Saturday, 19 January 2008

Chapter Four - The Aquatic Ape Theory

[Underwater photograph by Fosco Maraini from.]

What has been taught to us all, is that man has always been the breadwinner. From the time of the Stone Age it was ‘natural’ for man to go out and hunt for food and bring it back to his adoring wife. She will then cook it for him and wait on her lord and master hand and foot. But what if this cozy scene of domestic bliss wasn’t true? What would happen if there was evidence that man wasn’t the natural breadwinner of the human race, and it was more likely that women were the breadwinner. That means it was she who brought home the ‘bacon’, and it was he who would be looking after the children and home. A vast number of people would find such a thought totally preposterous.

       A secret war is going on in the scientific community, about this, with two competing theories, one of which suggests that male dominance is ‘normal’ for human behaviour and a competing theory that gives woman a more prominent role. In the 1950’s palaeontologists thought they had worked out the how humans became different from apes, in the “great white hunter” theory, or as it is called now, the savannah theory. This theory states that humans became different from apes through hunting. In a time of global warming, the trees in Africa were decreasing, because of increasingly dry weather. Our ape ancestors were forced to come out of the trees and live on the savannah. 

         No longer able to feed themselves on fruit, leaves and nuts they found on trees, these apes became scavengers and progressed to learn hunting with crude clubs and spears. So it was the hunting skills that made humans so brainy, and man became the ‘killer ape’. Off course in this cosy picture women had very little input. After all wherever you go in the world it has always been men who hunt and women who gather. So you find in many of the books expounding this theory, women are hardly mentioned at all. After all, we live in a man’s world and women are only good for looking after children. So it is not surprising to find that the proponents of the savannah theory are all men.

But the 1960s - 70s was the time of the ‘women’s liberation movement’, or as we call it today feminism, and there was one feminist called Elaine Morgan who was very unhappy with the savannah theory. So she threw an intellectual grenade at the savannah theory in her book The Descent of Woman. The title itself was provocative as it was similar to the title of the book, The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin, the founder of the theory of evolution.

Elaine Morgan
Because the Savannah theorists are men and hardly mention women in their theory none of them thought about how a woman carrying a child would survive on the Savannah. Perhaps a fit young ape-man might be able to survive but a woman with a baby would be an easy kill for lions and hyenas. This is because the human infant is the most helpless newborn in the animal kingdom. Most land animals can walk or even run within an hour of being born. But a newborn baby cannot even crawl and is totally dependent on it’s mother. For this to happen it means that human babies had to be able to evolve in very safe conditions. This mean that open Savannah was certainly not the place where human babies evolved.

This mere woman, who didn't even have a scientific degree, had the audacity to not only attack the Savannah theory; but also put forward an alternative hypothesis, called the aquatic ape theory. The scientific community reacted with silence but what she was proposing wasn't anything new; it was a theory that has been within the scientific community for a long time. In fact this theory was as old as the Savannah theory but male scientists simply preferred the Savannah theory rather than the aquatic ape theory. After all, the entire Savannah theory was very macho and gave men the prominent role in our evolution. The aquatic ape theory on the other hand was very suspect as it questions the ‘natural’ dominance of man in our society, and gives women an important role.

The aquatic ape theory came from a scientific anomaly noticed by marine biologists. They knew that warm-blooded aquatic animals like seals, dolphins and penguins had a layer of blubber around them to keep them warm in the water. So it was a puzzle that human beings had a similar layer of blubber over their bodies, which is very unusual for land animals. It was then speculated that humans were for a time aquatic, in their evolutionary past. Max Westenhöffer in Germany first put this theory into print in 1942. This idea was kicked around in scientific circles and was even mentioned in Desmond Morris’s book The Naked Ape that helped popularised the savannah theory. The public first heard about it in 1960 when a professor called Sir Alistair Hardy was invited to talk to a sub-aqua club. To make his talk interesting to his sub-aqua audience he decided to tell them about the aquatic ape theory. It had interested him for thirty years, but he hadn't written any scientific papers on it because he knew it could ruin his career. 

(Which is strange when you think about it. Science is supposed to be the unbiased assessment of facts, so putting forward an alternative theory shouldn't damage anyone’s career, if the facts were being assessed without bias. But this is clearly not the case when it comes to the aquatic ape theory). What he didn't know was that one of the members of the sub-aqua club was also a newspaper reporter. As a result, the reporter wrote down what Hardy had said and sent it to the British Sunday papers. Then it was reported all over the world. Unfortunately the papers didn’t understand the theory and some reported that Hardy believed humans evolved from dolphins. The scientific community then closed ranks and kept quiet about it and the whole story died because no scientists would talk to the press, and this theory. But the newspaper story greatly interested Elaine Morgan who got in touch with Sir Alistair Hardy. Then when she discovered that he had no intention of writing about the theory, she decided to write about it herself. The scientific community felt they could safely ignore her; she was after all only a woman and didn't have a scientific degree.

The one thing you can say about Elaine Morgan was that she didn’t give up easily. She did at first get the backing of Sir Alistair Hardy but in the end he had to think about his career, and dropped out. Elaine Morgan, being an outsider, didn’t have a scientific career to worry about, so she was free to write whatever she liked. So she continued to write and publish four more books on the theory, called - The Aquatic ApeThe Descent of the ChildThe Aquatic Ape Hypothesis and The Scars of Evolution. Her persistence paid off as the Aquatic ape theory began to be discussed in scientific journals, but her success meant that she was open to attack. For instance in the book Strange Creations: Aberrant Ideas of Human Origins from Ancient Astronauts to Aquatic Apes, by Donna Kossy, Elaine Morgan was compared with creationists, people who believe in the Extraterrestrial Origins of civilization and even leaders of suicide cults. This is the type of attacks that Elaine Morgan had to put up with.

