While holding great interest for athletes and trainers, the mechanics of running may also hold clues to the evolution of the modern human body form: tall and long-limbed with broad chests and defined waists.
Modern humans are very efficient walkers and fairly good runners, Steudel says, and efficient locomotion probably provided our ancestors with an advantage for hunting and gathering food. Distant ancestral forms, the australopithecines, had shorter, boxier frames with stubbier legs.
"They wouldn't have had noticeable waists their torso looked more like the torso of an ape, except they were walking on two legs," Steudel says. "With the genus Homo, you start getting taller individuals, larger individuals, and they started developing a more linear body form" with distinct waists that pivot easily, allowing longer and more efficient strides.
Human walking is also known to have an optimally efficient speed, so the new findings may help researchers determine the relative importance of the different gaits in driving human evolution, Steudel says. "This is a piece in the question of whether walking or running was more important in the evolution of the body form of the genus Homo."
|Contact: Karen Steudel|
University of Wisconsin-Madison