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Bipedalism and Brain Size in the Hominid Line

Submitted by: Tammy E. McCoy

December 3, 2014

Bipedalism and Brain Size in the Hominid Line

On occasion an organism will inherit an adaptation that will help it survive

and reproduce better than its contemporary competitors. Both bipedalism and
an increased brain size and complexity are evolutionary traits that set humans
apart from other animals and aided in our survival.
There are many conjectures as to why humans became bipedal, change in the
environment, surveillance, obtaining more food, and freeing the hands to carry
various objects.
The change in the environment from the protection of the trees to open
savannah would have precipitated instances where our ancestors were caught
out in the open by predators.
Standing on two feet would have given a wider, farther range of view of the
dangers surrounding area. Being able to brandish stick and throw stones at a
predator might have been just enough to discourage a predator. Our ancestors
may not have been any serious threat to a larger animal, but perhaps an
aggressive impressive display would have been sufficient to deter a predator
on occasion.
Standing on two feet would also have allowed carrying food back to the

Whether it be more berries than consumable at the time or meat

scavenged in the savannah carried to a safer area to actually dine.

Also as hominids became more bipedal the foot would have gradually

changed to become more adapted for bipedalism. This would have been
passed down to the offspring of the hominids and as a result the infants would
have slowly lost the ability to cling to their mothers body with both hands and
feet. This would result in the mother having an even greater need to
concentrate her efforts to carry her infant in her arms. The more a species
evolves bipedal walking, the more it is forced to evolve still further in that

Some physical adaptations for bipedalism are a vertically oriented neck, a long
curved lumbar spine, a tall narrow waist, a sideways facing pelvis, a large hip
joint, having the knees angled inward under the hips, a large knee joint, a large
heel bone and an arched foot.
Human bipedalism is different than the occasional bipedalism of the apes.
It is our primary means of locomotion and we are very efficient because we
gave up the ability to be quadrupeds. Chimpanzees cannot walk or stand this
way because their hips face backwards permitting the same muscles only to
extend the leg behind them. 2

1 . Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins,, (New York. E.P. Dutton 1977) 74
2. Danielle E. Lieberman, The Story of the Human Body, (New York, Pantheon Books 2013) 35

While Ardipithecus is the first definite bipedal hominid in the fossil record,
living approximately 5.5 to 4.5 million years ago. They walked very differently

from us, in a much more apelike fashion. Ardi still retained many of the
ancestral features useful for climbing trees. But Ardis foot was partly stiffened
and has toe joints that were capable of bending upward at the end of the
stance. 3
Australopithicus afarensis living about 3.6 to 3 million years ago is a more
recent ancestor and walked upright on their hind legs. Many fossils of this
species were found. And Mary Leakey found footprints in fossilized volcanic
ash demonstrating their upright stance 4
The foot prints show a foot that has been modified with the big toe in line.
While Australopithicus afarensis was taller than the average chimpanzee by at
least a foot or more she had a similar brain size, around 420cc. Which brings
us to the discussion of brain size evolution and timing. It evolved after
If there were such a thing as a totally stable environment an animal living in it
would be able to thrive with an equipment consisting of pre programmed
responses (origins pg). 5 But there is no such thing as a completely stable

3. Danielle E. Lieberman, The Story of the Human Body, (New York, Pantheon Books 2013). 37
4. Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth, The evidence for evolution, (New York, Free Press 2009). 188
5. Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins,, (New York. E.P. Dutton 1977)

Whatever evolutionary pressures molded the human brain have been

operating long enough to shape the basic pattern by at least three million years
ago. 6
A brain delivered into the world in an underdeveloped state would be too
vulnerable, a fully developed brain would be less vulnerable to environmental
damage. But such a brain would cause such enormous engineering changes
in the birth canal making upright walking a problem. 7
One reason for a prolonged childhood in humans is the further development
after birth of the brain. This allows for a compromise in brain size at birth.
An infant with a relatively well developed brain delivered through a birth canal
that caused the pelvis in females to widen enough to give birth but not enough
to impede bipedal locomotion.

The increase in brain size in hominids is seen below:

Homo habilis
Homo ergaster
Homo erectus
Homo heidelbergensis
Homo neanderthalensis

Brain Capacity in Cubic Centimeters


6. Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins,, (New York. E.P. Dutton 1977) 197
7.Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins,, (New York. E.P. Dutton 1977) 149
8. Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins,, (New York. E.P. Dutton 1977) 149
9. Rob Desalle and Ian Tattersall, Human Origins, (Texas A & M University Press 2008) 177

So as hominids evolved bipedalism came first and the brain size increased
slowly after that until it reached its present capacity, which is slightly less than

our Neanderthal relatives.


Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin (1977). Origins. New York: E.P. Dutton.
Danielle E. Lieberman (2013). The Story of the Human Body. New York:
Pantheon Books.
Richard Dawkins (2009). The Greatest Show on Earth; The Evidence for
Evolution. New York: E.P. Dutton.
Rob Desalle and Ian Tattersall (2008). Human Origins. Texas: Texas A & M
University Press.