We show that hamstring-powered hip extension during habitual walking and climbing in living apes and humans is strongly predicted, and likely constrained, by the relative length and orientation of the ischium. Ape pelves permit greater extensor moments at the hip, enhancing climbing capability, but limit their range of hip extension, resulting in a crouched gait. Human pelves reduce hip extensor moments but permit a greater degree of hip extension, which greatly improves walking economy (i.e., distance traveled/energy consumed). Applying these results to fossil pelves suggests that early hominins differed from both humans and extant apes in having an economical walking gait without sacrificing climbing capability. Ardipithecus was capable of nearly human-like hip extension during bipedal walking, but retained the capacity for powerful, ape-like hip extension during vertical climbing. Hip extension capability was essentially human-like in Australopithecus afarensis and Australopithecus africanus, suggesting an economical walking gait but reduced mechanical advantage for powered hip extension during climbing.This positions Ardipithecus as the classic intermediate in terms of bipedal locomotion.Although there are many traits in Australopithecus afarensis that are still transitional in terms of the rib cage, dentition and aspects of the hip, it is clear that the major adaptations for bipedalism were in place nearly a million years earlier. This also suggests that it is not out of the realm of possibility that the fossil footprints in Crete really do reflect a bipedal hominin. At the risk of positing heresy, the fact remains that we really don't know exactly where hominins first appeared. This study also reinforced the distinct separation between apes and humans in terms of iliac shape, and that this split must have taken place even further back in time that we have supposed.
The Independent has a news story on this here. One of the authors, Herman Pontzer remarks:
“It kicks us out of this old paradigm of thinking about human evolution,”...“In that old picture that is everywhere where you have the evolution of man going from crouching thing to upright thing to a human – as much as we have known that is not right, I still think people have it in their heads.”