Tuesday, 30 April 2013

In support of the Aquatic Ape Theory

By Robert John Langdon

Elaine Morgan has been for years trying to persuade the academic community of the gigantic 'hole' in the story our ancestry and evolutionary process that made us lose our fur and become physically the homo sapiens we are today.  This theory clearly demonstrates that humans have had an infinity with water from an early evolutionary age after the family tree split from our ape based distant cousins.

Although we do share a huge gene pool of similarities with apes we are incredibly different.  This can easy be seen by our ability to swim in water, our bodies are perfectly adapted to water unlike any other land based animals on the planet. Simple proof of this theory is the remarkable ability for babies to naturally swim without coaching - throw a six month old baby in a swimming pool and it will hold its breath and swim, throw a six month old monkey or ape and it will drown!!

Why do babies swim?

Elaine was kind enough to send her support to my hypothesis when my book as first published in 2010 as she understood that man would naturally use water in our evolution story, as he was by nature an 'aquatic ape' and this would manifest itself in later history when our ancestors used water to travel and trade - which meant that we probably safely 'floated' rather than walked dangerously 'out of Africa' some 50,000 years ago.

Big brains, no fur, sinuses … are these clues to our ancestors' lives as 'aquatic apes'?

Controversial theory that seeks to explain one of the great leaps of human evolution finds new support but still divides scientists
Female western lowland gorilla
A female western lowland gorilla walks through a river. Some scientists believe our ancestors lived an aquatic lifestyle. Photograph: Getty
It is one of the most unusual evolutionary ideas ever proposed: humans are amphibious apes who lost their fur, started to walk upright and developed big brains because they took to living the good life by the water's edge.
This is the aquatic ape theory and although treated with derision by some academics over the past 50 years, it is still backed by a small, but committed group of scientists. Next week they will hold a major London conference when several speakers, including David Attenborough, will voice support for the theory.
"Humans are very different from other apes," said Peter Rhys Evans, an organiser of Human Evolution: Past, Present and Future. "We lack fur, walk upright, have big brains and subcutaneous fat and have a descended larynx, a feature common among aquatic animals but not apes."
Standard evolutionary models suggest these different features appeared at separate times and for different reasons. The aquatic ape theory argues they all occurred because our ancestors decided to live in or near water for hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of years.
The theory was first proposed in 1960 by British biologist Sir Alister Hardy, who believed apes descended from the trees to live, not on the savannah as is usually supposed, but in flooded creeks, river banks and sea shores, some of Earth's richest sources of food. To keep their heads above water, they evolved an upright stance, freeing their hands to make tools to crack open shellfish. Then they lost their body hair and instead developed a thick layer of subcutaneous fat to keep warm in the water.
Scientists have since added other human attributes of claimed aquatic origin – a recent addition being the sinus, said Rhys Evans, an expert on head and neck physiology at the Royal Marsden hospital, London.
"Humans have particularly large sinuses, spaces in the skull between our cheeks, noses and foreheads," he added. "But why do we have empty spaces in our heads? It makes no sense until we consider the evolutionary perspective. Then it becomes clear: our sinuses acted as buoyancy aids that helped keep our heads above water."
Other palaeontologists dismiss parts of the theory. One or two human features could have arisen because our ancestors picked homes near the sea but the entire package of attributes – lack of fur, upright posture, big brains, sinuses and others – is just too much, they add.
"I think that wading in a watery environment is as good an explanation, at the moment, for our upright gait as any other theory for human bipedalism," said Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, London. "But the whole aquatic ape package includes attributes that appeared at very different times in our evolution. If they were all the result of our lives in watery environments, we would have to have spent millions of years there and there is no evidence for this - not to mention like crocodiles and other creatures would have made the water a very dangerous place."
It is not just human physiology that reveals our aquatic past, argue the theory's supporters. Our brain biochemistry is also revealing. "Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in large amounts in seafood," said Dr Michael Crawford, of Imperial College London.
"It boosts brain growth in mammals. That is why a dolphin has a much bigger brain than a zebra, though they have roughly the same body sizes. The dolphin has a diet rich in DHA. The crucial point is that without a high DHA diet from seafood we could not have developed our big brains. We got smart from eating fish and living in water.
"More to the point, we now face a world in which sources of DHA – our fish stocks – are threatened. That has crucial consequences for our species. Without plentiful DHA, we face a future of increased mental illness and intellectual deterioration. We need to face up to that urgently. That is the real lesson of the aquatic ape theory."

Birth of a notion

Originally outlined by biologist Alister Hardy, the aquatic ape hypothesis achieved prominence when the theory was taken up by the Welsh writer Elaine Morgan in the early 70s. (Her previous work had included writing episodes of Dr Finlay's Casebook.)
Morgan became infuriated with male-dominated explanations for human attributes such as hairlessness. According to prevailing ideas, human males lost their body hair when they took up hunting and needed to sweat profusely in the African heat. But no explanation was given to account for loss of female body hair. As a result, Morgan turned to the aquatic ape theory, which she believed provided a more balanced vision of human evolution. Morgan wrote a popular account of the theory, The Descent of Women, which became a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. She followed this up with other books on the subject, includingThe Scars of Evolution and The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. Most recently, Morgan defended her belief at a TedX presentation in 2009.
• This article was amended on Saturday 27 April to add a "no" to this quote: "we would have to have spent millions of years there and there is evidence for this".
For Elaine her 40 year struggle for the acceptance for her 'obvious' hypothesis is coming to an end, with a well deserved victory for common sense over dogmatic institutional nonsense.
It is also an object lesson for new authors, like myself, that if you know in your heart that something is just and true, although at times it seems that the whole world is against you, then just persevere - for the truth will always be accepted in the course of time.


Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Vespasian’s Camp less a cradle more a trading station

By Robert John Langdon

Current 'thinking' about Mesolthic Britain and Stonehenge can be summed up in this extract from Current Archaeology.  Recently, the BBC's 'Flying archaeologist' also report that men existed in the Stonehenge region 3,000 years 'before they built Stonehenge' ignoring that the first structure at Stonehenge ( I believe that actually dates the structure more accurately) is 5,000 years earlier than current 'thinking' and shows that man must have been in this area two thousand years before the Flying archaeologist claims.
Extract from Current Archaeology
About a mile east of Stonehenge, an impressive promontory rises out of Salisbury Plain to around 95m above sea level. Situated close to the Avenue and Bluestonehenge (CA 237), commanding extensive views over the river Avon, and surrounded at all points of the compass by important prehistoric and historic sites and monuments, this spot might be expected to have held pivotal cultural significance for the plain’s early inhabitants for its location alone. But until our small-scale Open University excavations began in 2005, the Iron Age fortifications cresting the hill had received little archaeological attention.
In plain sight: Vespasian’s Camp is surrounded on all sides by prehistoric and early historic features, with excellent intervisibility between sites. Credit: Tom PhillipsDubbed ‘Vespasian’s Camp’ by the Elizabethan antiquarian William Camden – despite having no connection to the Roman commander (and later emperor) who subdued Britain’s southwest in the aftermath of the AD 43 Roman conquest (CA 196) – the full archaeological potential of the 2,500-year-old hillfort only started to be appreciated recently. While its substantial ramparts enclosing a 16ha space have earned the site Scheduled Monument status, it was widely assumed that much of the Camp’s archaeology had been destroyed centuries ago.
In the 18th century the Marquess of Queensberry commissioned major landscaping works to the grounds surrounding Amesbury Abbey – later the Antrobus Estate – transforming them into gardens with ornamental walkways, grottoes, and extensive tree planting.
This plan shows the relation of the spring (A) to the hillfort, as well as the western ramparts (C) and Bronze Age field systems (B) recently investigated at the site. Credit: Tom PhillipsIt was thought that the hillfort had been included in this project – a belief which, together with the fact that the Camp has been in private hands since the Tudor era, helped to create and reinforce conditions whereby Vespasian’s Camp became an archaeological blind spot in an area world famous for its archaeology.

Springing a surprise
This all changed following research of documents relating to the site and nearby farms. Examining property deeds and estate records revealed that the Camp itself had escaped significant landscaping, and in 2005 our fieldwork started. Following a meeting with landowners Sir Edward and Lady Antrobus, and their Site Custodian Mike Clarke, we whittled six possible targets down to one: a low-lying hollow northeast of the Camp, outside of the scheduled area, known as Blick Mead.
Glorious mud – and thousands of flints. Credit: Andy Rhind-Tutt Over a long weekend that autumn, a team of 20 recovered over 200 worked flints through test-pitting and surveying, ranging from early Bronze Age-Beaker scrapers to Mesolithic tools. We also made another important discovery:  a water feature, hitherto assumed to have been an 18th-century pond, was neither so simple nor so recent. Geologist Peter Hoare identified it as an ancient spring – the largest of a complex of such in the immediate area – while Reading University’s Head of Environmental Science, Nick Branch, suggests it might have once been part of a seasonal lake. As well as being increasingly regarded as ‘special places’ in the early landscape, springs have potential for excellent preservation conditions. With Blick Mead’s close proximity to such a wealth of archaeological sites and the river Avon, it was clearly a promising target for closer investigation. We have returned to the site every year since, but it was only recently that the spring yielded its most exciting finds.

Cutting-edge research
The first trench to go in at Blick Mead. The thick layer of Mesolithic finds came from the bottom 10cm of this section. Credit: Tom PhillipsSince 2010 we have started to uncover a very large amount of Mesolithic material in three small trenches around the spring, sealed by a layer of silt. Previously only scattered handfuls of Mesolithic material were known from Salisbury Plain, with the largest assemblage comprising 50 pieces of worked flint, found on King Barrow Ridge about a mile from our site. Our findings have dwarfed this: around 10,000 pieces of struck flint, several kilograms of burnt flint, and over 300 pieces of animal bone. Forming a layer 12cm thick, these finds were described by Professor Tim Darvill during a recent visit to the site as ‘the most important discovery at Stonehenge in many years’.

The most interesting part of this extract is the obvious admission which archaeologist have refused to resolve "we have started to uncover a very large amount of Mesolithic material in three small trenches around the spring, sealed by a layer of silt. "  - if you look at the photo you will notice that the 'silt' is substantial and could only be placed their by a river overflowing.
This is no surprise as it supports my hypothesis that this area was once the shoreline of the River Avon.
Vespasian Camp - showing post glacial flooding

As it can clearly be seen 'Vespasian Camp was an Island in the Mesolithic and a peninsula in the Neolithic on the trade route between 'Old Sarum' (another island) and Avebury.  It would also be used if you traveled to and from Stonehenge to Avebury as it would be a natural TRADING POST AND STOP OFF POINT.
So unless you take you believe your local Sunday market is a place of holy reverence, then all we are looking at is a place of gathering - hence the lack of homes.  Looking forward to more 'institutional thinking' on the next episode of the flying archaeologist.

(by Robert John Langdon)