Running and evolution.

Did anyone know that we had to evolve the ability to run? That without some of the developments our early ancestors went through any attempt to run would result in you falling flat on your face?

Last night I watched Origins of Us on BBC, this episode focusing on the skeleton. One section of the program focused on the 1.5 million year old fossil Turkana Boy who was either Homo erectus or Homo ergaster (we are Homo sapiens and didn’t evolve until around 200, 000 years ago). Turkana Boy was the first fossil hominid found with signs of the adaptions necessary for running.

He had a longer body, which provided a waist. It might seem perfectly normal to us that we have waists but I’m sure not many people realise they are necessary to run. Without a waist you cannot twist your upper body in the opposite direction of your hips to stop the movement of your legs throwing you off balance when you run. Without this twist you would fall.

At the back of his skull is something we all have, the attachment site of the nuchal ligament. This ligament essentially holds your head from the back. When you run the weight of your head wants to pitch forwards with every step and send you flying. The nuchal ligament stops your head from doing so, and so stops the weight of your skull making you lose your balance and prevent you from running.

The last development is not skeletal but muscular. The gluteus maximus, present in humans but not in apes. That muscle that you work to make your bum look amazing? It’s not really needed while walking. If you tape electrodes to it (as Dr Alice Roberts did in the program) you see that it is barely used while walking. When you start running however it provides the extra bit of power needed to pull your leg back so you can take the next step and, again, stop you falling over.

So, next time you’re running, have a think about all the changes that allowed us to go from quadrupeds to walking bipeds to running bipeds.

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