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Quadrupedal siblings in Turkey challenge evolutionary theories

Documentary reveals transformative journey of Turkish siblings learning to walk upright.

Quadrupedal siblings in Turkey challenge evolutionary theories
Cover Image Source: YouTube | @60MinutesAU

Despite our impressive scientific prowess, humanity has yet to unravel countless mysteries. One such mystery was explored in a 2006 BBC documentary. "The Family That Walks On All Fours" delved into the story of a family who has never walked on two legs. Residing in a remote Turkish village, five siblings who live with their parents have always used their hands and legs to walk. The reason behind this ape-like walking has been an issue of much scientific debate.

Image Source: Evolution of Man (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Image Source: Evolution of Man (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)

One explanation from a UK expert speculated that quadrupedal walking was an evolutionary outcome. They believed this family could tell us how or why our ancestors shifted from four-legged to two-legged locomotion. A team of German scientists believed that it was rooted in a genetic abnormality in the children. They located the gene on chromosome 17 and implied that this gene, which significantly helped our ancestors in bipedalism, might have been lacking in the siblings, making them quadrupedal.

However, professor and neuropsychologist Nicholas Humphrey from the London School of Economics, UK, disproved this theory. The professor explained that humans must have undergone a complex evolutionary process to walk on two feet, which involved several alterations to our genes and skeletal structure. He noted that not all siblings walked exclusively on four feet. Some altered between bipedal and quadrupedal walking.


Representative Image Source: Pexels | Nici Villa Vicencio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Nici Villa Vicencio

Humphry took the family for an MRI scan, and the results showed the presence of cerebellar ataxia, a condition that affects balance and coordination. However, experts knew that this wasn't the primary cause of the siblings' quadrupedalism and came up with other possibilities. Despite surface-level similarities to how chimpanzees and gorillas walk, Humphrey noted significant differences. While apes walked on their knuckles, the siblings pressed their palms on the ground while keeping their fingers up. "I think it's possible that what we are seeing in this family is something that does correspond to a time when we didn't walk like chimpanzees but was an important step between coming down from the trees and becoming fully bipedal," Humphrey explained.

Image Source: Pexels | Ketut Subiyanto
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Ketut Subiyanto

The neuropsychologist believed that the siblings walking on all fours was not because of a strange evolution but was instead due to a brain abnormality that they carried. Humphry suggested that the family's quadrupedalism was nothing but the result of a lack of health service in the village, as per a documentary by 60 Minutes Australia. When the children started walking on all fours as babies, no one was there to guide the family to teach the little ones to walk on two feet.

Humphrey was astonished that no one intervened to help the children, even after so many years. Humphrey and a team of experts provided the siblings with a walking frame, and the results were astonishing. It took just a few hours for the siblings to walk upright, and they were delighted. The team returned to the Turkish village a while later to check on the siblings' progress and surprisingly, they were all embracing bipedalism. 


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