Staff, 2022-12-16 06:45:21,
By Fiona Stewart & Alexander Piel
There is no trait that distinguishes humans from all other mammals more clearly than the way we walk. Human habitual bipedalism – obligatory walking on two legs – has long been a defining trait of our species, as well as our ancestors as far back as 4.5 million years ago.
Science’s growing understanding of chimpanzee culture, communication and emotion may have blurred the understanding of “distinctly human”, but our obligatory bipedalism has stood the test of time.
Why, when, and where bipedalism evolved remains debated, however. Numerous evolutionary pressures have been proposed. Most are about the economics and energy use of walking on two legs (bipedalism is far more efficient than quadrupedalism).
Other theories describe the advantages of carrying objects. Bipedalism frees the hands to do interesting things like make and use tools and reach for fruit. It also enables us to see over tall grass.
But almost all the theories suggest that bipedalism is an adaptation to getting around on land. It is clear that early bipeds evolved when savanna grasslands became increasingly common as forests retreated 4-8 million years ago. Walking on two legs made it easier to forage and travel on the ground.
Challenges to theory
But there is also evidence that contradicts this idea. Hominin anatomy, palaeo-ecology and the behaviour of some ape species present challenges to the theory. For example, early…
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