But on the positive side people are now beginning to accept her theories. For instance BBC radio on the 12 and 19 April 2005 broadcast two programs by Sir David Attenborough on the aquatic ape theory, and gave it a favourable review. This is because the evidence is stacking up more and more towards the aquatic ape theory and against the savannah theory. (Update 2009) Elaine Morgan has now been given a OBE by the Queen, so this strongly suggests her ideas are now being excepted by the scientific establishment.

Phillip Tobias, a strong advocate for the savannah theory for many years, declared to a scientific audience in London. “The savannah hypothesis is no more! Open that window and throw it out!” Yet many years earlier that said: “Ever since Sir Alister Hardy put it forward in 1960, it has been scorned, derided, made fun of. Nobody has really taken it seriously. You either burst into guffaws of uncontrollable laughter or you tap your head in respect of the person speaking it.” So we can see that even a committed supporter of the savannah theory had to change his mind because the scientific evidence for it is so weak and the evidence for the aquatic ape theory is so strong. So in this way at least Phillip Tobias is behaving like a true scientist and is being guided by the evidence. The same cannot be said for many other scientists who are still clinging desperately to a watered down version of the savannah theory.

As far as Elaine Morgan is concerned, she has won the argument many times over, but many palaeontologists still stubbornly refuse to accept the aquatic ape theory. If you go on the Internet you will find many people still extremely hostile to it, still claiming that the aquatic ape theory is not ‘proven’. The savannah theory was never proven either, but this hasn't stopped scientists claiming to the public that it was science fact. So what is it about the aquatic ape theory that causes so much hostility?

The foundation of science is that you look at the facts, without bias. Now this is a wonderful ideal and is the reason why science has become a powerful tool in understanding our world. But the fact is, that scientists are in the end human beings. Being dispassionate observers might be the ideal, but scientists themselves have emotions and bias like everyone else.

The big attraction of the savannah theory is that it portrays men as heroes. We have this brave ape that is forced by the decimation of forests to come out of the trees and live on the African plains. No longer able to feed himself from the fruits and nuts from trees, he begins to scavenge meat from the kills of lions and hyenas. So he, (it is always he, women are hardly mentioned in this theory), has to fight and compete with the top predators and through bravery and ingenuity, he learn to become a top predator himself.

So what a wonderful heroic drama this is, worthy of any Hollywood film script. The fact there is hardly any evidence of this and it is all speculation, is beside the point. As any newspaper reporter will tell you; “you don’t let the facts spoil a good story”.

Not only is it a good story, it also seems to make sense of the brutal world we live in. It justifies the behaviour of atrocious dictators like Hitler and Stalin, and ‘great’ conquerors like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Napoleon. In other words, it justifies male violence, war, genocide and torture. The theory claims that man learned to be violent because he had to fight for survival against the top predators on the African savannah. In other words he became a killer ape. This is a depressing thought, because if that is the case, then violence, war and genocide will always be part of human behaviour.

Another great thing about this theory is that it puts man at the top of the food chain. (Men of course will always want to be the top; we wouldn't want men to take second place to any other animal, would we?). The food chain starts off with plants, herbivores eat the plants and carnivores in turn eat them. This means carnivores are at the top of the food chain and if man wants to be top alongside carnivores he has to be a carnivore himself. The problem is that he is not a real carnivore. Human beings don’t have large claws, powerful jaws and large teeth with which they can kill other animals. It was only the invention of clubs and spears that has made it possible for humans to do this.

Neither are human beings exclusive meat eaters, like cats. The diets of the vast majority of people in the world consist of vegetables and seeds. So I’m afraid we have to take second place to the real carnivores in the world, like cats, dogs and polar bears. The only people who can make this claim are the Eskimos who live near the Arctic Circle. It is impossible to grow crops on ice, which means the Inuit people can only live on raw meat. (It has to be raw, as it is also extremely difficult to light a fire on an ice floe). So at least the Eskimos can claim to be at the top of the food chain, but for the rest of us, well, I’m afraid we all have to accept second place as omnivores. And if you are a vegetarian you have to accept third place.

What is surprising about the Savannah theory is just how inept it is. Scientists like to boast about how they will consider the evidence very carefully and not be swayed by emotion.Yet this is clearly not the case with the Savannah theory. The Savannah theorists claim that when our ape ancestor came out of the trees it found food in the marrow of bones left by scavengers.This it extracted by breaking open the bones with rocks. The idea sounds reasonable until you find out that hyenas, one of the main scavengers on the African plain, have jaws so powerful that they can easily break up bones with their teeth. Which means it is very unlikely that apes would find enough marrow to feed a reasonably sized population because there will be little left after hyenas have crunched up the bones.

It is true animal bones have been found alongside primitive tools and weapons of early humans. This has given the false impression that early humans had an exclusively meat diet. But we would only know about bones because they can be preserved in soil that is not too acid.  Vegetable matter on the other hand rots away very quickly so there is no way to know how much vegetable or meat early humans ate. What we do know is that they ate a lot of shellfish, as large amounts of opened shells have been found in the excavations of early human settlements, near the coast. So we can say that many early humans did eat a lot of shellfish.

Another problem with man the mighty hunter, is that when anthropologists have observed hunter/gatherer tribes in Africa in modern times, what they find is that women gather far more food than men can hunt. In fact they found that hunting is a very unreliable means of gaining food, as the majority of attempts to kill animals with spears or bows and arrows end in failure. Hunting only became important when humans moved north into colder climates where plants didn’t grow throughout the winter. It was then hunting became very important, as it was the only way to obtain food during the winter months. So the further north humans went, the more important hunting became, but this only happened after we became fully human.

