News / Science & Technology

Fistfights Drove Human Face Evolution, Utah Researchers Suggest

FILE - Fist fighters battle during the Musangwe, an age old tradition where men and boys display their fighting skills, at Gaba Village in Limpopo province, South Africa.
FILE - Fist fighters battle during the Musangwe, an age old tradition where men and boys display their fighting skills, at Gaba Village in Limpopo province, South Africa.
The human face evolved so that it could take a punch, researchers suggest in a new study.
 
It's a much more violent explanation than the leading alternative, that our skulls changed to accommodate a diet of hard-to-chew foods. And the authors said it suggests a pugilistic past where violence was key to our evolution.
 
When people fight, they go for the face, said study co-author Mike Morgan.
University of Utah researchers contend that human faces evolved to minimize injury from punches to the face during fights between males. Top to bottom: chimpanzee, our closest primate relative; hominid ancestors Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus boisei, Homo erectus; and modern human. (University of Utah)University of Utah researchers contend that human faces evolved to minimize injury from punches to the face during fights between males. Top to bottom: chimpanzee, our closest primate relative; hominid ancestors Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus boisei, Homo erectus; and modern human. (University of Utah)
x
University of Utah researchers contend that human faces evolved to minimize injury from punches to the face during fights between males. Top to bottom: chimpanzee, our closest primate relative; hominid ancestors Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus boisei, Homo erectus; and modern human. (University of Utah)
University of Utah researchers contend that human faces evolved to minimize injury from punches to the face during fights between males. Top to bottom: chimpanzee, our closest primate relative; hominid ancestors Australopithecus afarensis, Paranthropus boisei, Homo erectus; and modern human. (University of Utah)

Morgan knows a little something about fights. He is a black belt in two martial arts and is training as an emergency medicine physician at the University of Utah.
 
"It gives me first-hand experience with a lot of the end results of human violence and aggression," he said.
 
Strong jaw
 
In the new study in the journal Biological Reviews, Morgan and his University of Utah co-author, David Carrier, noted that over the past 4 million years, our hominid ancestors evolved thicker and less protruding jaws, stronger jaw muscles and teeth, and a reinforced bone under the eye socket -- all areas that take a beating in a fight.
 
Last year, the authors published a paper detailing how the fist evolved over that time to be a better fighting weapon.
 
Only humans fight with fists. Dogs bite. Cats scratch. Antelopes gore. Our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzees, can't form fists. They slap.
 
Morgan said a punch hurts more than a slap because it delivers force to a smaller area.
 
"If you have a better weapon, you can theoretically win more mates," which means more chances to pass on your genes, which is what evolution is all about, he said.
 
Better defenses
 
And as the weapon got better, Morgan's research proposed, so did the defense.
 
"As we developed this ability to form a fist, we see an equal development in the robusticity and strength of the most commonly struck portions of the face," Morgan said.
 
All this suggests an extremely violent human evolutionary history.
 
"At one point in time, it made sense for us to be aggressive and violent," Morgan said. "It guaranteed the survival of our species."
 
Brains may have won out over brawn in the evolution of the modern human species.

The researchers note that our skulls are weaker in some of the same key areas compared to earlier ancestral species - changes that coincide with a decline in upper-body strength and a less powerful punch.
 
Skeptics
 
However, the fist-evolution study did not convince critics, who noted that fists are good for gripping tools and other uses besides fighting. Morgan expects a vigorous debate over his latest study, too.
 
"This is certainly a creative new idea," said George Washington University anthropologist Brian Richmond, "but there is abundant evidence to support the hypothesis that changes in diet and food processing best explain the decrease in the size of the face during human evolution."
 
Morgan promised the fight over the competing theories will end peacefully.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Babu G. Ranganathan
June 22, 2014 12:33 PM
NATURAL LIMITS OF EVOLUTION - Just google the title to read this Internet article published in the English edition of Russia's Pravda news.


by: Joe
June 10, 2014 1:41 AM
Another example of how idiotic some scientists can get. This is an embarrassment, not science. Pure baloney. I wonder how much money they got paid for this "research" and most importantly whether we, the taxpayers, were the ones who paid the money. This is ridiculous.


by: Jumbybird
June 09, 2014 4:12 PM
Nonsense, it evolved because we move forward, so the face is more likely to get hit by anything, not only fists, maybe tree branches. Also if our face evolved for fistfights, how come a single punch can still cause concussion, brain injury or death? And a fist is an accidental side effect of opposable thumbs, not a development for fighting.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid