Cover image for Upright : the evolutionary key to becoming human
Upright : the evolutionary key to becoming human
Stanford, Craig B. (Craig Britton), 1956-
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
Physical Description:
xx, 204 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


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GN282.5 .S73 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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What, in evolutionary terms, propelled us to become human? The answer lies not in our forebears' big brains or their facility with language but in their ability to walk on two feet. That remarkable fact -- standing and walking seem so mundane -- only starts the drama that Craig Stanford, codirector of the Jane Goodall Research Center, tells of our origins.
Today scientists are finding far more evidence than ever before about our beginnings. The discoveries are prompting dramatic reappraisals of common beliefs about our past. Throw out the simple idea that millions of years ago some apes moved to the African savanna, where they evolved into runty hominids who eventually metamorphosed into us. Dump that textbook image of an ape transforming into a human in five stages. Newly found remnants of two-legged "proto-humans" show that our ancestry is much richer and more convoluted. In no way can we still think of ourselves as standing on the top rung of an evolutionary ladder of excellence.
But what about our tremendous thinking powers? Our brains could have started to grow because, as our ancestors adapted to standing and walking upright, they became more successful at hunting ever larger animals. The meatier diet could have fueled the increase in brain size. And the switch to standing and walking tall may have allowed our forebears to develop language, let alone take over the entire world as their home.
Describing his - and others' - latest research and interpretations, Stanford offers a fresh, galvanizing take on what made us human.

Author Notes

Craig Stanford is a professor of anthropology and biology at the University of Southern California.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

What distinguishes humans from their closest evolutionary ancestors? Brain size? Language? Complex social structures? Anthropologist Stanford, who is co-director of USC's Jane Goodall Primate Research Center, answers directly in this evenhanded account, which is part history of science and part scientific detective story. Drawing on the research of evolutionary biologists, anthropologists and paleontologists, Stanford argues that upright posture is what made us human, since it led to the development of a larger brain size and, by freeing our lungs, to the ability to use speech. According to Stanford, upright posture offered various benefits. For one, it aided the gathering of food through the development of the rotating shoulder cuff, which allowed mobility in holding and grasping sources of food. Other anatomical developments related to bipedalism include strong upper leg and gluteal muscles and a broader and shorter pelvis that would support the thighs and upper back. Upright posture also gave bipeds the ability to see far ahead in their hunts, allowing for better views of prey and self-protection from predators. Finally, this posture led to the development of tools that could be used in the hunt and the kill. Stanford contends that bipeds developed these physical traits and began to walk upright over a long period of time, from about 1.8 million years ago to 300,000 years ago. This thesis will likely generate disagreement among evolutionary biologists who believe that bigger brain size led humans to stand upright, but his sober and well-documented study merits close attention by anyone interested in human origins. Illus. Agent, Russell Galen. (Dec. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Stanford (Univ. of Southern California) has provided an excellent review of the literature concerning human evolution, with particular emphasis on what makes humans human. The question remains: Is it brain size or bipedalism, or do other factors play a major role? Drawing from extensive research, Stanford sees upright posture as crucial. He acknowledges the dramatic discoveries that have occurred and will continue to occur. These will force reexamination of conclusions and interpretations, all part of a process that makes the search for answers even more fascinating. In this search, more credence should be given to the importance of chance coupled with very small populations. In addition, when one considers the possibility of major, abrupt genetic changes rather than smaller ones, the search for missing links may be less critical. The importance of walking upright is clear, especially for the distribution of the developing hominids. Even so, the evolution of the brain, whether it occurred before, after, or coincidentally with this upright posture, is no less important. The manner by which humans reached their present form reveals much about what they have become and perhaps suggests what the future holds. This book makes a significant contribution to understanding human evolution. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; upper-level undergraduates through faculty. F. W. Yow emeritus, Kenyon College