Savannah theories also claim our ape ancestor became so clever because he had to figure out how to stalk and ambush game on the African plains. They also claim that this was how man developed speech, as men had to learn simple communications to organize ways to ambush animals. Yet we know lionesses also do this successfully; they stalk and ambush their prey, but they haven’t needed to develop large brains or speech in order to do this.

Another problem with the savannah theory is that other primates have moved from living in trees to the plains, namely baboons and vervet monkeys. We find they didn’t lose their hair, learn to stand upright, develop speech or became very brainy. The forest baboon is not a great deal different to those who live on the savannah. So looking at other primates, we find that living on the African plains, had far less effect on them than savannah theorists would like to think.

[Three ama divers, from web-site. -
It is also claimed that our ape ancestors lost their hair to keep them cooler as they ran after game, and running on two legs make them better runners. This again is total nonsense. A cheetah runs far faster than a human, but it doesn’t need to shed its fur to keep itself cool. Also, running on four legs is the main reason why cheetahs are so fast, because they are able to create an enormous stride using their whole body as well as their back and forelegs. Men are also more hairy than women, so if we follow through the logic that humans become hairless to keep themselves cool when running, it would suggest that it was women who were running after game. As for running on two legs, compared with most other animals on the Africa plains, man is a very slow runner. There is no advantage to running on two legs or we would see many other animals doing the same. The only large mammal that only uses two legs is the Kangaroo, but this animal leaps rather than runs. It is true the ostrich and emu can both run very fast on two legs but they have no choice because being birds, their front legs have been turned into wings.

The whole savannah theory is based on dubious speculation and if scientists were genuinely unbiased they would have rejected it long ago. So what of the alternative theory? What does the aquatic ape theory tell us about ourselves?

The first thing is that it gives a far better explanation of why we are naked, because this is what got scientists interested in this concept in the first place. The vast majority of animals that live on the African plains have fur. The exceptions are animals like elephants and hippos and the reason why these animals do not have fur is that they are semi-aquatic. (The elephant is a remarkably good swimmer, and its closest relation in the animal world, is the sea cow). Fur is not a very good insulator in the water unless the animal develops very dense fur with very large oil glands that can keep the water out, like you see with the otter and mink. For most marine animals the best insulation is fat, which covers the bodies of dolphins, whales, seals and penguins. This is what humans also have.

Humans have ten times as many fat cells under the skin as would be expected in a non-aquatic animal of the same size. It is true some mammals, which hibernate can also retain fat, but this fat is seasonal; aquatic mammals and humans retain fat throughout the year. Also humans don’t hibernate, not even the Eskimos, who for thousands of years endured dark arctic winters living in Igloos. Human infants are especially fat compared to apes and most other fully terrestrial mammals. The human fatty layer is also attached to the skin of the central body parts, as is the case with most medium- or larger-sized semi-aquatic mammals, rather than to the muscle as in almost all land mammals. Humans also lack the layer of cutaneous muscle possessed by land mammals including non-human primates, which allows many land animals to twitch their skin, and which is not present in aquatic mammals.

Being naked is not a good idea in the hot African sun. (Even black people can get sun burnt, or can get skin cancer from too much sun). Fur protects the skin from the deadly effects of the sun and is also a far better insulator than fat for land animals. This is because a land animal can shed fur in the summer and grow it again in the winter. It can also fluff up fur in the heat, to allow the air to get to its skin to cool down. Or it can bring the hairs closer to the body, trapping the air in the fur to allow better insulation in the cold. Fur also makes it far easier for animals to adapt to very cold conditions. In the 19th century when the first zoos were created in Europe they attempted to house tropical animals in heated rooms, but the animals quickly died. So they tried leaving the tropical animals outside and they quickly adapted to the cold by growing thicker fur. It was found that even Russian zoos have no problems in caging tropical animals out in the open, as their fur grows thickly enough to adapt to the Russian weather.

Another problem with fat as an insulator is that it is heavier than fur. In the African Savannah, most animals survive by being fast runners, either to escape predators or being a predator itself, to catch prey. So an animal doesn’t want to be weighed down by excess weight like fat. Fur gives far better insulation qualities with far less weight than fat. It seems the only advantage of the fat we have around our bodies is that fat is a better insulator in water and it gives us buoyancy when floating.

There is also the problem about how humans became so brainy. It is of interest that the biggest brains on the planet belong to aquatic or semi-aquatic animals. For instance, dolphins have bigger brains than humans, while a killer whale has a brain five times the size of humans and the sperm whale has a brain six times bigger than us. On land, the only animal that has a brain larger than humans is the elephant, which has a brain twice our size. So why is it that marine animals have on average, larger brains than those on land?

It seems this has to do with fat and trace elements. Sixty percent of the brain is fat, and the food needed to create large brains is omega-3 fatty acids and iodine. Without this vital brain food it is impossible for the body to grow a large brain. The marine environment has an abundance of these vital nutrients but they are in short supply on land. Iodine is a trace element that is vital for brain development, but there are many parts of the world where it is not present in the soil, like North America, Russian, Australia and parts of Africa. Iodine not being present in a mother’s body when she is pregnant is a major cause of mental deficiency in babies. Both WHO and UNICEF see this as a major worldwide health problem and both organisations have encouraged countries to produce iodised salt that is sold to the public. Iodine is abundant in seawater and therefore the food richest in iodine is found in seafood.

Another brain food is coconut, which is found on beaches in Africa.   Dr Mary T. Newport has discovered that coconut oil is a great help in fighting Alzheimer's disease and other forms of brain diseases.  This is because coconut oil is high in medium chain fatty acids, which the body can make ketones, another important brain food.  Coconut trees only grow on beaches near the ocean and are not found further inland.

