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Are we not men?
March 7, 2006 2:19 PM   Subscribe

A Kurdish family in Turkey can only walk on all fours. Some claim that their genetic defects have led to a sort of "backward evolution." An upcoming BBC documentary (pdf) will share their story.
posted by zonkout (55 comments total)

 
I read the articles looking for traces of a hoax. Anyone find any or is this real?
posted by arcticwoman at 2:22 PM on March 7, 2006


Scientists' reactions have ranged from deep skepticism

Yeah, I'll just bet they have.
posted by Zinger at 2:30 PM on March 7, 2006


Ahhhh! kill ‘em kill ‘em kill ‘em kill ‘em! Ahhh! Fithy creatures!

Silly.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:36 PM on March 7, 2006


Evolution has no direction.
posted by docgonzo at 2:37 PM on March 7, 2006


Honestly must be a slow news day...

I hate to say it but people who have walked on all fours their entire life would not be shaped like these folks...

http://images.thetimes.co.uk/TGD/picture/0,,275596,00.jpg

Can anyone spell SCAM?
posted by Budge at 2:39 PM on March 7, 2006


Nor is it recapitulated behaviorally.
posted by sonofsamiam at 2:39 PM on March 7, 2006


Ah yes. And next on the BBC, the Spaghetti Harvest.
posted by The Bellman at 2:41 PM on March 7, 2006


I've seen a lot of great FPPs on MeFi. This is not one of them.
posted by Doohickie at 2:46 PM on March 7, 2006


Evolution has no direction.
posted by docgonzo


That's why "backward evolution" is in "scare quotes". It's an oversimplified term for "more recent evolutionary changes fail to be expressed, resulting in something similar to a historical form".

I hate to say it but people who have walked on all fours their entire life would not be shaped like these folks...
posted by Budge
Why not? You can't tell much about their shape from that picture.
posted by Happy Monkey at 2:50 PM on March 7, 2006


Professor Humphrey, who has been contributing to a BBC programme, The Family that Walks on All Fours, to be broadcast on March 17, said that weeks of study, and factors such as their hands’ shape and callouses, showed that this was a long-term pattern of behaviour and not a hoax.
posted by cribcage at 2:50 PM on March 7, 2006


docgonzo - thank you. Yeah.
posted by zoinks at 2:51 PM on March 7, 2006


This is pretty awesome. Thanks
posted by rosswald at 2:58 PM on March 7, 2006


I had to check the date whe I first saw this.

Nope, not April first.
posted by HTuttle at 3:07 PM on March 7, 2006


They look to walk in a very similar way to a minor "character" (I think he's actually a real person who played himself) in the movie Shallow Hal. As I recall, that guy was described as having spina bifida.

They're both photographed with knees straight too, which is an odd gait for a quadruped mammal, which ordinarily walk on their toes, with ankles and knees bent in the classic "dog leg" posture.

I suspect that what we're seeing is a spinal and/or pelvic disorder, whose sufferers in First World society would use wheelchairs. In the absense of easy, cheap wheelchairs, these people have learned to get around as best they can. It's adaptive function in action. This is how people born without thumbs learn to open jars anyway, or those born without arms at all will sometimes learn to type and drive with their feet.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 3:12 PM on March 7, 2006


This story reeks of shenanigans....

On preview, what aeschenkarnos said. Makes much more sense.
posted by maryh at 3:18 PM on March 7, 2006


aeschenkarnos:
They're both photographed with knees straight too, which is an odd gait for a quadruped mammal, which ordinarily walk on their toes, with ankles and knees bent in the classic "dog leg" posture.


Not necessarily. It's true that most quadrupeds are toe-walkers (horse, dog and cat famlies, for example), but others are heel-walkers (bears, apes).

But yeah, this screams 'hoax' all over, and the notion of 'reverse evolution' is, at best, a gross misrepresentation of how evolution works.
posted by spazzm at 3:20 PM on March 7, 2006


I sometimes walk on all fours, when I'm drunk enough.

