Almost a century and a half ago, Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man (1871: 141) highlighted the evolution of bipedalism as one of the key features of the human lineage, freeing the hands for carrying and for using and making tools. But how did it arise? The famous footprints from Laetoli in Tanzania show that hominin ancestors were walking upright by at least 3.65 million years ago. Recent work, however, suggests a much earlier origin for bipedalism, in a Miocene primate ancestor that was still predominantly tree-dwelling. Here Susannah Thorpe, Juliet McClymont and Robin Crompton set out the evidence for that hypothesis and reject the notion that the common ancestor of great apes and humans was a knuckle-walking terrestrial species, as are gorillas and chimpanzees today. The article is followed by a series of comments, rounded off by a reply from the authors.