MadSci Network: Evolution

Re: what is the origin of hand clapping and is it universal?

Date: Tue Mar 13 11:11:11 2001
Posted By: Daniel R. Pratt, Staff, Archaeology, Oertel Architects
Area of science: Evolution
ID: 983100816.Ev


Unfortunately, as an archaeologist, I never get the chance to excavate 
human behavior in action-- but I'll share my thoughts re: the origin of 
hand-clapping anyway.

By "hand-clapping", I'll assume that you are referring to applause.  From a 
strictly functional and practical standpoint, there is no more convenient 
way to make oneself heard over a long distance, at a substantial volume, 
with more duration, than the hand-clap. Other applause options might 
include table-rapping, floor-stamping, whistling and shouting (see any 
American hockey game), but all involve more expenditures of energy, sore 
knuckles or eventual hoarseness. It's also something that nearly all people 
can do at the same volume.

The origin of hand-clapping unrelated to applause is even more tenuous. I 
think we can assume that it may have been a way to generate sound and 
attract attention long before full-time bipedalism was the norm. Some 
theorize that bipedalism, symbolism, and general social organization grew 
from (among other things) the process of organized group hunting, and it's 
possible that the hand-clap evolved as a hunter-to-hunter signal.

I hope this little bit of brainstorming helps you in your search for the 

Daniel R. Pratt
St. Paul, Minnesota

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