This article titled Born and Evolved to Run comes from the New York Times Science section–and you should read it. It’s a Q&A with Daniel Liberman, an evolutionary biologist from Harvard. He’s also a barefoot runner. He’s done a significant bit of research on barefoot running that any and all runners should look into. Beyond our feet, Liberman also discusses some unique characteristics of our necks and why most of our tooth and gum ailments are a result of the modern age. Here’s an exerpt:
Q. Your other specialty is the evolution of the foot. Why this emphasis on the farthest points of our bodies?
A. Actually, I’m interested in the entire body. However, I got into feet because of my interest in heads. Some years ago, I was doing an experiment where I put pigs on treadmills. The goal was to learn how running stressed the bones in the head. One day, a colleague, Dennis Bramble, walked into the lab, watched what was going on, and declared, “You know, that pig can’t hold its head still!”
This was my “eureka!” moment. I’d observed pigs on treadmills for hundreds of hours and had never thought about this. So Dennis and I started talking about how, when these pigs ran, their heads bobbed every which way and how running humans are really adept at stabilizing their heads. We realized that there were special features in the human neck that enable us to keep our heads still. That gives us an evolutionary advantage because it helps us avoid falls and injuries. And this seemed like evidence of natural selection in our ability to run, an important factor in how we became hunters rather than just foragers and got access to richer foods, which fueled the evolution of our big brains.