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Neanderthals used their hands like tailors and painters

Despite their brutish reputation, Neanderthals used their hands more like tailors than construction workers, new research suggests.

To make the find, researchers looked at entheses, scars on a bone where muscle attaches that can give a sense of how someone used their muscles over their lifetime. The team built on a previous study that took 3D scans of the hands of bricklayers, butchers, tailors, and painters. The brute-force laborers tended to have more prominent entheses on the thumb and pinky, whereas those with more fine-movement jobs tended to have larger entheses on the thumb and index finger.

The scientists then performed similar scans on the hand bones of 12 ancient individuals: six Neanderthals and six modern humans who lived more than 40,000 years ago. All of the Neanderthal specimens showed signs of precision gripping, the researchers report today in Science Advances. In contrast, only half of the early humans appeared to be habitual precision grippers; the rest apparently spent more time using a brute-force power grip.

In the future, these 3D scans could provide insight into the hand-grip of other early humans, as well as how they used other muscles while alive.