Humans have been walking upright for millions of years. The where, why and when are secrets historians and anthropologists have only recently begun to unravel. Let’s look at when humans first began to walk upright, as well as the reasons and implications of the transition from walking on all fours to two legs.
- Where Did Walking Originate?
- When Did Walking Begin?
- What Was The Next Big Step?
- When Did The Current Form of Walking Develop?
- Why Did Ancient Humans Begin Walking?
- What Were the Results of Humans Walking?
- Who Actually Came Up With the Word ‘Walking’?
- Has Any One Individual Been Identified as the Inventor of the Word, or the Action?
Where Did Walking Originate?
Most anthropologists believe that walking, particularly the bipedal form used by homo sapiens today, first began in Africa. Fossil records from various regions seem to indicate that the evolution from primate to modern man began in Africa. The oldest fossil records that show bipedal tendencies are found in the African regions of Ethiopia and Tanzania.
When Did Walking Begin?
According to fossil records, the first signs of bipedal (two-legged) walking appeared between 4.2 and 4.4 million years ago. Remains of a female hominin nicknamed Ardi were discovered in Ethiopia. Ardi’s remains, and those of related hominins found nearby, had the first identified bipedal characteristics.
These characteristics include a toe structure that supports use of the toes in a manner similar to modern humans, and a pelvic alignment that is more suited for upright walking than solely quadraped movement.
Ardi’s species is considered the beginning of the evolution toward walking as humans do today. However, closer study indicated that bipedal movement was not the only method of movement, and not necessrily the primary choice. Transition to full bipedal development would take many more centuries to develop.
What Was The Next Big Step?
In Tanzania, bipedal fossils from approximately 3 million years ago were found. In both Tanzania and Kenya, a new species was found, the first of which was nicknamed Lucy.
Lucy’s pelvic and leg development supported the idea that her species used bipedal motion more often than the Ardi group. Other fossils that were confirmed to be from the same group revealed a more developed bipedal foot structure as well.
A later investigation uncovered fossilized footprints that were matched to Lucy’s species in age and general development. These footprints showed a clearly bipedal method of movement, used by multiple individuals.
This is often considered the next step in the evolution of walking, however, the gait is dissimilar enough that there is some debate as to whether this particular form of bipedal motion can be called walking in the same sense as the movement of modern humans.
When Did The Current Form of Walking Develop?
According to many scientists walking as modern humans consider it did not first occur until about 1.8 million years ago. During this period, a species now known as homo erectus developed in Africa. Unlike the Ardi group and Lucy’s group, the homo erectus fossils show definite traits similar to modern humans.
Among these traits are the longer legs and shorter arms that come with – and facilitate – fully bipedal locomotion. The hips, knees and spine had also developed to fully support walking and running in the manner we now use.
Why Did Ancient Humans Begin Walking?
There are many different theories as to why these different species began to develop bipedal motion.
Some theorize that the greater height offered by moving on two legs was used to keep watch for predators and other dangers. Others believe that the transition was made to conserve energy and move more efficiently in a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Still others believe that as entities with less fur developed in the thawing of the ice age, bipedal motion may have been used to reduce sun exposure on bare skin.
In recent years, another theory has come forth, indicating that the landscape itself may have required a more upright form of movement. At this time, no one theory has been fully proven or disproven.
What Were the Results of Humans Walking?
With the evolution to the bipedal state, humans conserved energy. This change also freed the hands to be used for other things. Antropologists credit walking as one of the keys to human success because it freed the hands for the eventual development of tools.
The ability to carry and grip things eventually transitioned in the ability to form simple tools, and perform more complex tasks. The exact development time of the stone tools that ushered in the Stone Age is unknown, but there are several notable contenders.
The homo erectus not only walked in a similar manner to modern humans, they were considered some of the first to use tools. These tools, called Acheulean Implements, were made of stone. Other examples of stone tools have reportedly been found as early as 2.6 million years ago in the Oldowan culture.
Some antropologists have even declared findings of tools in the same general area and timeframe as the ‘Lucy’ group. These would be over 3 million years old and would coincide with the development of a comitted bipedal movement.
Despite the various claims, it is agreed that, whatever and wherever the first stone tools were developed, it came some time after the transition to walking.
Who Actually Came Up With the Word ‘Walking’?
The exact origins of the word are unknown. However, the formalization of the term ‘walking’ is widely attributed to Old English and Germanic roots, used in the early 1200s.
According to historians, the final word comes from a merger of two – possibly three – words.
- Wealcan – Old English for ‘toss, roll, move around’
- Wealcian – Old English for ‘roll up, curl’
- Walchan – Old High German for ‘kneading’ used specifically to describe a process in making cloth where the fibers were kneaded by stepping on them.
The first two terms were thought to refer to the rolling motion of the foot and ankle, and the ‘rolling gait’ often used.
Experts beleive that these terms were further developed from the Icelandic and Norse words, such as ‘valka’ – to drag about.
These in turn are influenced by the Proto-Indo-European word ‘wel-‘
Has Any One Individual Been Identified as the Inventor of the Word, or the Action?
As of yet, there has been no singular individual, or fossil specimen, credited with being the first to definitively use walking as the primary method of motion.
Nor has any singular individual been credited with the translation of the Old English and Germanic terms into their current modern equivalent.