The 18 November 2004 cover story of Nature, the British scientific journal, is titled "Endurance running and the evolution of Homo". It's by Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman, who summarize in their abstract:

Striding bipedalism is a key derived behaviour of hominids that possibly originated soon after the divergence of the chimpanzee and human lineages. Although bipedal gaits include walking and running, running is generally considered to have played no major role in human evolution because humans, like apes, are poor sprinters compared to most quadrupeds. Here we assess how well humans perform at sustained long-distance running, and review the physiological and anatomical bases of endurance running capabilities in humans and other mammals. Judged by several criteria, humans perform remarkably well at endurance running, thanks to a diverse array of features, many of which leave traces in the skeleton. The fossil evidence of these features suggests that endurance running is a derived capability of the genus Homo, originating about 2 million years ago, and may have been instrumental in the evolution of the human body form.

In short, people evolved to run.

Well, maybe. The article has attracted a huge amount of press, mostly for good reasons. But there are a couple of points that I haven't seen discussed in any published commentary: how about the ladies? Wouldn't proto-hominid females be significantly handicapped by their (to put it delicately) upper-body development? Not to mention sex-specific hip and knee issues? Did ur-women have to invent jogbras in order to get their share of endurance-run advantages? Or did they become swimmers, or stay-at-home moms? What other consequences resulted from the differences between prehuman male and female athletes?

To put it scientifically: if covering long distances rapidly on foot is an important evolutionary driver --- and not simply a captivating just-so story --- then it needs predictive power. It should imply other testable hypotheses which fresh evidence can verify or falsify. Those new hypotheses shouldn't leave out half of early humanity ...

(for a good discussion of the Nature article see "Marathon Man", the 17 Nov 2004 entry in by Paul Z. Myers; see also ScienceAndPseudoscience (6 Oct 2001), PredictivePower (23 Oct 2001), WomenAndMen (20 Nov 2001), NeedForSpeed (10 Aug 2002), BrainyJogbra (7 May 2004), ...)

TopicRunning - TopicScience - TopicHumor - 2004-11-26

(correlates: 2006-12-31 - Marathon in the Parks Revisited, ExaggeratedCertainty, ChivalrousReasoning, ...)