Question For Creationists: What’s Up With Knuckle Walking?

Really, it seems like every time I turn around some creationist or another is trying to argue that Australopithecus afarensis is not a transitional fossil because there are some osteological indicators of knuckle walking in their wrist. Safarti is a case in point. Normally, most creationists quotemine Richard Leakey when this comes up, however, with the passing of time all things change. So now the try to quotemine Richmond and Strait’s Nature article (along with Collard and Aiello’s Nature commentary). Anyway, here is Sarfarti’s version of the argument.

Yet this is contrary to evidence from Lucy’s upper limb bones that her species (Australopithecus afarensis) could lock its wrists just as modern apes can, suggesting that Lucy was a knuckle walker in a similar way.

All I can say is “so what” Richmond and Strait also identify some traits in the human wrist and hand that they claim are indicative of weight bearing (e.g. knuckle walking) so this does not immediately bar A. afarensis a role in our ancestry. So why do creationists even try to make the argument?
While I ponder this, I will be working on a post about an interesting paper on paleodemography and the plague (okay, you caught me, I’m procrastinating on writing that post, sigh, it will be up tomorrow).

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12 Responses

  1. “Question For Creationists: What’s Up With Knuckle Walking?”
    The creationists are just jealous because they haven’t gotten past knuckle-dragging.
    -David
    “What is the sound of one knuckle dragging?” – Funniest blog name I’ve seen in the last hour or so…

  2. Creationists try to divide all fossils into two categories: wholely human and wholely ape. Since modern humans don’t knuckle walk, and modern apes do, any species that does so is wholely ape, and therefore not related to humans. Or so they try to reason.

  3. Nevertheless, if Richmond and Strait find evidence of knuckle walking persisting in A. Afarensis, then given the prior evidence that they also walked upright, there’s an interesting question as to what they were in fact up to, and under what circumstances. I think I’m right in saying that modern apes only walk bipedally under special circumstances, and they certainly wouldn’t leave tracks that look like Laetoli. When would it be better for a biped to knuckle?

  4. So why do creationists even try to make the argument?

    Sarfati is one of the most dishonest characters in the entire creationist movement, and that’s some serious competition.

  5. So why do creationists even try to make the argument?

    Sarfati is one of the most dishonest characters in the entire creationist movement, and that’s some serious competition.

  6. I think I’m right in saying that modern apes only walk bipedally under special circumstances, and they certainly wouldn’t leave tracks that look like Laetoli. When would it be better for a biped to knuckle?
    This is a highly speculative answer, which is what the question calls for actually. I’d suggest that perhaps one time knucklewalking for a while might be useful is similar to one of the times when we see apes walk bipedally (the most common reason they do, I believe). Food-getting. If you were an ape and were carrying something, or gathering something that was a bit off the ground, you might walk bipedally (and this is what they often do). If, OTOH, you were a habitually bipedal hominid and were, say, digging around for things — tubers or ants or whatever — and wanted to move from one spot to another not terribly far away, you might knuckle. Just as babies crawl sometimes when they could stand up and walk, but sometimes it’s just easier not to get up. If you were, say, digging up stuff in an area that was a bit spread out, why get up again and again to move a few feet each time? If you had fairly long arms relative to your legs — as early hominids did — why not knucklewalk? Later, when the arm/leg ratio had changed, you might resort to crawling to do the same thing, but that could involve knuckling too, especially if you were carrying something, like your digging stick or whatever you’d gathered so far.

  7. Qrazy Qat wrote: “If, OTOH, you were a habitually bipedal hominid and were, say, digging around for things”. Exactly. A few years ago I was weeding my garden, propping myself up with my left hand palm down. It got a bit sore so changed position. It took me a while to realise how I was now moving along. And I see from Afarensis’ post that any evolution-deniers watching would consider I was not human. Mind you some of my friends believe that independent of any knuckle-walking on my part.

  8. I think I’m right in saying that modern apes only walk bipedally under special circumstances

    Humans are the only completely bipedal ape so far discovered. There was a chimpanzee a while back that the press latched on to as a possible “Humanzee”. He could walk bipedially and did so as a matter of course. There was some speculation that he may have been a member of a small Chimp population that had taken to bipedalism but I don’t know that such a thing was ever proven. More likely someone forced him to do it.
    Bonobo’s seem to change between bipedalism and knuckle walking depending on which makes more sense at the moment. I suppose that throws a wrench in their “Wholly ape or wholly human” conundrum.

  9. From what I understand things are starting to move in favor of our ancestors from the chimp-human line split to Australopithecus being more arboreal in habits and “upright” in the sense that gibbons are. There has been a lot of focus on how we could have “stood up” from a knuckle-walking posture, but that’s assuming that our ancestors were knuckle-walkers to begin with. Perhaps our ancestors were more gibbon-like in habit/form even though gibbons diverged much earlier (I know this view goes back to Sir Arthur Keith, at least, and more recently Aaron Filler [although I don't agree with Filler's mechanism or all of his conclusions]).

  10. Because I have carpal tunnel and it hurts my wrists to put them flat, any time i work close to the ground–gardening, auto repair, push-ups–I ‘knuckle walk’. Golly, maybe I’m the missing link!

  11. Andreas – Orangs tend to fist walk, occasionally they have been noticed knuckle walking. Usually this occurs on slick surfaces.

  12. Thorpe, Holder and Cromption (2007) have found upright walking on certain types of branches by Orangs, and have published a study proposing that this stance developed into bipedalism, while chimps etc. became more adapted to tree trunk climbing and developed the knuckle walk to get around on the ground. If Afarensis had a fused wrist bone in the same way as humans, that would overcome an objection and increase the likelihood that they were ancestral to humans. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_afarensis#Bipedalism for outline info and links to sources.

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