Like one hour from now.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:24 PM on March 7, 2006


This smacks of hogwash to me too, but assuming its true, I suspect aeschenkarnos had it right; could be a congenitial disorder that started the behavior. The article does allude to some inbreeding. After that, the persistence of the behavior sounds more social than physiologically determined. And the whole evolutionary thing is just silly.
posted by elendil71 at 3:36 PM on March 7, 2006


If they walk on all fours, why are they wearing pants/skirts?
posted by fandango_matt at 3:45 PM on March 7, 2006


This is fake.
posted by tkchrist at 3:54 PM on March 7, 2006


My initial reaction was also 'stunt', but the video clip is a whole lot more convincing than the photos.
posted by Soulfather at 4:00 PM on March 7, 2006


a) forward evolution decried as backwards by bipedal ancestors! coming soon: smaller doors! shoes sold in fours! better hand moisturizer!

b) why is this "backwards evolution" - even in quotes - as opposed to "crazy broken genes make family move around all weird"? it isn't evolution at all, what are they adapting too? does turkey already possess the aforementioned small doors?
posted by soma lkzx at 4:10 PM on March 7, 2006


In the future, we'll all hop on one foot.
posted by notmydesk at 4:15 PM on March 7, 2006


I checked the links and couldn't find any evidence of evolution. The turkish family was clearly intelligently designed.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:19 PM on March 7, 2006


b) why is this "backwards evolution" - even in quotes - as opposed to "crazy broken genes make family move around all weird"? it isn't evolution at all, what are they adapting too? does turkey already possess the aforementioned small doors?
posted by soma lkzx


"Backward evolution" isn't evolution at all. It's not an adaptation to anything. See the end of the walk on all fours link for an example. A short description is: assume some gene is added that changes a species in some way, and that gene becomes the norm, through natural selection. Eventually some individual has a flaw that causes that gene to not be expressed, and the individual is therefore similar to what the species was like before that gene was introduced. This is simply a special case of mutation that peels away an onion layer of evolutionary change, and is therefore scientifically interesting in a way that a random other mutation isn't.
posted by Happy Monkey at 4:39 PM on March 7, 2006


soma lkzx: b) why is this "backwards evolution" - even in quotes - as opposed to "crazy broken genes make family move around all weird"? it isn't evolution at all, what are they adapting too? does turkey already possess the aforementioned small doors?

Well, theoretically this could be considered 'backward evolution' if the family lost whatever genetic trait allowed humans to walk upright, as it would be essentially a regression to an earlier evolutionary state. However, I tend to think you're probably right; it's probably just some random error that caused quadrapedal movement as a side effect.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:40 PM on March 7, 2006


you can't evolve backward.

or what docgonzo said.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:56 PM on March 7, 2006


aeschenkarnos: I suspect that what we're seeing is a spinal and/or pelvic disorder

Did you miss the part in the article where it mentions that the children are retarded and don't even speak a real language?
posted by ddf at 4:57 PM on March 7, 2006


I really should go back and RTFA again, but wasn't there some mention of this possibly having some sort of neurological basis, a la Oliver Sacks...

(shuffles off to RTFA again.)
posted by Aquaman at 4:58 PM on March 7, 2006


Nicholas Humphrey, evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, who has visited the family, said that the siblings appeared to have reverted to an instinctive form of behaviour encoded deep in the brain, but abandoned in the course of evolution.

bzzzt This and "backwards evolution" sounds to me like the author didn't know what the fuck he was talking about.

If they walk on all fours, why are they wearing pants/skirts?

