We Evolved to Run

We Evolved to Run
Or: Why you have a big butt. A just-published review in Nature proposes that distance running was a critical element in our evolution.
Before citing the specifics, an aside. Evolution is not a theory, despite some school boards. Darwin’s explanation of evolution is a theory (according the Ernst Mayr, five conjoined theories), but evolution itself is a massively-documented fact of biology. (Darwin’s theories are nearly-universally accepted within biology, by the way; his theories are to evolution as Newton’s or Einstein’s theories are to gravity, that is, a well-tested explanation of an observable fact and a source of prediction for new facts.)
Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman, authors of the paper, describe a number of characteristics:
Long legs. Compared to other primates, we’re leg freaks. It’s probably not coincidental that long legs are associated with grace.
Short arms. Again, compare to other primates, proportionally. We have short, weak arms.
Large leg joints. Suitable for absorbing and dissipating impact shocks during running.
A particular development of the inner ear. If this seems equally suited to ‘merely’ standing on two legs, imagine standing on your hands and then being able to run and jump over uneven surfaces while maintaining equilibrium.
Big butts. Our butt muscles are massive compared to other primates; measurement of usage shows they’re little-used in walking and standing, far more in running.
Big, springy Achilles tendons. These, like the buttocks, are little-used walking or standing, but critical to running (as many know to their sorrow).
Hairlessness and sweat. We are especially good at heat dissipation – useful for prolonged exertion. Hairlessness is another characteristic associated with physical attractiveness.
SBrunning may be biased, but it is an appealing proposal: it explains a number of different adaptations that are not otherwise obvious. Great work. Original research reported in Nature (432.345-352, 2004). (11/18/04)

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