After Covid, will we ever shake hands again?

The handshake will be back, says Ella Al-Shamahi – we’ve been doing it for 7m years and it’s part of our DNA

The handshake has a serious PR problem. For a long time the go-to, multipurpose, international greeting, it was abruptly banished in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world. But has it gone for ever? Is it consigned to history? Have we been shocked into seeing what we should have realised all along: that it is sheer recklessness to indiscriminately touch other people’s dirty paws? The White House Covid-19 taskforce member and immunologist-turned-American hero Dr Anthony Fauci certainly thought so last year when he proclaimed, “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.”

If the handshake is indeed undergoing an extinction event, then who better than a palaeoanthropologist, someone who studies human evolution, to speak at the wake? Except that, as a palaeoanthropologist, I’m refusing to write its obituary. Drawing on multiple lines of evidence, I have come to the conclusion that the handshake is, in fact, the owner of a rich, fascinating story, hiding in plain sight. I think the handshake isn’t just cultural: it’s biological, it’s programmed into our DNA.

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