So let’s compare a dolphin with a zebra, which has the same body weight. A zebra has 360 grams of brain while the dolphin has 1.8 kilograms. In other words, a dolphin has a brain about five times the size of that of a zebra. This is also true with apes. Human beings have a body size comparable with chimpanzees and gorillas, the chimpanzee being slightly smaller and the gorilla slightly larger. Yet humans on average have brains over three times bigger than both ape species.

The Savannah theory claims that men could obtain the vital DHA fat from bone marrow.Yet hyenas, which have powerful jaws to crunch up bone and eat the bone marrow of the animals they kill and scavenge, do not have large brains like us. Also the Savannah is not rich in the vital trace element iodine, which is vital for brain development. This then makes sense of a puzzle about early humans. We would expect that as humans evolve more, our brains would get bigger and bigger, but this hasn’t happened. Neanderthal humans had brains larger than the average human today; this is also true of the Cro Magnon humans who had a brain 15 percent larger than modern day people.

So why did this happen? An obvious explanation would be that many humans rejected the sea and moved back inland. This would mean they wouldn’t find the same abundance of brain food as on the coast, resulting in their brains becoming increasingly smaller. It is of interest that the size of human brains can vary enormously, some humans having brains as low as 800 cc or as high as 2,000 cc. This big variation could be to do with the different diets humans have and how much brain food they consume. It has to be said, however, that brain size is not a very good indication of individual intelligence.

There is a real mystery why human beings are the only animals to walk upright. As previously mentioned, running upright makes human beings slow runners. A four-legged animal has a far longer stride, using both the back and front legs. Also we pay a price for our upright stature through knee and back problems as well as varicose veins, haemorrhoids and hernias.

Yet the big advantage is that being bipedal leaves human beings hands free to carry objects and use tools. It is doubtful we evolved bipedalism for this reason; chimpanzees also use tools but chimps are still happy to walk around on four legs, and only use tools squatting on the ground. The great hunter theory claims that man walked on two legs to see above the high African grass on the savannah. The problem with this theory is that you also have large numbers of grazing animals eating this grass. So these conditions don’t last for very long and would only be a temporary situation every year. Another great hunter theory is that standing upright means that less of the body’s area is exposed to the midday sun. And to be fair, Australian aboriginals do this when caught out in the open in the midday sun. They stand perfectly still until the sun moves closer to the horizon, but where they can, they prefer to shelter under trees and bushes. This is probably what early human also done.

In the past, there was another ape, which was bipedal like us. This was the long-extinct Oreopithecus, known as the swamp ape. Scientists have found it had a pelvis like ours, making it suitable for bipedalism. In modern times the two primates that are able to walk upright are the proboscis monkey and the bonobo ape. The proboscis lives in the mangrove swamps of Borneo and is a real swimming primate as some have been found swimming in the sea by fishermen. The bonobo lives in forests that are seasonally flooded every year. Both species wade through the water in a similar way to human beings, so this suggests that bipedalism in primates comes from living in flooded or swampy areas.

The aquatic ape theory suggests like the great hunter theory, that our ape ancestors were forced to come out of the trees because of changing climatic conditions, but instead of living on the Savannah these apes found they could survive by gathering shellfish and seaweed on the seashore. The result would be that they became a wading ape, as the ape could walk in deeper water by walking upright. The advantage of living in trees is that it is a good protection against predators, most of whom can’t climb trees. The same protection can be given to an upright wading ape simply because it can wade out to deeper water than a four legged predator. It is true that the predator might swim, but it loses all its advantages of speed, size and power swimming in the water. To this ape, the water will become a safe haven in much the same way a tree is, so instead of climbing a tree to escape from a predator it can run into the ocean instead. In fact a beach is a difficult hunting ground for predators as there is not much cover a large cat can hide behind to stalk its prey. This then would make shell hunting more popular among females if they are pregnant or breast-feeding a child, as the water protects them. This could explain another scientific mystery.

Most animals reach full maturity within a few years; this is because the young of most species are very vulnerable to attacks from predators. So the quicker they grow to full size the better chance they have of survival. But the human child can take up to 20 years to reach full maturity, and it is totally helpless in the first two years of its life. Now having a long time to mature is an advantage for human brain development, but for early humans to evolve to this means mothers had to be able to keep their children in a safe environment away from predators. Living on the Savannah alongside lions and hyenas would not be a very safe environment for the young of early humans. Monkeys and most apes are able to keep reasonably safe by living in trees, though there is also the danger of infant primates falling. So it means that the ocean would be a safer environment for early humans than even trees. It is true that there are sharks in the sea but sharks would be far less of a threat than big cats or hyenas on land. All over the world, sharks kill only a handful of people every year, in spite of the large numbers of people who swim in the ocean. Statistically, a person has a better chance of being hit by lightning than being attacked by a shark.

So there are a lot of advantages to female apes becoming marine food gatherers. It’s not so true for male apes, who would be bigger and stronger anyway and don’t have the burden of trying to save a helpless baby from a predator as well. So it would cause a division of labour, men gathering on land while women gathered in the sea.

This is why the Aquatic Ape theory seems to have a great appeal to women, and why many male scientists don’t like it. Instead of having a great white hunter, coming home from a hard day of hunting to be greeted by his adoring wife, we now have women who are more than able to feed themselves and their children without any help from men. Well, we can’t possibly have that, can we? More so if you realize that it is claimed by Elaine Morgan that it took a 6 million years for humans to evolve into a semi-aquatic animal. So in that entire time, women were capable of looking after themselves without the need of man the mighty hunter.
Other human characteristics that support the Aquatic Ape theory are that we sweat salt and water from our skin glands. For a land animal this is a waste, more so in a hot country like Africa, as water is very scarce at certain times of the years. So sweating water is a very inefficient method of keeping cool for a tropical animal. This is exacerbated in a human because it is naked, so when a human sweats it quickly evaporated by the sun. A fur covering means that moisture is shaded and evaporates more slowly. Salt is also scarce for land animals, who will travel a long way to find salt licks. Yet sweating salt makes a lot of sense to aquatic animals that need a way to get rid of an excess of salt in their bodies because they are living in a salty environment.

