At least since the late nineteenth century, researchers have sought an explanation for infantile amnesia (IA)—the lack of autobiographical memories dating from early childhood—and childhood amnesia (CA), faster forgetting of events up until the age of about seven. Evidence suggests that IA occurs across altricial species, and a number of studies using animal models have converged on the hypothesis that maturation of the hippocampus is an important factor. But why does the hippocampus mature at one time and not another, and how does that maturation relate to memory? Our hypothesis is rooted in theories of embodied cognition, and it provides an explanation both for hippocampal development and the end of IA. Specifically, the onset of locomotion prompts the alignment of hippocampal place cells and grid cells to the environment, which in turn facilitates the ontogeny of long-term episodic memory and the end of IA. That is, because the animal can now reliably discriminate locations, location becomes a stable cue for memories. Furthermore, as the mode of human locomotion shifts from crawling to walking, there is an additional shift in the alignment of the hippocampus that marks the beginning of adult-like episodic memory and the end of CA. Finally, given a reduction in self-locomotion and exploration with aging, the hypothesis suggests a partial explanation for cognitive decline with aging.