New evidence: Lucy was a knuckle-walker


5 May 2000

‘Early Man walked on all fours’ proclaims one news headline, while another asks, ‘Did Lucy walk on her knuckles?’ News media releases of the latest scientific ‘discovery’ about human origins1 herald the finding that the fossil ‘Lucy’ (Australopithecus afarensis) has the same wrist anatomy as ‘knuckle-walking’ chimpanzees and gorillas.

Some of the media said this was a surprise to evolutionists, who now have to abandon their theory that ‘our early tree-dwelling ancestors came down from the trees and were already adapted to walking upright.’ But evolutionists who insist that Lucy walked upright have already modified their story to accommodate the new information on Lucy’s wrist anatomy. Refusing to concede anything other than upright walking they say that her knuckle-walking wrist joints are a leftover (or ‘vestige’) from an early ancestor who came down from the trees and walked on her knuckles as chimpanzees and gorillas do.

But did australopithecines like Lucy walk upright? Careful study of the skeletal anatomy of australopithecine fossils indicates a stooped gait, probably similar to the ‘rolling’ knuckle-walk of chimps.

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Sadly, in this regard the public are often misled by inaccurately reconstructed statues and images of Lucy displayed at museums and in textbooks, etc., as her feet (and hands, for that matter) are often portrayed as startlingly human-like. Many evolutionists themselves concede such errors, acknowledging that australopithecine hands and feet were ‘not at all like human hands and feet; rather, they have long curved fingers and toes’2—even more so than apes today that live mostly in the trees.

A serious reconstruction error is to wrongly align Lucy’s big toe alongside the smaller toes, like a human foot. In fact, using multivariate analysis, the anatomist Dr Charles Oxnard3 has shown that the big toe actually sticks out as in chimpanzees. This is a key point, for evolutionists point to the famous fossil footprints at Laetoli (which look just like human footprints but are claimed to pre-date humans), and they say ‘See, Lucy walked upright!’ But the (correctly reconstructed) australopithecine fossil foot bones show that Lucy could not possibly have made those footprints.

Also, CAT scans of australopithecine inner ear canals (reflecting posture and balance) by anatomist Dr Fred Spoor and his colleagues at University College, London, showed they did not walk habitually upright.4

And the Laetoli footprints? Remove the fallacious evolutionary assumptions that provide the basis for radioisotope ‘dating’, and there is absolutely no evidence that the Laetoli prints predate humans. Therefore Dr Russell Tuttle’s (of the University of Chicago) finding, that the Laetoli footprints are just like those of children who habitually walk barefoot, makes sense.

So what was Lucy? Oxnard’s multivariate analysis showed that Lucy could not possibly be an intermediate ‘missing link’ between humans and knuckle-walking ape-like ancestors. He found that the australopithecine fossils ‘clearly differ more from both humans and African apes, than do these two living groups from each other. The australopithecines are unique.’5

The latest evidence not only confirms this, but it also indicates that Lucy was a knuckle-walker, like today’s great apes.

Published: 11 February 2006

References and Notes

  1. Did Lucy walk on her knuckles?, <http://www.exn.ca/html/templates/htmlpage.cfm?ID=20000322-51>, 22 March 2000; Walk Like an Ape, <http://abcnews.go.com/sections/science/DailyNews/knucklewalk000322.html>, 22 March 2000; Early Man walked on all fours, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk>, 23 March 2000; based on Brian G. Richmond and David S. Strait, Evidence that humans evolved from a knuckle-walking ancestor, Nature 404(6776), 23 March 2000. Return to text.
  2. ‘Ape-woman’ statue misleads public: anatomy professor (Dr David Menton), Creation19(1):52, Dec. 1996 – Feb. 1997. Return to text.
  3. Formerly professor of Anatomy and Biological Sciences at the University of Southern California, now professor of Human Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia. Return to text.
  4. F. Spoor, B. Wood and F. Zonneveld, Implications of early hominid morphology for evolution of human bipedal locomotion, Nature 369(6482):645–648, 1994. Return to text.
  5. C.E. Oxnard, in Fossils, Sex and Teeth—New Perspectives on Human Evolution, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London, p. 227, 1987. Oxnard had previously concluded much the same about Australopithecus africanus, Nature 258:389–395, 1975. Return to text.