There are a lot of other arguments that have been put forward by Elaine Morgan, like the fact that human legs are very similar in shape and mechanical function to those of a frog i.e. both are adapted for swimming. Some mothers today have births where the mother gives birth in a tub of water. Apparently birth like this is a lot easier for mothers, suggesting that at one time in our evolution this was commonplace. Also it has been found that newborn babies can float and swim straight away after birth. Other apes, like a newborn chimpanzee or gorilla, will quickly sink and drown, if not rescued. Water births are not just some new-age fad. As mentioned before, there is a tribe in Indonesian called the Suku laut, or the "Sea People", who live a semi-aquatic existence. The South East Asian sea people spend up to 10 hours every day in the water, they give birth in the water, the children dive before they walk and the people harvest all their food from the sea.

Picture of a sea gypsy’s boat, from Shan Yoma Travel & Tours Co.Ltd. web-site. ]
It seems that for an ape that can use its hands to pick up things from the ground and wade through water, shellfish and edible seaweed would be a very easy way to obtain food. Unfortunately if too many apes take advantage of this, the shallows will quickly become over fished, forcing them either to move further along the coast, or to start to dive under water further out. Clearly at first they would just quickly duck their heads under the water, to collect shellfish deeper than an arm’s length. Then in time, becoming specialist feeders, their bodies would adapt to going further and further out to sea.

[Sea gypsy women foraging for food on the sea shore, from Shan Yoma Travel & Tours Co.Ltd.]

So you can see there is a very strong arguments for the Aquatic Ape theory. Yet most male scientists still resist this theory. To quote the Anthropologist Prof. Leslie Aiello. -
Until there is actual evidence to support a serious aquatic involvement, I don't think that we're going to be able to say that that's at all a contender for a theory for human evolution.

There is no actual evidence for the man the hunter theory, but this hasn't stopped scientists presenting it to the public as fact. In recent times they are backtracking and accept that early humans might have scavenged for food instead of hunting. There is even an acceptance nowadays, that the mighty hunter might be black! Back in the 1950s and 1960s it was commonplace in textbooks for school children, to draw pictures of early humans on the African plains as white people!

Elaine Morgan now has the confidence to declare that the Man The Hunter theory is defunct. Yet she is clearly puzzled that with all the weight of evidence she can present for her theory, it is still not widely accepted in the scientific community, as we can see from the quotes from two other scientists.
It is difficult to see how all the points assembled to back the Aquatic Theory can be explained away. - Dr. Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape
The aquatic hypothesis... cannot be eliminated yet. - Prof. Glyn Isaac
Now this begs the question: Why does this theory need to be explained away or eliminated? Or, for that matter, why is the Aquatic Ape theory very popular among feminists but extremely unpopular among male scientists? Is it because of a very strong gender bias in comparing the Man The Hunter theory with the Aquatic Ape theory?

(Update 2009). From the AAT group.
showing a list of sceintists who have been converted to the Aquatic Ape Theory in recent years.

Tobias 1995 "We were all profoundly & unutterably wrong! ... All the former savannah supporters (incl.myself) must now swallow our earlier words ..."

Wood 1996 "... the savanna¹ hypothesis ... in which the cooling begat the savanna & the savanna begat humanity, is now discredited ..."

Stringer 1997 "One of the strong points about the aquatic theory is in explaining the origin of BPity. If our ancestors did go into the water, that would forced them to walk upright ..."

Stringer 2001 "In the past I have agreed that we lack plausible models forthe origins of bipedalism & that wading in water can facilitate BP locomotion " ... " As for coastal colonisation, I argued in my Nature N&V paper last year that this was an event in the " late Pleistocene that may have facilitated the spread of modern humans."

Groves 2004 " Nor can we exclude the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. " Elaine Morgan has long argued that ... this includes upright posture to " cope with increased water depth as our ancestors foraged farther & further from the
lake or sea-shore."

Wrangham 2005 "Here I follow the conventional assumption that hominins began in the savanna ... For those who envisage BPism as facilitated by the need to traverse or exploit aquatic environments, an inland delta that generates low islands termito-genically or hydro-dynamically offers rich scenarios."

Alemseged 2006 "I believe we should just put the savanna theory aside."

Thorpe 2007 "... early hominins occupied woodland environments, not open or even bush-savanna environments, eg, Allia Bay, Aramis, " Assa Issie & now Laetoli ... "retained long grasping forelimbs, which are more obviously relevant in an arboreal contex ..."

Vrba 2007 "The notion that wading in shallow water played a part (Niemitz 2000, Verhaegen et al.2002) seems reasonable given what we know about the paleo-environments of many early hominid spp."
The savannah theory has run into a few problems, one of them being that fossils of early humans are not found on a dry savannah, but in ancient woodlands near rivers and lakes. So there is no evidence for the savannah theory. For this reason it has been changed to the mosaic theory where a large variety of different environments led to human evolution. This grudgingly admits that perhaps a water environment was part of human evolution but it also suggests that the savannah had something to do with it as well. In this new mosaic theory, the killer ape hypotheses is still an integral part of it, and still suggests that hunting played a vital part of man’s evolution.

[Photograph by Fosco Maraini, from his book, Hekura, The Diving Girl's Island. Amas having to climb down a cliff face to the sea, in bare feet carrying heavy wooden tubs before they start their work diving. This shows the evolutionary adaptation of humans beings of not only being able to climb trees and cliffs but to also dive underwater.]

