, Volume 97, Issue 3, pp 241-263,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The evolution of the upright posture and gait—a review and a new synthesis

Abstract

During the last century, approximately 30 hypotheses have been constructed to explain the evolution of the human upright posture and locomotion. The most important and recent ones are discussed here. Meanwhile, it has been established that all main hypotheses published until the last decade of the past century are outdated, at least with respect to some of their main ideas: Firstly, they were focused on only one cause for the evolution of bipedality, whereas the evolutionary process was much more complex. Secondly, they were all placed into a savannah scenario. During the 1990s, the fossil record allowed the reconstruction of emerging bipedalism more precisely in a forested habitat (e.g., as reported by Clarke and Tobias (Science 269:521–524, 1995) and WoldeGabriel et al. (Nature 412:175–178, 2001)). Moreover, the fossil remains revealed increasing evidence that this part of human evolution took place in a more humid environment than previously assumed. The Amphibian Generalist Theory, presented first in the year 2000, suggests that bipedalism began in a wooded habitat. The forests were not far from a shore, where our early ancestor, along with its arboreal habits, walked and waded in shallow water finding rich food with little investment. In contrast to all other theories, wading behaviour not only triggers an upright posture, but also forces the individual to maintain this position and to walk bipedally. So far, this is the only scenario suitable to overcome the considerable anatomical and functional threshold from quadrupedalism to bipedalism. This is consistent with paleoanthropological findings and with functional anatomy as well as with energetic calculations, and not least, with evolutionary psychology. The new synthesis presented here is able to harmonise many of the hitherto competing theories.