Bipedalism no longer identifying humans

Posted June 3rd, 2007 by Andrea Vianello

This week a long-standing belief in human evolution has been dispelled: bipedalism is not an exclusive characteristic of humans. Science (vol. 316 issue 5829) has published a paper by Thorpe, Holder and Crompton, where the authors report about their observations of orangutans walking upright in trees in a way that resembles human locomotion. There is also a short news with a video (large file!), and further videos in the Supporting Online Material; access to these items is free. The significance of this observation is twofold: bipedalism can be found in non human species; and bipedalism possibly evolved in arboreal environments (trees may force an erected posture climbing them and moving from tree to tree, but orangutans help themselves with hands grabbing branches). According to the authors, the basic form of arboreal bipedalism then evolved differently according to environments: hominins adapted bipedalism to prolonged walking on the ground, while other apes developed knuckle-walking as a form of bipedalism better suited for movements on trees.

This leaves us without any physical characteristic that is inherently human. We might be better than animals at certain things, but then animals are better than us at many more things. Defining what a human is remains problematic, but perhaps we ask the wrong question, after all several human species existed in the past and even coexisted. What does it mean to be a human seems to me a better question to ask, and one archaeology is well placed to answer.

For websites on evolution, you can try to search that term among resources in archaeology, and then try searching it within the most disparate disciplines in Intute. Yes, current science sees the world according to evolution principles. And if you want to go to the origins of evolution theory, visit the ‘Evolution’ category. And if you want a top

Recent studies focusing on apes had already revealed cognition (e.g. among bonobos), material culture (e.g. stone tools made by chimps) and now bipedalism. They are relentlessly demolishing our own view of what a human being is on biological grounds. And yet a human is not a chimp, not even a thinking chimp.