There has been criticism of the Aquatic Ape theory. For instance it is claimed now that humans could have become naked because they began to wear clothing and keep warm at nights by lighting fires. This is a bit of a chicken and egg argument, about which came first. Animals with fur respond to colder conditions by growing thicker fur, so if humans still retained fur, would they have needed to wear clothing? Also, most human in the tropical Africa where humans first evolved, didn’t wear much clothing anyway, until the 20th century.
The critics also point out that other apes are nearly bipedal. chimpanzees, bonobos, gibbons and orang-utans have been observed walking on two feet. The trouble is that except for bonobos, all these apes have arms longer than their legs. Human beings on the other hand have long legs and small arms. In the savannah, a slow moving ape would need long powerful arms to protect it from predators, because it would be very unlikely to be able to outrun them. Even with the help of clubs, a chimpanzee- like ancestor using clubs would still need all its strength to fight off lionesses or hyenas. Gorillas are mostly a ground -dwelling ape and can survive on the ground because their size and long powerful arms make them a formidable opponent for any predator to take on. The baboon, another ground dwelling primate, has developed long canine teeth with which it can threaten predators. Gorillas and chimpanzees throw out their arms widely when threatening carnivores, making themselves look bigger and showing the threat of their long powerful arms. So long powerful arms would still be a big advantage to any killer ape, and there would be no reason to evolve the puny weak arms humans have today.
Even when early Humans began to use spears, a long powerful arm would still be a big advantage. Australian Aboriginals developed the woomera, which is a spear-throwing device that hooks on the end of the spear and extends the length of the thrower’s arm, so he can throw the spear faster and further. Human beings also had to invent the bow and arrow to kill game at a longer range. Yet even this wasn’t enough and today a really effective hunter uses a rifle. These inventions wouldn’t be so important if humans had the long powerful arms of a chimpanzee. So if we had evolved through being hunter/killer apes we would still have the long powerful arms of an ape, because they would be such a big advantage for hunters. This suggests that humans didn’t evolve through hunting, but through gathering, where strength and a long reach, is no longer an important aspect of survival. As we see with Kangaroos, their front paws have become small and weak because they are hardly used. The same is true of humans. Admittedly we do use our arms and hands to manipulate the environment around us, but their size and strength are no longer a factor in our survival.
Another point that is made is that other animals like dogs are able to swim as well as humans and are even able to hold their breath underwater. Yes, it is true most animals are good swimmers; they need to be, if they are to cross-rivers and to survive floods. But only marine or semi marine animals are capable of diving underwater. No one has ever observed a dog, cat or ape diving underwater, which humans can do.
It’s also pointed out that all animals can become fat if they are not exercised and overeat. True, but overweight land animals are very unlikely to survive in the wild. It is only domestic animals that get overweight. The only fat animals in the wild are marine animals. There is simply no advantage for a land animal in carrying excess fat, which women have on their chests, bottoms and thighs. It is true that a fit man carries less fat than a woman but we cannot leave women out of any evolutionary theory, in the way man the hunter theorists have done. It is also claimed that large female breasts and bottom are not very streamlined in the water. This would be a consideration if humans were fully aquatic. In sport men can outperform women because of their great strength, but in long distance swimming women can match or even outperform men.This is because the fat around women makes them more buoyant; they float better than men, so when swimming, more of the woman’s body is out of the water. Women need marginally less effort to propel themselves along in the water than men, so the fat around women’s chest, bottom and thighs does benefit them when swimming.
Desmond Morris claimed in his book, The Naked Ape that women developed breasts because it made them sexually attractive to men. So the larger the breasts the more likely she would breed. The problem with this theory is that it assumes that men were the dominant sex during the Stone Age and so it was men who chose their sexual partners. But this may not be true; we cannot assume that early man was a brute who dominated women through violence and rape.

[Photograph by Fosco Maraini, from his book, Hekura, The Diving Girl's Island. An ama on boat untangling a rope before she ties it around her waist to dive in the sea.]

Critics have also claimed there is no big advantage to water births, but that is a matter of opinion. Water births are normal among the sea gypsies of South East Asia, but as far as I know no one has done any studies of this.
Another point is that humans cannot drink saltwater which marine animals can do. This is what we are told, but humans have a greater tolerance of drinking saltwater than is generally believed. I will discuss this later on in this book
It also has been pointed out that humans have to be taught to swim, either as children or adults, which means swimming doesn’t come naturally to humans. Human beings also have to learn how to walk and talk as well.The first instinct for babies is to crawl and they have to learn how to walk on two legs. There is a lot of human behaviour that is not instinctive. The more intelligent an animal is the less it relies on pure instinct, and this is certainly the case with humans. In the case of the sea-people of South-East Asia, their children learn to swim before they can walk, so it does depend on what environment a person is brought up in. Another point they make, is that there are a lot of features about humans that are not aquatic, like, large ears, long limbs, broad round shoulders, and a current lack of aquatic behaviour in modern humans. The Aquatic Ape theory doesn’t claim that; humans are fully aquatic, so yes, we would have features that are compatible with both land and sea animals.
Dissenters also point out that aquatic animals like otters, beavers and polar bears are aquatic but still retain their fur. Otters and beavers are small animals and a layer of fat to keep them warm in the water would make them too heavy to run about on land. This is also true of the polar bear; this bear lives in a very cold climate and the fat needed to keep a bear warm without fur would make it too heavy to catch prey. If compared with a seal or walrus the extra weight of fat around their bodies gives these animals a big disadvantage on land when encountering a bear.
Apart from the fact that the Aquatic Ape theory doesn’t in any way support the ideal of man the mighty hunter, another big problem with this theory is that women are more adaptable to water than men, because women have less body hair than men, and have more body fat. So what is the problem with that? The trouble is that when we look at modern day communities that still dive for shellfish we find that women have a distinct advantage.

