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Dublin: 4°C Monday 19 April 2021

Scientists discover new reason why humans began walking on two feet

And it seems it’s NOT because our ancestors were forced out of trees and onto their feet.

Three skulls in a row showing some of human evolution
Three skulls in a row showing some of human evolution
Image: Skulls showing human evolution via Shutterstock

THE USUAL THEORY about why our earliest ancestors took to walking on two feet goes a little something like this: our forebears were more used to living in trees, but when climate change gradually began reducing tree cover, early humans were literally forced out of their trees – and ended up on their feet.

However new research by scientists in England has challenged this long-established theory. Instead, scientists at the University of York say they have found new evidence that our forebears actually began walking to help them get around on rocky terrain.

The archeaeologists say hominins – an early human ancestor –  developed an upright gait because it helped them to scramble and climb around the rugged landscape of East and South Africa.

They said that hominins would have been attracted to difficult terrain of rocky outcrops and gorges because it offered shelter and opportunities to trap prey – despite the difficulties in adapting to the lifestyle.

Dr Isabelle Winder, one of the paper’s authors said the research backed up the idea that bipedalism was a response to the terrain rather than to vegetation changes caused by the climate.

“The broke, disrupted terrain offered benefits for hominins in terms of security and food, but it also proved a motivation to improve their locomotor skills by climbing, balancing, scrambling and moving swiftly over broken ground – types of movement encouraging a more upright gait,” she said.

Walking on two feet for the first time had another benefit: it meant that hominins were able to have their hands and arms free to perform other tasks, which, the researchers say, means they were able to develop increased manual dexterity, supporting a further key stage in their evolution.

The research, which was carried out with researchers from the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris is published in the journal Antiquity.

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