The current biomechanical interpretation of the chimpanzee's bipedal walking argues that larger lateral and vertical displacements of the body center of mass occur in the chimpanzee's “side-to-side” gait than in the human striding gait. The evolutionary hypothesis underlying this study is the following: during the evolution of human bipedalism one of the necessary changes could have been the progressive reduction of these displacements of the body center of mass. In order to quantitatively test this hypothesis, it is necessary to obtain simultaneously the trajectories of the centers of mass of the whole body and of the different body parts. To solve this problem, a new method of three-dimensional analysis of walking, associated with a volumetric modelling of the body, has been developed based on finite-element modelling. An orthogonal synchrophotographic device yielding four synchronous pictures of the walking subject allows a qualitative analysis of the photographic sequences together with the results of their quantitative analysis. This method was applied to an adult man, a 3-year-old girl and a 9-year-old male chimpanzee.
Our results suggest that the trajectory of the body center of mass of the human is distinguished from that of the chimpanzee not by a lower movement amplitude but by the synchronization of the transverse and vertical displacements into two periodic curves in phase with one another. The non-human primate uses its repertoire of arboreal movements in its bipedal terrestrial gait, provisionally referred to as a “rope-walker” gait. We show that the interpretation of a “side-to-side” gait is not applicable to the chimpanzee. We argue that similarly this interpretation and the initial hypothesis presuppose a basic symmetric structure of the gait, in relation to the sagittal plane of progression, similar to the human one. This lateral symmetry of the right and left displacements of the center of gravity, in phase with the right and left single supports of walking, is probably a very derived feature of the human gait. We suggest that low lateral and vertical displacements of the body center of mass are not indicative of a progressive bipedal gait and we discuss the new evolutionary implications of our results. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.