[Underwater photograph by Fosco Maraini, from his book, Hekura, The Diving Girl's Island.]
As mentioned in previous chapters, women have a big advantage over men when people live off the sea by gathering underwater. This would suggest that humans lived a life similar to the ama and haenyo communities for millions of years.
Large deposits of shellfish shells have been found in South Africa in early hominid sites, proving that early humans were eating shellfish. Also very early hominids like Homo erectus had very thick tooth enamel and powerful jaws. It is speculated that they were needed to break open nuts and shellfish with their teeth. Later on they would have used stones or clubs to do this, which may have been the first use of tools for hominids. Another controversial point is that the oldest carvings by humans ever discovered are of overweight women. The most famous is the Venus of Willendorf, which was found in Germany and is estimated to be between 20,000 to 30,000 years old.

[Venus of Willendorf between 20,000 to 30,000 years old.]

The big problem with this carved figure is that she is obviously obese. This goes against every theory developed about Stone Age people, which assume that they were hunter/gatherers. We would assume that a hunter-gather tribe would be always on the move, following game and looking for seasonal fruits. An overweight person simply couldn’t do this as these people will be walking all the time. We also wouldn’t assume that people then would be so well fed. This nomadic lifestyle would be very unlikely for an obese woman, so who was she? And what role did she play within the tribe? One statue can be dismissed and an anomaly, but many statues of overweight women have been discovered in Stone-age excavations. But palaeontologists make no attempt to explain these statues, except to dismiss them as fertility figures or Stone Age pornography.

[233,000 or 800,00 year old female carving.]

The oldest known figurine of a human being is female and was found in Israel, and is somewhere between 233 000 and 800,000 years old, and may be a Homo erectus woman. Now the only thing we know about Homo erectus is their bones, we have no idea what they looked like in the flesh. This statue suggests that Homo erectus women looked very much like modern women with fleshy breasts and subcutaneous fat covering her body. Suggesting that Homo erectus people were as aquatic as modern people. Many other fat ladies have also been found right up to the Neolithic age. The only sensible explanation for these fat ladies is the Aquatic Ape theory, which points to a completely different picture of Stone-Age life.

