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


by

Mario Vaneechoutte

DOI: 10.2174/97816080524481110101
eISBN: 978-1-60805-244-8, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60805-355-1



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Indexed in: Scopus

The book starts from the observation that humans are very different from the other primates. Why are we naked? Why do we speak? Why do...[view complete introduction]

Table of Contents

Foreword

- Pp. i

Elaine Morgan

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Preface

- Pp. ii-iv (3)

Mario Vaneechoutte

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List of Contributors

- Pp. v-vi (2)

Mario Vaneechoutte

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Revisiting Water and Hominin Evolution

- Pp. 3-15 (13)

Phillip V. Tobias

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Littoral Man and Waterside Woman: The Crucial Role of Marine and Lacustrine Foods and Environmental Resources in the Origin, Migration and Dominance of Homo sapiens

- Pp. 16-35 (20)

C. Leigh Broadhurst, Michael Crawford and Stephen Munro

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A Wading Component in the Origin of Hominin Bipedalism

- Pp. 36-66 (31)

Algis V. Kuliukas

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Early Hominoids: Orthograde Aquarboreals in Flooded Forests?

- Pp. 67-81 (15)

Marc Verhaegen, Stephen Munro, Pierre-Francois Puech and Mario Vaneechoutte

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Pachyosteosclerosis in Archaic Homo: Heavy Skulls for Diving, Heavy Legs for Wading?

- Pp. 82-105 (24)

Stephen Munro and Marc Verhaegen

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Aquatic Scenarios in the Thinking on Human Evolution: What are they and How do they Compare?

- Pp. 106-119 (14)

Algis V. Kuliukas and Elaine Morgan

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Human Breath-Hold Diving Ability Suggests a Selective Pressure for Diving During Human Evolution

- Pp. 120-147 (28)

Erika Schagatay

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Marine Adaptations in Human Kidneys

- Pp. 148-155 (8)

Marcel F. Williams

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Obstetrical Implications of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

- Pp. 156-163 (8)

Michel Odent

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Superior Underwater Vision Shows Unexpected Adaptability of the Human Eye

- Pp. 164-172 (9)

Anna Gislen and Erika Schagatay

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Human Aquatic Color Vision

- Pp. 173-180 (8)

Wang-Chak Chan

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Seafood, Diving, Song and Speech

- Pp. 181-189 (9)

Mario Vaneechoutte, Stephen Munro and Marc Verhaegen

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Aquagenesis: Alister Hardy, Elaine Morgan and the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

- Pp. 190-198 (9)

Richard Ellis

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Just Add Water: The Aquatic Ape Story in Science

- Pp. 199-212 (14)

Tess Williams

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Langdon's Critique of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis: It's Final Refutation, or Just Another Misunderstanding?

- Pp. 213-225 (13)

Algis V. Kuliukas

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Index

- Pp. 226-244 (19)

Mario Vaneechoutte, Algis Kuliukas and Marc Verhaegen

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Foreword

In 2008, Don Johansen noted in his book, Lucy's legacy, that recent palaeo-environmental research "has sounded the death knell for the so-called savannah hypothesis that reigned supreme when I was a student." As he explained: "These latest findings indicate that our primeval predecessors must have been bipedal in the forest. The concept of the woodland biped has now become, in its turn, the conventional wisdom, and the once 'supreme' savannah hypothesis has been so discreetly dismantled that some of today's students are unaware that it ever existed."

For roughly half a century, it had been treated as proven by a solid consensus of the scientists specializing in the study of human origins. But towards the end of the 20th century doubts about the savannah scenario were accumulating, and were confirmed when new tools of research enabled scientists to analyse and identify fossilized pollen in the sites where hominid remains had been found. It meant that at least one of the salient hallmarks of mankind - bipedalism - must have evolved while our ancestors apparently occupied the same environment as the other apes.

Replacing the savannah scenario with a woodland one has been treated as a necessary but minor readjustment in the official story of human evolution. But this re-appraisal involves one major drawback. The strength of the savannah hypothesis lay in the fact that it offered possible explanations of unique human features such as bipedalism. The woodland hypothesis made this more difficult. We have a clear extant example of a ground-dwelling African ape: Adult gorillas walk on all fours in the forest, presumably because it has proved to be the most effective mode of locomotion in those conditions. Why then would a similar environment among the trees cause just one branch of the anthropoid apes to evolve along such different lines? The old question, "Why a naked biped?" - now seems further than ever from a solution in terms of the traditional scenario.

