Knuckle walking:
Some time ago, I posted on the website the opinion that since humans are more closely related to chimpanzees then either of us are related to gorillas, and since chimpanzees look a lot like gorillas and we don’t, that we had evolved faster than chimpanzees.  I thought this was above question.  As you may recall, I put our faster evolution down to the opportunity that had opened itself when we adopted monogamy.  However, the faster evolution of humans has now been challenged.  (Careful Climbing in the Miocene: The Forelimbs of Ardipithecus ramidus and Humans are Primitive C. Owen Lovejoy and others SCIENCE vol. 326, October 2, 2009 page 70)

Some seventeen years ago a fossilized skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus was found in Ethiopia.  This possible human ancestor lived around 4.4 million years ago.  They have looked at it long enough now to publish their findings.  For my purposes, what they report is that the creature walked upright and climbed trees.  Well and good.  But when it climbed, it climbed on top of the branches, and when it was on all fours it rested its hands on the palms.  A chimpanzee by contrast walks on its knuckles and hangs from the branch.

Well that sets all sorts of lights flashing and buzzers going off in my mind.  What I had read before, sorry no reference, and have not seen contradicted was that apes evolved in Europe.  They were distinct from monkeys because monkeys scramble along on the tops of branches while apes brachiate.  That is they swing from branch to branch.  Thus do orangutans and Barbary apes and other apes.  If one is picking nuts, brachiating has distinct advantages. 

Now I am quite sure that our ancestors were brachiating.  If you take a small infant lying on its back and gently turn the head to the left, the left elbow will straighten and the right elbow flex.  This is exactly what you would do swinging through the trees.  You would reach out with one hand and look ahead while you supported yourself with the other hand.  Then your body would rotate and the positions of arms and head would reverse.  It is the classical pose of a fencer or boxer, although recent rules have changed that in both sports. 

But this putative ancestor scrambled along on the tops of branches, so they say.  So the sequence was like this, the sequence leading to us; there were other sequences of course.  Some common ancestor, which did not brachiate, gave rise to the orangutan, which learned to brachiate, and then gave rise to the gorilla, which learned to brachiate, and then the chimpanzee, which leaned to brachiate, and then us.  And we don’t brachiate because we haven’t evolved as much as the others.  Well Mark Twain said there were lies, damn lies and statistics, and I think that set of changes sounds a lot like a statistic or worse.  Besides.  We do brachiate.  It is not only infants.  Humans can climb horizontal ladders, climb ropes, swing from trapezes and hold onto overhead grips on subway trains.  Rock climbers are trained not to reach up, because unlike a tree a rock face will block your vision when you extend yourself.  But a sailor is trained to reach up for a vertical rope for support.  We don’t just scramble along on branches.

Of course when a boy climbs a tree he will support himself on his legs.  They are stronger.  And he may scramble like a monkey along a limb.  But my experience is that even then he tends to reach up for support, which a monkey never does.  The shoulders of the monkey will not permit a vertical arm.

Then there is knuckle walking.  Our inferred common ancestor of apes and humans, if the report is telling the truth, moved on the palms when down on all fours.  Then the orangutans split off and learned to knuckle walk, then the gorillas and then the chimpanzees, but the true, echt, pure, authentique, proper, genuino,  actual line never did.  Thus when on all fours we walk on our palms; we didn’t evolve.  All the others did.  Right.  Yes.  Hum.  Surely.  No doubt.  Indeed.  Seventeen years well spent clarifying that.

Confession time.

I knuckle walk.

Sure, when I was a child on all fours I would walk on knees and palms.  It hurt less than the knuckles.  And instinct has always told me that if it hurts it’s not the right thing to do.  But once I got strong, I mean really strong, things changed.  If I am on all fours and not moving, I will reach out forward and put my weight on my palms.  That still hurts less than the knuckles.  But when I start to move forward, I have go bring my shoulder over then hand.  Otherwise the hand is pushing the wrong way.  And if the shoulder is directly over the hand, the wrist must by hyperextended to a full ninety degrees.  And that really hurts.  My joints are just to tight knit to be comfortable there.  So I knuckle walk. 

Hmm.  You know something?  I can also close my nostrils with my upper lip.  And I have the gut of a gorilla, not a whippet; I digest low energy food just fine.  I suppose I am a sort of a throwback to something.  But the rest of you, I am pretty sure you have advanced to a more sophisticated and capable form than the chimpanzee.  So I am maintaining my position of monogamy and the accelerated evolution of humans until they do a better job of contradicting me. 

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