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31st Aug 2023

Family that only walk on all fours leave scientists baffled as they ‘shouldn’t exist’


‘I never expected that even under the most extraordinary scientific fantasy that modern human beings could return to an animal state’

A family has baffled scientists after being found to walk on all fours.

The Ulas family, from Turkey, has a quadrupedal gait never reported before in modern adult humans and challenges what we know about human evolution.

Some members of the family exhibiting the extraordinary mode of transport, first came to wider attention through a scientific paper, then a BBC documentary called, ‘The Family That Walks on All Fours’.60 Minutes has also covered the family.

Professor Nicholas Humphrey, an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics, discovered that six out of the family’s 18 children were born with trait. One of the six has since died.

Professor Humphrey told 60 Minutes Australia just how amazing the discovery was, saying: “I never expected that even under the most extraordinary scientific fantasy that modern human beings could return to an animal state.”

He further elaborated on the significance of bipedalism in distinguishing humans from other animals, saying: “The thing which marks us off from the rest of the animal world is the fact that we’re the species which walks on two legs and holds our heads high in the air… of course, it’s language and all other sorts of things too, but it’s terribly important to our sense of ourselves as being different from others in the animal kingdom.

“These people cross that boundary.”

The documentary suggested the Ulas family was potentially “the missing link between man and ape” and claimed they “shouldn’t exist”.

Turkish scientists, according to reports, proposed that a form of “devolution” might have occurred, potentially reversing three million years of evolution, but Humphreys didn’t buy it, deeming the suggestion “deeply insulting” and “scientifically irresponsible”.

The children at the centre of this study were found to have a shrunken cerebellum, a condition that typically doesn’t affect bipedalism in other humans, the Daily Star reported.

But, according to researchers at Liverpool University, the children’s skeletons bore more resemblance to apes than humans.

Fossil experts in New York also analysed the way they walked on all fours, finding that it was not at all consistent with the way evolutionary ancestors did. But despite the similarities, their locomotion differed from apes; they didn’t walk on their knuckles, instead using the flat hands.

Humphrey offered an alternative perspective to the BBC, saying: “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.”

When Humprey’s returned to visit the Ulas family again he found that their children could walk upright after being given help from a physiotherapist and equipment.

Years later a team of Danish scientists finally found who members of the family were walking on all fours.

In 2014, scientists from Aarhus University found that the cause was something called Cerebellar Ataxia, Mental Retardation and Dysequilibrium Syndrome (CAMRQ).

According to Science Nordic, CAMRQ is a very rare syndrome that derives from an incredibly rare mutation that prevents proteins from distributing molecules of fat properly. That results in defective nerve cells, brain damage and loss of balance, which would explain why the family walked on all fours as their balance was not good enough to walk upright.

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