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.



  1. Thanks, RJL. Elaine Morgan thought the (semi)aquatic phase happened some 6 mill.yrs ago (Homo-Pan split), but this is most likely wrong: there are a number of convergences of H.erectus & other archaic Homo (less than 2 mill.yrs ago) with littoral slow & shallow-diving animals: the thick & dense = very heavy skeleton (only seen in littoral animals), the flat skull (for hydrodynamism), the flattened femur, the very broad body (flaring iliac blades, long femoral neck, valgus knees), the appearance of an external nose (protruding nostrils), the worldwide dispersal (along coasts), island colonisation (e.g. Flores), all sites in association with large bodies of water & abundant edible shellfish (malacological work of Stephen Munro), etc.
    All this suggests early-Pleistocene Homo populations followed the coasts & from there trekked inland along the rivers. Google
    -Greg Laden misconceptions Verhaegen
    Human Evolution publishes in 2 special editions the proceedings of PeterRhys Evans' symposium (with David Attenborough & Don Johanson) on human waterside evolution 'Human Evolution: Past, Present & Future' in London 8-10 May 2013:
    Special Edition Part 1 (end 2013)
    - Peter Rhys-Evans: Introduction
    - Stephen Oppenheimer: Human's Association with Water Bodies: the 'Exaggerated Diving Reflex' and its Relationship with the Evolutionary Allometry of Human Pelvic and Brain Sizes
    - JH Langdon: Human Ecological Breadth: Why Neither Savanna nor Aquatic Hypotheses can Hold Water
    - Stephen Munro: Endurance Running versus Underwater Foraging: an Anatomical and Palaeoecological Perspective
    - Algis Kuliukas: Wading Hypotheses of the Origin of Human Bipedalism
    - Marc Verhaegen: The Aquatic Ape Evolves: Common Misconceptions and Unproven Assumptions about the So-Called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis
    - CL Broadhurst & Michael Crawford: The Epigenetic Emergence of Culture at the Coastline: Interaction of Genes, Nutrition, Environment and Demography.
    Special Edition Part 2 (begin 2014) with 12 contributions.

  2. I was intrigued by this idea so did a little digging. There's a story here from IB Times which is covering the same story.


    I'm not entirely sure I support the thesis completely personally, but I will admit it is interesting. That said, the state of the 'scientific community' is clearly not to be trusted any longer. How anyone can suggest that science is a logical system anymore is beyond me.

    As an example of this arrogance (and irony) now found within the scientific community:

    "Joe Parker, an evolutionary scientist at Queen Mary University of London, asked: "If our transition to an aquatic or semi-aquatic environment was so successful, why aren't we still there?"

    Joe Parker literally used the exact same argument that creationists use. It's funny but also kind of sad that these people are trusted.

  3. Thanks, King. Is this Joe Parker an evolutionary "scientist"? All evidence (comparative, anatomical, physiological, paleo-environmental...) shows that our Pleistocene ancestors did not run after antelopes (sweating water + salt = scarce on savannas) but simply followed the African & Eurasian coasts & rivers, beach-combing, diving & wading bipedally for littoral, shallow-aquatic & waterside foods (shell- & crayfish are very rich in brain-specific nutrients), google e.g. researchGate marc verhaegen.