I would imagine so that people can't see their genitals. Why do you wear pants/skirts?
posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on March 7, 2006


"Backward evolution" should have been "evolutionary throwback", which actually does mean something to paleontologists. We can't evolve backwards, and docgonzo was right: evolution has no direction. This sounds more like a genetic defect passed on by the parents rather than an honest evolutionary throwback, though.
posted by fossil_human at 5:11 PM on March 7, 2006


I would imagine anyone who "evolves" into walking on all fours would probably have also "evolved" clothing other than pants or skirts. I don't see how they'd put on pants or fasten a belt while on all fours.
posted by fandango_matt at 5:32 PM on March 7, 2006


Randon mutation becomes evolution if over many generations it allows more successful reproduction and survival. Let's imagine it's not a hoax, and WWIII happens, cities wiped out, land mines scattered throughout farm land worldwide. Bent over people could be better at avoiding land mines and IEDs, I suppose. Uprights die out. Then we could call it evolution. In the mean time it's just a sad medical condition or a hoax.
posted by tula at 6:47 PM on March 7, 2006


Are we not men?
posted by The Deej at 6:47 PM on March 7, 2006


you can't evolve backward.

I was under the impression that there is a theoretical concept known as 'degenerative evolution' (perhaps a little out-of-favour now due to certain political developments in Europe in the late 1930s...).

But, yeah, whatever this Kurdish thing is, it isn't 'evolution' -- it's television.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:05 PM on March 7, 2006


A brief video clip via Neuroquantology.
posted by nickyskye at 7:22 PM on March 7, 2006


Intriguing. But forget the evolution bs. They're mutations affecting one family, involving mental retardation. There's insufficient information in all the articles about the background to me to speculate properly. Maybe an elder child had/has some physical ailment which is or isn't genetically determined that made upright walking painful as a child or the like.

I didn't quite get whether the parents themselves are disturbed but let's say they allow or even encourage such older child to continue mobilizing in this fashion. As they appear to be in relative isolation, there would be a very strong behavioural/sociological pressure on subsequent children to follow the same gait, whether or not they had any physical disability. As they are mentally challenged, there would not be a normal response to such a bizarre circumstance ie. they might be less likely to challenge it or whatever and then...when you've been doing it for years, it just becomes the norm.

I watched the video multiple times. The gait doesn't seem to me to indicate a joint disease (not that you can tell) or at least it looks like normal locomotion given the on-all-4s manner. I imagine it will be written up as a part-genetic inbreeding syndrome with a strange socialization twist. Such is my take anyways.
posted by peacay at 7:33 PM on March 7, 2006


At least they wear pants. If I decided to only walk on all fours, I would immediately loose the pants.
posted by Balisong at 8:01 PM on March 7, 2006


peacay, you missed that there are in fact 19 children, and only five (scattered through the family, not all the youngest or eldest or anything) have the disabilities.
posted by jacalata at 8:24 PM on March 7, 2006


The Deej: Are we not men?

A: We are DEVO!
posted by kaseijin at 8:25 PM on March 7, 2006


Oh. Thanks jacalata. I went off on my own musings obviously.
Hm. I'm still skeptical of hearing from an evolutionary psychologist about a medical syndrome. Prof. Humphrey has some level of stake in this being talked up in evolutionary terms. I guess I'd like to hear from a Prof of genetics/orthopaedics/medicine about the true nature of the syndrome. Still, definitely interesting and strange.
posted by peacay at 8:44 PM on March 7, 2006


Assuming this is not a hoax, can we cite Natasha as additional proof of Newton's Third Law of (Loco)motion?
posted by rob511 at 9:58 PM on March 7, 2006


The London School of Economics has evolutionary biologists on staff?
posted by fshgrl at 9:59 PM on March 7, 2006


I imagine this will justify Turkey's insistence not of allowing Kurdish independence.
posted by semmi at 10:27 PM on March 7, 2006


Not "not of," but "of not."
posted by semmi at 10:28 PM on March 7, 2006


Sounds legitimate. Here's the study of the Turkish villagers by British researchers (PDF, with more images): Human Hand-Walkers: Five Siblings Who Never Stood Up:
The majority of human beings as infants go through a stage of crawling on hands and knees. But a small proportion go on to use a form of crawl in which they support themselves on their hands and feet with their bodies raised above the ground. In the general population this so-called 'bear crawl' is not common (a study of 150 infants in the USA reported just 5% using it as a dominant gait ); but it tends to run in families, suggesting it may be a heritable trait.

