Bipedalism: The Heart Of Human Intelligence

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Being bipedal certainly gave early hominids an advantage over  other apes. Early in the 20th century scientists theorised, it was the large brain. They still aren’t certain why we began standing upright.

As a species, humans have gained an obvious advantage over other animals in the world today.

Walking upright on two legs gave early hominids an advantage of standing taller than any competition in the early landscape.

Anthropologists at the beginning of the 20th century thought large brains made hominids unique. The cranial cavity of the only existing fossils at that time, Neanderthalis and Homo erectus. Lent support to the theory of the large brains being a reasonable argument.


Foramen magnum
Animation showing the Foramen magnum at the base of the human skull

A 31 year old Australian doctor, Raymond Dart began excavating a site Near Johannesburg, South Africa in 1924.

Over several weeks of chipping away at A fossilised rock, Dart realised he had uncovered something extraordinary. The face of a child with both ape and human, features which had never been discovered before. One fascinating feature was a skull showing the Foramen magnum or a hole at the base of the skull, which connects the spinal cord to the base of the skull. In a position that allows for upright posture. Dart named the specimen, “Taung Child”. If the Foramen magnum was placed further toward the back of the skull. That was suggest the early hominid did not stand upright. “Taung Child is known as the africans subgroup of the Australopithecus genera of early humans.

The categorisation of early humans involved the evolution of the early homo genus about two million years ago in Africa. The Homo genus is of cause the genera where modern humans belong, the Homo sapiens. The most noticeable and important feature defining the genus homo from earlier species is the increase in brain or cranial capacity from twenty seven cubic inches or in scientific terms, 450cc, “cc” meaning “cranial capacity” in the earlier Australopithecus garhi to the first known homo species, the Homo habilis, who had a brain capacity of 37 cubic inches or 600cc (cranial capacity). The brain capacity from Homo habilis to homo ergaster to Homo erectus and homo heidelbergensis again had doubled. The homo genus has certainly experienced a major leap in evolution from previous species of pre-human lineages.

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The advent of the Homo genus is widely regarded as the first evidence of where stone tools were in use. Although this is becoming more disputed now as evidence is surfacing that early stone tools were in use as long ago as three million years ago, The advent of the first homo species also coincides with the beginning of the Quaternary ice age. Which, is the beginning of the current ice age as the earth is technically still in this glaciation as is with the evident polar ice caps and various glaciers world wide.

a. Afarensis
Australopithecus aferensis, “Lucy” The first bipedal true human.

Australopithecus aferensis, “Lucy” The first bipedal true human.
The homo genus also involves the now extinct Neanderthals, which existed in south Europe around twenty four thousand years ago. Neanderthal is considered the last relative to modern humans in the evolutionary process, although a discovery in 2003 being the Homo floresiensis suggests the last relative to modern humans became extinct twelve thousand years ago.

The most famous true human fossilised remains is that of an Australopithecus aferensis, commonly referred to as “Lucy”. Lucy was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 by American paleoanthropologist, Donald Johanson and colleagues. Before the 1970s it was widely believed that a larger brain was responsible for the upright standing in early Hominids.

Lucy was also displaying the same Foramen magnum feature as Raymond Dart had also observed in 1924. Suggesting upright posture.

No evidence has presented itself as to why early humans began standing upright. Theories have existed, they began standing upright as a defence mechanism to see over the tall grass of the early Savannahs to give them the advantage of seeing any predator.

This and other theories were debunked, due to discoveries that these early human genera lived in partially wooded areas, prior to migrating out of Africa to occupy every corner of the world today.

The reason our early ancestors stood up, freeing their hands is still not known. But, becoming bipedal certainly had its advantages. Allowing the hands to be used for hunting, using tools and eating.

The cause of our early ancestors to start walking in an upright position is difficult to study. But the process is believed to be about  six to seven million years ago.

Bruce Alpine

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