Ulas family that walks on all fours ‘shouldn’t exist’, say scientists

All families have their own quirks and habits, but one group of family members possesses a trait so unique that scientists have called them a total anomaly of the human species.

The Ulas family has been the subject of evolving fascination for years after being discovered in a remote village in Turkey walking on all fours.

In the early 2000s, a scientific paper was published about five of the Ulas siblings and their strange bear-crawling motion, with experts divided on the cause of the anomaly.

In the years since the paper was published, evolutionary psychologist Professor Nicholas Humphrey of the London School of Economics (LSE) traveled to Turkey to meet this extraordinary family.

Mother and father Ulas had an impressive 18 children, but of them, only six were born with quadrupedalism (walking on all fours), which has never before been seen in modern adult humans.

The skin on the palms of their hands is as thick as that on their feet60 Minutes Australia

“I didn’t expect that even under the most extraordinary scientific fantasy, modern human beings could return to an animal state,” Humphrey said. 60 Minutes Australiawho made a documentary about the family in 2018.

“What sets us apart from the rest of the animal world is the fact that we are a species that walks on two legs and holds our heads high in the air,” he added.

“Sure, it’s language and all sorts of things too, but it’s terribly important to our perception of ourselves as different from other members of the animal kingdom. These people are crossing this border.

The documentary describes the Ulas as “the missing link between man and ape” and suggests that they “should not exist” at all.

And yet, no one has yet understood the precise cause of this strange way of walking.

While some experts suggest this is due to a genetic problem that has “undone the last three million years of evolution”, others have rejected the idea that there is a specific “gene” for upright walking and suggested that something else was at play.

Humphrey pointed out that the affected siblings – five of whom are still alive and aged between 22 and 38 – all suffer from a particular form of brain damage.

In the 60 minutes documentary, he showed MRI scans that revealed they each had a shrunken section of the brain called the cerebellar vermis.

However, the professor also noted that this in itself “(does not) explain their crawling.”

He explained: “Other children with damaged cerebellum, even those without a cerebellum, can still walk upright. »

He also pointed out that the quadrupedal form of Ulas differs from that seen in our closest animal relatives – chimpanzees and gorillas – in one key respect.

While these primates walk on their knuckles, Turkish children use the palms of their hands – resting their weight on their wrists while lifting their fingers off the ground.

“What’s significant is that chimpanzees are damaging their fingers by walking like this,” Humphrey told BBC News website in 2006 when the BBC broadcast its own documentary on the family.

Family that walks on all fours – Full

“These children have kept their fingers very nimble, for example, the girls in the family know how to crochet and embroidery,” he added.

Humphrey speculated that this may indeed be the way our direct ancestors walked.

By keeping their fingers dexterous, our early predecessors would also have been able to manipulate tools, which was crucial to the evolution of the human body and intelligence.

“I think it’s possible that what we’re seeing in this family represents a time when we weren’t walking like chimpanzees but were an important step between coming down from trees and becoming completely bipedal,” Humphrey told the news. site.

The LSE researcher also suggested that there are more fundamental explanations for the Ulas children’s quadrupedalism: they were simply not encouraged to walk on two feet.

In the Turkish village where they grew up, there were no local health services to help disabled children transition from crawling (on hands and knees) to walking completely upright.

Humphrey said 60 minutes that he provided the Ulases with a walker and that within a few hours “there was an astonishing transformation.”

“Kids who had never taken a step standing on two legs (used) this frame to walk across the room with such joy on their faces and a sense of accomplishment,” he recalls, adding that it felt like if they had “all of a sudden had a breakthrough into a world they never imagined they could enter.

Bars were installed at the Ulas home to encourage family members to walk upright60 Minutes Australia

He said seeing their enthusiasm for walking upright, with the help of physiotherapists, gave him “renewed respect for the human spirit”.

He said it helped him see “how human beings living in the most disadvantaged circumstances can triumph over adversity, no matter what they must do to maintain their pride and self-esteem.” “.

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