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Endurance running and the evolution of Homo

Nature volume 432, pages 345352 (18 November 2004) | Download Citation

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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.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to A. Biewener, D. Carrier, W. Harcourt-Smith, F. Jenkins, Jr, J. McGrath, D. Pilbeam, J. Polk, H. Pontzer and R. Wrangham for discussion and comments on the manuscript. Funding was provided by the American School of Prehistoric Research; illustrations in Fig. 4 were rendered by L. Meszoly. D.M.B. and D.E.L. contributed equally to this work.

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  1. Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA

    • Dennis M. Bramble
  2. Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Daniel E. Lieberman

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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Dennis M. Bramble or Daniel E. Lieberman.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03052

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