The bear-crawl has several advantages over more typical knee-crawling, and it can temporarily prove to be an especially good way of getting around. Indeed Ales Hrdlicka, who seventy five years ago wrote a definitive (though now largely forgotten) treatise on this kind of crawling, Children Who Run on All Fours, remarked that "The most common effect of the all-fours method of progression appears to be more or less of a delay in walking erect. These children are quite satisfied with their easy and rapid on-all-fours, and were they left to their own devices and not influenced by other examples, they might possibly keep on, on hands and feet, for a longer time if not indefinitely."
See also Physical Development in Feral Children:
Ambulation
Many physical changes that feral children genuinely do undergo are brought about by walking on all fours. Their muscles develop differently, they acquire callouses on the palms of their hands and their knees, and their ankles and other leg joints become accustomed to being bent most of the time. Even once taught to walk on two legs, Kamala would still resort to all fours when running, and in that mode would outpace people running on two legs.
...
Feral children are usually both strong and very dextrous physically. They can run (on all fours), climb and jump very nimbly and with great rapidity.
This case of a young girl with Down Syndrome states that she used the "bear crawl" until her second year. It's also mentioned in forums at the National Association for Down Syndrome.
posted by cenoxo at 11:56 PM on March 7, 2006


FWIW, I remember a girl from when I was a kid who needed crutches to walk, but sometimes she would just walk on her hands and feet, with her legs straight, just like the picture. I have no reason to think that the same condition couldn't affect more than one person in a family. (I don't know what specifically she had but it also involved a mental disability.)
posted by Space Coyote at 2:17 AM on March 8, 2006


The London School of Economics has evolutionary biologists on staff?

The LSE isn't really a 'school of economics', it's a university.
posted by jack_mo at 4:00 AM on March 8, 2006


The linked article clearly states that the possibility of this being a hoax has been investigated and discarded. Since that quote comes from a guy who's selling a documentary about the family, I suppose he's got reason to pitch a curve — but can any of y'all who are screaming "HOAX!" offer any reason or explanation why you believe this story to be false, other than, "My gut tells me humans are awesome"?

'Cause, y'know...science.
posted by cribcage at 6:57 AM on March 8, 2006


Assuming this is not a hoax, the "insights" they are drawing from this seem a bit weak. Perhaps they are palm walkers to protect their fingers? What, the knuckle-walking great apes don't require their fingers? This is an insight on par with the claims of a carnival side-show hawker, trying to entice you to pay $1 to see the amazing "monkey boy."

In any event, "backwards evolution" is a terrible and misleading phrase. Why just not use the term "atavism?"
posted by moonbiter at 7:02 AM on March 8, 2006


My initial reaction was also 'stunt', but the video clip is a whole lot more convincing than the photos.

No, it isn't.
posted by Doohickie at 8:55 AM on March 8, 2006


I'm a DOCTOR, okay? I know SCIENCE.
posted by bam at 10:37 AM on March 8, 2006


Still fake.

but can any of y'all who are screaming "HOAX!" offer any reason or explanation why you believe this story to be false, other than, "My gut tells me humans are awesome"?

My human guts tell me people are fucking liars. And there is no "science" here. Just pictures. Well, I got pictures of Nessie and the Yeti.

I want more proof. Not just quotes from an Evolutionary Psychologist (LOL) who likely has not spent much time actually examining these people.

You remember that Korean "scientist", Hwang Woo-suk, who cloned a dog? Scientist make shit up all the time.

C'mon. Not saying this family isn't really walking on all fours - but it's JUST as likely a mental disorder/disability or something that is being exploited by this Turkish "scientist".
posted by tkchrist at 11:40 AM on March 8, 2006


Thanks cenoxo, that's fascinating stuff. My oldest son went through a long (8 months?) period of bearwalking, during which time we made sure he learned lots of appropriate animal vocalizations.
posted by sneebler at 12:13 PM on March 8, 2006


exactly
posted by farnastic at 7:25 PM on March 18, 2006


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