Archaeology discovery: Neanderthals’ ‘third hand’ solves mystery behind left-handedness

Top 10 Facts About Left-handedness

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For hundreds of years, people have questioned why some individuals are left-handed and others naturally prefer using their right. It’s estimated that up to 12 percent of the world’s population are lefties, which equates to more than 942 million people. Recently, experts have linked a preference for right-handedness to the Neanderthals.

Anthropologists believe they may have solved the mystery after countless crazed theories during humanity’s existence. 

In the Middle Ages, it was believed “the Devil himself” was “a southpaw” – a reference to left-handed boxers – and led to the persecution of lefties. 

Those bizarre beliefs from between 500 and 1,500 years ago transcended through the generations and some linked left-handedness to witchcraft. 

Beatles legend Sir Ringo Star had exorcisms performed on him as a child to “cure” his left-handedness.

The musician was forced to play on a right-handed drum kit, which the star admitted is the reason behind his unusual and unique drumming technique.

However, archaeological finds could explain why there are greater numbers of right-handed people in society.

Last month on PBS Eons, presenter Julio Lacerda explained that our handedness could be linked to tools created by our ancestors.

Fossil scans from relatives of the Neanderthals around 500,000 years ago and those of homo habilis from 1.8 million years ago show a preference for the right hand. 

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Anthropologists concluded the theory after noticing scratches on the teeth of our ancestors all seemed to be in the same direction.

Mr Lacerda explained: “Once there was a Neanderthal who was cleaning an animal skin.

“They were coddling the animal skin between their teeth while scraping it with a stone tool. 

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“Every now and then, the scraper would slip and accidentally scratch their front teeth.”

The scratches discovered were all from “the upper left corner” of the tooth to the “lower right”.

The PBS show claimed that our Neanderthal relatives and older ancestors had “been using their teeth” like “a third hand for quite a while” to carry out tasks.

While cleaning an animal’s skin they would have pinched the two ends of the hide with their teeth and their left hand.

The right hand would have been used to clean the hide with a sharp stone tool.

Mr Lacerda explained: “To clean the hide you scrape the tool across it from left to right.

“Now if you slip and scratch your teeth those scratches go from the upper left corner to the lower right corner of your incisors.

“If you were holding the stone tool in your left hand they would go the opposition direct from upper-right to lower left.”

Another piece of evidence that supported claims about us having more right-handed ancestors was the appearance of cave paintings. 

In artwork found all over the world, silhouettes of human hands were discovered in colourful collages.

It’s believed the “artist” created the work by placing one hand on the wall and then “spraying pigment over it by blowing through a straw-like tube”.

Mr Lacerda pointed out: “The vast majority of the hands found on the walls were left hands.”

When researchers have recreated this artistic practice they concluded this was because the artists were right-handed. 

Scientists believe the prominence in right-handed people was ultimately linked to the tools our ancestors created – which were made for those with a preference for the right hand.

Some believed left-handedness “emerged later on or several genetic mutations later” in our evolutionary chain.

Mr Lacerda argued this could explain why there are “consistently smaller populations” of left-handed people in the world. 

Despite this, they claimed left-handed people enjoy a wealth of advantages including “better memory, coordination and verbal skills”.

This is believed to be because left-handed people have “less-lateralised brains” – meaning they “process information more evenly across both halves of their brain” rather than just the one side.

PBS also suggested left-handedness passed through the generations because they have an “unexpected edge in physical combat”.

A 2019 study that found left-handed boxers and MMA fighters “won significantly more matches” than their right-handed opponents.

This increase was attributed to fighters having a great chance of practicing against right-handed people. 

It’s argued this could have led to an “increased survival” in combat sceneries all the way back to our ancestors.

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