Bipedalism: The Science of Upright Walking

Upright walking is a hallmark of being human. Explore how this unusual form of locomotion evolved and why.
This course is archived
Estimated 5 weeks
2–4 hours per week
Instructor-paced
Instructor-led on a course schedule

About this course

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Have you ever wondered why humans walk on two legs rather than four? In this course, we will explore how science investigates this unusual form of locomotion. We will start our investigation by looking at the mechanics of upright walking in humans and comparing that to bipedal locomotion in large birds, bears, and apes.

We will journey back millions of years into the human fossil record in an effort to understand how and why upright walking evolved. Around our first birthday, each of us learned how to walk, but how does this happen? With bipedalism came costly trade-offs as well-- we’ll examine these aches and pains as byproducts of our evolutionary history.

This course will take an intentionally interdisciplinary approach to studying how and why humans move bipedally. You will be exposed to anthropology, biomechanics, anatomy, evolution and paleontology to explore something deeply human: upright walking.

This course was developed in collaboration with SmithsonianX (National Musuem of Natural History and the National Zoological Park).

At a glance

  • Language: English

What you'll learn

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  • The nature of scientific inquiry and the role of evidence in testing hypotheses
  • The mechanics of upright walking and how unusual this form of locomotion is for a mammal
  • How scientists use evidence to examine the origins of upright walking
  • How anthropologists use the bones of animals today to bring fossil remains of our ancestors “back to life”
  • That upright walking has advantages and costly trade-offs

About the instructors