Last week the BBC aired The Family That Walks on All Fours, a documentary that followed scientists as they studied a group of siblings in Turkey who exhibit an unusual form of locomotion. The sisters and brother are all mentally disabled and walk with the palms of their hands on the ground in what’s known as quadrupedal palmigrade location.
A German research team showed that quadrupedal locomotion is a recessive trait linked to chromosome 17p and hypothesized that this family’s condition may provide clues to the behavior of our hominid ancestors. Another British researcher says that he believes the siblings are (literally) throwbacks to a bygone stage of human evolution.
So what I want to know is, am I the only one who finds all this extremely creepy and dehumanizing? Watch this video of the family, and while you do, imagine the crew of gawking British videographers following them around their Turkish farm. In the opening scene, the BBC host calls them “spooky-weird,” and Jemima Harrison, the documentary’s maker, says, “You initially respond to them like they’re animals, which is a little disturbing.” Uh, yeah. My mentor in college, biological anthropologist Fatima Jackson, would probably keel over if she heard that sort of ethnographically insensitive language.
I also just found a link to an article called “‘Backward Evolution’ Spawns Ape-like People” (!) in which a Turkish researcher, Uner Tan of Cukurova University Medical School, compares the siblings to lower primates:
“The sitting posture was rather similar to an ape … They could not hold their heads upright; the heads were flexed forward with their skulls. They could not raise their heads to look forward. This head posture with flexed skull was rather similar to the head posture of our closest relatives, like chimpanzees.”
And he was so proud of his findings that he named the family’s condition after himself: Unertan syndrome. Incredible…as in, both unbelievable and not at all credible. —Megan Miller