In ancient history, before we were Homo sapiens, we were a different kind of human. This kind of human was more hunched over and walked on all fours – feet, and fists. At some point, we evolved to stand and walk upright. This, of course, was faster and much more effective than the former. However, there is a family of people in Turkey, who, at first, seemed to have experienced some sort of “backward evolution”. They walk on all-fours like our ancient ancestors, only a little bit differently.
The Family That Walks On All Fours
Resit and Hatice Ulas from Turkey had 19 children. Of those 19, five of them walk, well, a little differently. They are hunched over and use their feet and the palms of their hands to get around. This, of course, is rather bizarre. After all, it is highly unnatural and actually quite difficult for modern humans to walk this way. They had a sixth sibling, too, who walked this way. Sadly, they died at the age of five. (1)
At first, scientists thought that perhaps these five people had experienced some kind of strange, backward evolution. These people, however, don’t walk exactly as our ancestors did. Our ancestors used closed fists and feet, whereas these siblings walk using the palms of their hands. Naturally, their palms have become quite calloused over the years. (2)
Not An Easy Life
This was not an intentional decision to walk this way, it is simply how they developed. It has not been easy for the siblings, however. The other villagers in their small village in Southern Turkey have tormented sisters Safiye, Hacer, Senem, and Emine and brother Hüseyin their entire lives. Besides shouting insults at them, people often will throw rocks and other objects.
Because of the tormenting villagers, the sisters tend to stay close to the house. They don’t wander far for fear of bullying. Their brother, however, will go out wandering sometimes. He will go several kilometers away from the house and even have basic interactions with the others in the village.
The siblings are now between the ages of 25 and 41. None of them were able to attend school, however, they did learn basic Kurdish. Enough, at least, to interact with their family.
A Scientific Marvel
For nearly 20 years, no one else in the world knew about this family. Then, in 2005, two British scientists stumbled upon an unpublished paper by a Turkish professor about the siblings. This was the first time in recorded history that healthy, adult humans walked this way.
Turkish scientists at first claimed that it appeared to be Uner Tan Syndrome. In this syndrome, however, there are also severe learning disabilities. When British psychologist Nicholas Humphrey met and observed them himself, however, he deemed the prognosis irresponsible and insulting. The family, after all, do not walk in the same pattern as primates, nor do they walk on their fists.
He, along with neuroscientist Roger Keynes and medical scientist John Skoyles had a different theory. They believe it came down to both genetic and developmental circumstances.
The parents are second cousins. Each of the affected siblings has cerebellar ataxia, or congenital brain impairment. This impairment makes it so that they find it difficult to balance on two legs. For this reason, their motor development changed course and had them learn to walk on all fours. It is not devolution, it is an adaptation to a disorder. (3)
Their mother told the scientists that even from the beginning these children crawled differently than the rest. The scientists also said that their skeletons were different. On top of that, their mother gave birth to seven children in five years. Essentially, there are many factors all contributing to this kind of development.
“If the persistence of quadrupedal walking in these five siblings has been the result not simply of a cerebellar problem but of a combination of unusual factors – genetic, physiological, psychological and social – then, to the extent that the conjunction of these factors in one family is highly improbable, it is a syndrome that may never be seen again,” they wrote.
Naturally, living where they do, they never had access to physiotherapy or adaptive technology such as braces or wheelchairs. It was therefore necessary for them to learn to walk the way that they do. Had they been born in another part of the world, their stride very well would have been quite different.
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- “MEDICAL MYSTERY Inside family who walk on all fours as baffled scientists think sibling’s bizarre gait could be ‘evolutionary throwback’.” The Sun. Katie Davis. December 3, 2021.
- “‘Family That Walks on All Fours’ Not Evolutionary Throwbacks.” Live Science. Stephanie Pappas. July 22, 2014.
- “The family that walks on all fours — and why they can’t stand up.” Washington Post