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How did fingernails and toenails work in Paleolithic times?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created April 18, 2011 at 8:15 PM

When my fingernails and toenails get longer they get in the way and are more likely to get snagged or broken (grimace).

I figure nails evolved to be the way they are just like everything else. How do we think our ancestors kept their nails at a manageable and useful length? We they a bunch of nail-biters? What about their toes?

P.S. this is just an out-of-curiosity type question - I'm not looking to reenact whatever we come up with.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on July 22, 2011
at 02:33 PM

I can and do do this with my babies, who have very soft nails, but I don't think it would work reliably with mine which have always been extremely strong. However, filing, which does not work on my baby's nails because they are so soft that they just fold in response, works on mine to keep them short, if I do it constantly.

9aa2a816c61170cc0183a68be0386ba5

(1702)

on April 19, 2011
at 02:41 AM

See, this is why cats are better than dogs - they chew their nails off on their own ^_^

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8 Answers

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2
B1fcaceba952861d0324bdb291edbbe0

(3159)

on April 19, 2011
at 12:46 AM

Much of their work probably ground them down, stones, sharpening things, scraping, etc.

Biting them perhaps.

Tearing them on something. :( That would be quite unpleasant though.

I like nail clippers ... they're handy ...

2
A45955e4c4cbe88ed6645828ba13f75a

(132)

on April 26, 2011
at 08:39 AM

I've been dealing with my long nails without nail clippers ever since I was a child.

Start picking at one edge of the nail (the side closest to the thumb). You will soon get a small split. Pull on this nail edge and the nail will tear. It follows the grain which curves around the end of your finger so you don't end up tearing your skin.

It works great and you can do it on your toenails too.

Although now that I am an adult, I use clippers so they look neat.

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on July 22, 2011
at 02:33 PM

I can and do do this with my babies, who have very soft nails, but I don't think it would work reliably with mine which have always been extremely strong. However, filing, which does not work on my baby's nails because they are so soft that they just fold in response, works on mine to keep them short, if I do it constantly.

1
26b7615ef542394102785a67a2786867

on April 19, 2011
at 03:41 AM

My nails grow like crazy. I use my hands a lot every day and my nails have never been 'worn down' by any activity. They will get long, and then will start getting in my way, and then getting chipped, which means they snag and scratch and are a PITA. They require plenty of maintenance to keep them functional and comfortable. Longer nails are a useful tool for many tasks.

A lot of animals perform some sort of self-care to keep them manageable and functional. I have read that chimpanzees and other apes frequently bite their nails to keep them useful. My cats not only scratch to shed the outer sheath of their nails, but often bite them off. My pet rats kept their nails trimmed by biting them.

Animals who run long distances in their natural environment, like dogs, don't have these behaviors of course.

1
A68f24168bc0de414a038037e287b581

on April 18, 2011
at 10:32 PM

Probably the same as with today's pet dogs - we have to cut their nails, b/c they don't walk anymore enough to file them automatically.

I wouldn't be surprised if after breaking off a piece one would file it a bit on a rock or so, or bit off whatever is annoying. Hard work would take care of most of the issues :)

9aa2a816c61170cc0183a68be0386ba5

(1702)

on April 19, 2011
at 02:41 AM

See, this is why cats are better than dogs - they chew their nails off on their own ^_^

1
0dc1d63c3d5975f5115f535c6a90c9dd

(2283)

on April 18, 2011
at 08:36 PM

They probably were worn down from the daily physical labor they had to do.

0
4aa3281b2b5c6ec066c82675ee3df5f7

on April 19, 2011
at 03:23 AM

I don't think they would just wear down. I have often cut my nails with a knife when out in the wild for extended periods. My guess would be they used something similar. Like a stone knife, rasp, or just teeth. It's true that some wear and tear would take place but from my experience with stone age technologies (not for paleo sake) it wouldn't be enough. As for toenails as someone who doesn't wear shoes when not in the city. I can say being barefoot doesn't keep toenails short only dirty.

0
9f9fa49265e03ddd2bf2bba5477a556b

(3184)

on April 18, 2011
at 11:26 PM

They could certainly bite their nails and chew them off.

0
91487fa364848b52aad94002266aebc9

(76)

on April 18, 2011
at 08:38 PM

Dunno myself, but here is some mildly interesting speculation from another site:

http://ask.metafilter.com/131168/outgrown-nails

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