[More examples of “Fat Ladies” found in Stone-Age excavations, We can see clearly that overweight women with very large breasts, hips and buttocks were not unknown in pre-historic times.]
Instead of following a hunter/gatherer existence, these obese women were probably divers, and the reason why carvings were made of them, was they were highly revered in their tribes, suggesting they were important breadwinners. In the colder waters of Europe, a fat woman would be able to withstand the cold water better than thinner women. So these women would be able to work longer in the water and therefore would be the most productive people in the tribe. What this suggests is that at one time the whole of the human race was leading a life similar to ama and haenyo communities.
In the West we see very slim or even skinny women as being beautiful. This wasn’t the case in the past, and even today fat women are seen as very beautiful in Arab countries. It is reasoned that fat was seen as a sign of prosperity, but there could be another explanation for this. As mentioned before fat women make good divers or gatherers in cold water. So in the eyes of Stone Age sea people, they would be seen as very desirable, beautiful and successful breadwinners, giving them high status in their tribes.
It is true that modern ama and haenyo divers are not greatly overweight, but this is because of many generations of adaptation to the cold. One of the mysteries of modern people coming out of Africa was that they reached Australia long before they moved up North to Europe, which is a lot closer. An obvious reason why this happened was because Europe was much colder than Africa. So because humans evolved in a warm continent their bodies wouldn’t be adapted to living in cold weather or gathering in cold water. Yet there would be one good reason to do this and that is because there would be more food in European waters.
Tropical seas are crystal clear simply because there is very little microscopic life in them, whereas colder water is full of microscopic life like plankton. The reason for this is that cold water can retain for more oxygen than warmer waters, because oxygen will start to evaporate out of the water, the warmer it becomes. So far more plankton can grow in the oxygen rich cold waters, which in turn feeds all other species of life living in this environment. This will mean that women gathering food from the shallows will find more food in the water, the further North they went. Naturally slim women would be put off by the colder water from doing this, and would prefer to stay where they are. Whereas naturally fatter women would have less problems with the cold, and become more interested in the increasing amount of food they can gather, which in turn will probably make them even more fatter.  These women will of probably developed large breasts, big ass, and fleshy hips to better keep out the cold. This means that the first humans to settle in Europe were probably fat people as we can see with the ‘fat ladies’ carvings.
Then in time these new Europeans will evolve other ways to withstand the cold water, like increasing their metabolic rate, this will then allow their bodies to burn more fuel to heat their bodies, allowing them to lose weight. Other adaptations will be having shorter legs and arms as long limbs lose more heat than shorter ones do. Shorter limbs would be a problem for hunters running after game, but not a problem for people gathering in seas, rivers and swamps.
One problem with people living in swamps is the belief that swamps are unhealthy. For instance malaria is associated with swampy conditions and is one of the reasons why many swamps in Europe were drained. Mussolini in the 1930s drained the swamps near Rome to prevent the spread of malaria. While in Britain the fens in Norfolk were also drained in the 19th century, partly for the same reason, that malaria had once spread as far North as England.
For this reason it could be assumed that swamp people would be living in very unhealthy conditions but this assumption is not true. As pointed out before in mermaid stories it seems that many were also herbalists, and there is good reason to now believe that these mermaid people had the herbal knowledge to cure malaria.
In the late 1960s Chairman Mao rejected Western medicine, and Chinese scientist looking for a way to protect the Chinese army against malaria was forced to look for a solution in ancient Chinese herbal remedies. The work was done by a woman called Dr Ying Li who tried many herbs including Aremesia, (In the west it is called Sweet Woodworm). The results were dramatic when Aremesia was tested as it killed malaria parasites even faster than Western drugs. So the herb as quickly adopted in Communist China. Then the West became interested as the malaria parasites were now becoming resistant to quinine-based drugs. Unfortunately the first meetings between Chinese and Western doctors didn’t go too well. Dr Ying Li claimed that the Western doctors were 'arrogant and contemptuous', they clearly had problems with the fact a cure for malaria came from Chinese herbal medicine and that a woman discovered this. They also couldn’t work out how this herb worked as it was completely unlike any other anti-malaria drug or herb. The Chinese also were suspicious of the Western doctor’s motives, as in the meeting, as some of them were military doctors. It seems to the Chinese that they would be giving away a military advantage, if China and the West come into conflict, in malaria infected countries. The result was that the Chinese refused to share their knowledge with the West. With the effectiveness of quinine declining the West, a cure for malaria was urgently needed and the USA military was willing to put money and recourses into replicating the Chinese research. Aremesia was only grown in China so the USA military had to find a plant similar to this herb outside of China. They searched all over the world but finally discovered it growing along the Potomac River in Washington not far from the Pentagon! They also found this herb growing wild in people’s gardens. Research on this herb revealed a better understanding how it cured malaria, which is making it more acceptable to Western medicine.
Although Aremesia or Sweet Woodworm is new to Western medicine it’s use can be traced back thousands of years in Chinese herbal medicine. Which means that ancient herbalists had cures for diseases modern medicine could not cure until recently.
With the coming of farming the ancient hunter/gather way of life was lost in Europe and with it was a lot of knowledge of herbs. This was because when people began to farm the diet of human beings became restricted to the few varieties plants that farmers could grow. Whereas before this, the ancient gathers would have knowledge of a vast range of plants they could gather and process. It has been shown that many diseases can appear through the restriction in diet, this is because for millions of years the human body has been used to what is now called, “the stone age diet”. The types of food we ate as hunter/gathers is very different to what we eat after we began to rely on farming.
Though today there is a difference of opinion exactly what is a Stone Age diet. Some people imagine it would be a diet of Mammoth steaks. Yet from what we know of Stone Age people who have survived until modern times it seems that the vast majority of their food comes from gathering plants, or gathering shellfish and seaweed as in the case of the sea-people of South East Asia. The exception to this would be the Inuit people, who live in cold regions where gathering plants is impossible. Stone age people also ate a far more variety of food than we do today.
The mermaid people would of continued to eat the Stone Age diet gathering and diving for food on the seashore, in rivers and in freshwater and saltwater swamps. So the result would be that they would be healthier as their diet would be far more varied than people who depended on farming. This is because the farmed food lacked vital nutrients needed to keep them in optimum health. The farming people would also have far less knowledge of herbs than the mermaid people to cure any illness. This then makes sense of why mermaids were also skilled herbalists, because they were still living a hunter/gather lifestyle and had a vast knowledge of editable plants.
The “fat Ladies” of Stone-Age sites can only make sense in communities, were gathering shellfish and seaweed in the sea, while the men were looking after the children on shore. Now this is could be a strong possibility; women could look after a child while gathering in the shallows, but if because of over fishing, they were forced to go out deeper, then they would have to leave children on the shore. Men being bigger and stronger than women would then be better protectors for these children than women. They would have the power and strength to pick up even older children and run with them into the water if approached by a predator.
Many people would have a big problem with this theory, because they would question whether an early human mother would trust a male to look after her children. Do males have the maternal instincts and sense of responsibility to care for children? If we accept the killer ape thesis, then clearly this wouldn’t happen. An early human mother leaving her children with a male will be more likely to find he had eaten them when she came back. This is the sort of behaviour you find with male bears and lions who have been observed killing and eating their young. Yet we have to accept humans are not and never have been carnivores. The only true carnivorous humans are Eskimos living on the polar icecap. Most of everything you read about early humans suggests they were savage and brutal people, but what is not explained, is that this is pure speculation. Yet these theories are presented to the public as scientific fact.
Everything we have been taught at school and what we read in academic books suggests that men have always been the dominant sex. Steven Goldberg put forward a powerful argument for this in his book, The Inevitability of Patriarchy. His reasoning largely focused on hormones. Men naturally have more testosterone than women. This hormone not only makes men physically stronger than women, it also makes them more aggressive and competitive. This competitive behaviour Goldberg says, will always make men strive harder than most women to gain the high-status roles in any society. He claims this means that men will always outnumber women in most positions of power in our world. To be fair, this is the situation in our world today, and has always been the case throughout recorded history.
What we are not told is that the whole academic world is powerfully influenced by male bias. This bias is not only extended to mermaids, female divers and the Aquatic Ape theory, it is present in the whole of palaeontology, archaeology and history. If we take away this male bias then we find that the true nature of human beings is very different to what we imagine. By looking at the bonobo ape (which along with the chimpanzee is human kind’s nearest relation,) we can get a different perspective on the nature of early humans.

[Underwater photograph of ama diver, from. -]

Photograph by Fosco Maraini, of a Ama diving

Latest scientific research that helps prove the Aquatic Ape Theory.

August 2010 Scientific American Magazine, "When the Sea Saved Humanity".

The InterGlacial Island Hypothesis

The Aquatic Ape Theory was also mentioned in the fake Animal Planet Mermaid TV documentary

My thoughts on this documentary can be read at. -

Was Man More Aquatic in the Past? Fifty Years After Alister Hardy - Waterside Hypotheses of Human Evolution. -

David Attenborough on the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

Farmers and Hunter/gatherers lived side by side