap and punch padded dumbbells in a dark laboratory. The study claims that punching might have helped the evolution of our ancestors’ hands to make them more suitable for forming a fist. These fists could be used as a formidable tool to settle conflicts physically, which was more common in more primitive times.

punch meme

Human hands do boast a unique structure; they have short palms, and longer and more flexible thumbs than our ancient ancestors, i.e., apes. These features essentially helped humans go about doing multiple tasks, as well as creating and using tools for survival.

The Experiment

Various positions of hand to slam the dumbbell

Various positions of the hand to slam the dumbbell

In the experiment, nine male cadaver hands were attached to pendulum-like devices that swung the hands back and forth mechanically. A force-detecting, padded dumbbell was positioned in such a way that the swinging hands could hit them using different postures. Observations were made using three main hand positions; an open palm hit, an un-buttressed fist (where the thumb juts outward), and a clenched fist all punched the dumbbell.


The objective was to test the hypothesis that ‘a clenched fist best protects the metacarpal bones (bones in the palm) by reducing the level of strain during striking.’ After observing a large number of strikes carried out in different hand positions, it was noted that, without breaking any bones or causing any type of trauma, a fully buttressed fist could strike 55% times more forcefully than an un-buttressed fist.

Criticism of the Theory

The study has attracted a lot of criticism from other researchers who are skeptical about the claim that fistfighting might be a cause behind the evolution of human hands over time. A number of arguments have been put forth to challenge the validity of this claim. One argument is that if human hands have evolved for physical fights, then the most obvious target of a fist, i.e., the face, should have evolved with features that could resist punches. To counter this point, David Carrier argues that burly human ancestors, the australopiths, did have these ‘protective features’, as indicated by fossil records. However, as our faces became less huge, our hands also lost the punching power they once possessed.

Another point against this theory, which is basically a counter-argument of David Carrier’s response, is that if human faces actually used to have protective features, then why would the nose, which sticks out of the face and makes for an ideal target, even exist?

voldemort meme

In response, Carrier admits that the nose is clearly a ‘weak spot’ and makes the face more vulnerable to injuries, but he also stresses that noses are flat in great apes and australopiths, making the face less prone to injuries and fractures.

It’s true that this theory does have a few loopholes, which may be attributed to the limited archaeological evidence pertaining to the subject. Nevertheless, it does open up new horizons and sparks new questions in studies of how evolution has impacted various parts of the human body.


    1. National Geographic
    2. University of Utah
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About the Author:

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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