SKELETON question
October 1, 2020 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Aside from the ability to stand upright, how has our skeleton assisted us in dominating the animal kingdom?
posted by longhaultrucker to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Thumbs, man.
posted by Melismata at 11:18 AM on October 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

My science teacher/bio nerd boyfriend supplied the following:

Our shoulder bones make us the only primate that can throw things overhand.

Our upright posture allows us to cover great distances as bipedal animals; a lot of that has to do with where our spine enters our skull. Speaking of skulls, our brain pan is quite large.

Our hips are arranged in a way that's actually pretty common among mammals, but it lets our lower limbs move along the anteroposterior plane.

He might come up with more points, but those were the initial ones. I'll post another answer if so.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

It seems to have contributed to our ability to run long distances.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:34 AM on October 1, 2020

posted by HotToddy at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's an interrelationship of skeleton, musculature, metabolism, and thermal regulation, but hominids got a lot out of being exhaustion predators.

A cheetah is the fastest mammal...for 30-45 seconds at a time. Then its energy usage peaks so high that it's blood is literally too hot for its brain to function, so it has to stop and cool off, or just pass out mid-sprint. Lots of antelope and bison and whatevers went into human bellies and became human tools and clothes, by the human skeletal/metabolic ability to chase them ALL DAY. Upright, long-stride locomotion is a threat to prey at the thought of something being able not outdo it in a dash, but to chase after it for 26 miles without stopping. We are the Jason Vorhees, the It Follows, of predators.
posted by bartleby at 11:46 AM on October 1, 2020 [9 favorites]

Oh, and skeletons and bones in general, I think we're the only ones that use found bones? Tool usage is slightly debatable, since crows and chimps will pick up a twig to poke at things. But other than something like a hermit crab that occupies the discarded shells of other creatures, I think humans are one of the only ones to use the skeletons of others as crafting materials. And bone's a pretty good material, so.

Might be wrong about that, though. There might be a crab that uses fish bones to pry open clams, or ants that hollow out and disassemble a scorpion's chitinous exoskeletal plates for some purpose. So technically not using our own skeletons, but the skeletons of others. Humans come across a set of bleached cow bones and don't just say aw, all the meat is gone. We say yay, bones = new tools/weapons/musical instruments/household goods.

Then of course we start dominating by breeding / killing stuff for the sole purpose of getting at those handy bones inside.
posted by bartleby at 12:26 PM on October 1, 2020

The story of increased cognition in hominids like us is a based in part on the increase skull interior volume, so you could say that the skull helped us out by moving out of the way of brain expansion.

Our two front-facing eyes (as opposed to side-eyes like birds or dolphins or whatnot) is definitely an advantage for us as predators, and the skull's occular orientation makes that possible... but really it was long-ago predation that made our current skull possible.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:58 PM on October 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's a nearly complete skeleton of an early hominid that's named Turkana boy. I think it's accepted that he was 8 years old and fully grown, so about the same growth rate as our great ape relatives. I'm not an expert but I think you could say our skeletons now take a longer to mature, giving our brains a chance to grow bigger?
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:33 PM on October 1, 2020

Humans have non-opposable big toes, shorter toes, bigger heel bones, and stiffer feet with both transverse and longitudinal arches. Even though we have basically the same muscles in our feet as we do in our hands, we sacrificed the ability to grasp and manipulate objects with our toes in favor of being better at walking and running.
posted by autolykos at 4:49 PM on October 1, 2020

Small hips, big baby beads —> human babies have shorter gestation periods —> they are born less capable —> require more investment to raise to maturity —> group social structure.

Compare to say a giraffe who can walk minutes after being born.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:06 AM on October 2, 2020

Having an upright posture was a precondition for the altricial children humans produce: free hands to hold the baby. And wide hips were a precondition for our big heads. Those three things—posture, hips, heads—are all interrelated. They’re not the only thing that gave us dominance, but they’re a big part.
posted by adamrice at 6:16 PM on October 2, 2020

« Older Can I place compost on top of wood chips around my...   |   I am depressed and incapable of performing my job... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.