Booklist Review

Thinking clearly about evolution is often hindered by our inclination to invest an anatomical or behavioral feature with purpose. Take walking. It seems so obviously beneficial because it increases a hominid's foraging range and frees up the hands. It must have evolved for those advantages, right? Amazingly, even expert paleontologists are susceptible to such faulty reasoning, as Stanford explains in this survey of the contentious debates about the origin of bipedalism and exactly which hominids possessed it. Those that displayed such a defining human characteristic can be considered ancestral. Stanford encapsulates arguments among heavyweights in the field (e.g., Donald Johanson) who wrangle about the proper interpretation of the anatomy of fossils such as the famous Lucy. Stanford then advances his viewpoint, which is heavily reliant on his in-the-wild observations of walking chimpanzees, and touches on the advantages of walking that natural selection preserves. The always lucid Stanford will enlighten general-interest readers. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

It's not our brains. It's not our souls. It's our feet-all two of them-that make us truly human, argues Stanford, codirector of the Jane Goodall Primate Research Center. Stanford here challenges some commonly held beliefs, arguing, for instance, that we might not descend from a single evolutionary tree and that Lucy might not be an ancestor. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



PREFACEBABY STEPSI remember vividly the first time that each of my three children took her or his first unassisted steps. My firstborn had been "cruising" for weeks - pulling herself up and walking while holding on to furniture, people, dogs, and anything else that she could grab. But at ten months she was ready to be a biped. She stepped away from my hands and walked several lock-legged goose steps into her mothers arms. My daughters wide eyes showed her shock at the performance. We beamed, imagining that our parenting skills had something to do with teaching her this most natural of all uniquely human acts. Three years later we were living in a village in rural Mexico and obsessing about the diseases that our younger daughter was contracting by crawling in the dust. Then one day she stood up and toddled, and that was that. My son was a different story; I was in East Africa, having left on a month-long trip knowing I would likely miss the big event. Sure enough, shortly after I arrived in Uganda, I learned through the crackling static of a phone call that Adam, after much frustration at trying to carry a ball while crawling, had simply stood up and walked, the ball in his arms and an ear-to- ear grin of accomplishment on his face. Few of us appreciate our history of becoming bipeds, perhaps because walking requires so little energy or thought. Most of us think that our exalted intellect or our ability to grasp with our thumbs is what sets us apart from the other primates. But all primates share the grasping thumb, and the difference between an apes brain and our own is not as great as people think. Some parts have undergone a critical reorganization, such as the speech centers, but a human brain is basically a ballooned version of a chimpanzee brain. Our ability to stand and walk habitually on two feet, however, represents a fundamental change from the kind of creatures that our ancestors were. Bipedalism preceded the expansion of brain size by about five million years; it truly announced the dawn of humanity. Becoming bipedal made us human. Whenever a fossil human is discovered, the first piece of crucial information that everyone wants to know is "Did it walk upright?" The second question is "How will it change our family tree?" To an extent unappreciated by most of us, walking is sexy. It is the key part of a cascade of traits that evolved together in an intricate mosaic of ape and early human features. For instance, walking on two legs rather than four released our bodies from the constraints of the synchronized breathing gait that so many other animals, such as dogs and horses, live by. Once the lungs of our two-legged ancestors were freed, they could modulate their breathing in subtle ways that may have contributed to the evolution of speech. The connection between walking upright and speaking is one of many vivid examples of the jigsaw-puzzle evolution of our bodies. Why we are bipedal is not simple to expla Excerpted from Upright: The Evolutionary Key to Becoming Human by Craig B. Stanford, Craig Stanford All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Preface: Baby Stepsp. xv
1 A First Stepp. 1
2 Knuckling Underp. 15
3 Heaven's Gait?p. 38
4 The Extended Familyp. 61
5 Everybody Loves Lucyp. 78
6 What Do You Stand For?p. 104
7 The Search for Meatp. 122
8 Better Bipedsp. 142
9 Sky Walkersp. 172
Bibliography and Further Readingp. 179
Indexp. 194