Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/461

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457
EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN HAND.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN HAND.
By Professor ROBERT MacDOUGALL,

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY.

THE succession of organic modifications which resulted in the formation of the human hand is part of the general process of evolution by which in the animal series the means of progression and of the taking of food were shaped by the environmental conditions under which life was carried on. Antecedent to the appearance of vertebrate limbs a series of manifold devices had originated by which the body could be transported from place to place and appropriate foodstuffs seized and carried to the mouth. These consisted of more or less permanent extensions of the body substances, naked or clothed in protective shields of denser material. In some types the limbs were created in the act of extension itself and were retracted by absorption and disappearance into the general body mass; in some they were formed of erectile tissues which could be protracted or withdrawn as occasion demanded; in some the whole body was thus contractile, and alternately elongated and shortened as the animal progressed; in some the organs of locomotion consisted of definitely formed limbs, which, while subject to loss by violence or even sudden shock, might be repeatedly and perfectly regenerated in the course of the individual life. In the forms to which they are molded and the mechanical principles upon which they depend, these organs of movement present the utmost variety, including ameboid extensions, flagellate cilia, pulsating bells, contractile stalks and bodies, suckered tentacles, swimming fins and tails, wings and articulated legs. They appear as a great series of adaptive levels through which the evolution of this particular mechanism passed toward more highly integrated and developed types.

The functions of life which call into service the bodily limbs are chiefly two—locomotion, an activity which has arisen in connection with the search for food and flight from enemies; and prehension, which is concerned primarily with the grasping and tearing of food, but secondarily also with processes assistive of locomotion and other biological functions, such as sexual congress, the care of the body, burrowing and climbing. Of these two functions, if we regard the vertebrate class only, the former is the more primitive. Upon the office of locomotion the prehensive and manipulative activities of the limb have been superposed as subsequent and more specialized adaptations. In vertebrates of less modified types the food is seized and manipulated by the mouth parts directly. Fish, reptiles and birds