A possible answer had been proposed in 1960, when Professor Alister Hardy enquired whether Man might have been more aquatic in the past. It was not surprising that scientists initially ignored his article. Their view of the matter was that the suggestion he made was unnecessary and unheard of: It had not been submitted to a professional journal in the approved manner, and it was written by a marine biologist with no anthropological qualifications.

In some people's minds, the concept that Man may have been more aquatic in the past is still thought of as an eccentric fancy, which state-of-the-art scientists could demolish at any time if they thought it was worth the trouble. One of the main reasons for publishing this book is to help readers to appreciate how much that perception has changed in fifty years. It should enable them to judge for themselves whether the arguments being advanced here deserve to be taken seriously or not. They have assembled an impressive list of contributors - most of them with specialized knowledge, and some who have reached the heights of their profession. That should end any lingering suspicion that these ideas are exclusively the province of amateurs.

What all contributors to this book have in common is a belief that at least at some point in the past, the lifestyle and evolutionary development of our ancestors was definitively influenced by the presence of water in their immediate environment. No contributor takes responsibility for the views voiced by any other contributor. Discussions on these issues are as animated as were the disputes, in the heyday of savannah hypothesis, over whether the grassland apes were hunters or scavengers, and whether or not they were pair-bonded. Such debates are now, as they were then, healthy signs of intellectual work in progress. They generate further questions, and they stimulate research.

There is no reason why this line of thinking should continue to be confined to the kind of academic ghetto, accurately described by Robert Foley. He commented, in the second edition of Principles of Human Evolution that supporters and opponents of the aquatic ape hypothesis are still 'talking past one another'.

Let us look forward to the day when it may be possible for them to talk face to face.

Elaine Morgan


Preface

This book attempts to provide an explanation for the remarkable observation that the differences between our species, Homo sapiens, and our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees, are more numerous, more varied and more radical than between any other two species that are genetically so closely related. In many respects, such as our nakedness, bipedalism, brain size, profuseness of sweating, strongly increased subcutaneous fat, voluntary breathing control, a disproportionately large brain, and the power of speech, our species markedly differs, not merely from other apes, but also from the vast majority of other terrestrial mammals.

Should we explain all of these peculiarities by assuming that our ancestors moved out from the tropical forests to live on the open plains and become hunters, as we uniformly can read in every textbook and learn from every television documentary, since decades? Or, are these characteristics more 'parsimoniously' explained by assuming that, rather than striding or running across the grassy plains, our ancestors may have spent one or more periods of their evolution wading, swimming and diving in shallow waters. Some people find that idea counter-intuitive, and so did I when Marc Verhaegen first confronted me with it some ten years ago. After all, hadn't I been terribly afraid of water until my tenth, learning to swim only at the age of twelve - with much trouble? (As was the case for Marc!, as he told me recently). According to the ethologist Dirk Meijers, we may have missed a critical imprinting period, during which swimming for a baby comes natural.

However, as I learned more about the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH), several of the arguments put forward by its proponents struck me as intriguing and worth pursuing. But the reception accorded to this suggestion was so dismissive, ranging from outright hostility to - at best - a deafening silence, that my initial interest in the AAH was philosophical in the first place, trying to understand this kind of reaction. When the aquatic theory was referred to at all, the most frequent grounds for rejection consisted not of disputing the arguments put forward, but instead stressing that they were being advanced by people who were unqualified to express any opinion on the matter. Its first English proponent, Alister Hardy, was a marine biologist [1], and Elaine Morgan, author of the most persistent attempts to make it more widely known [2], had been a television scriptwriter (see Chapters 13 and 14). The only official response addressing the AAH so far [3] (see Chapter 15), in fact also depicted the AAH at the same level of creationism and of explanations that include invoking aliens from space, and considered the AAH just as "only one of several ideas rejected by orthodox science that has refused to go away."

The belief in our savannah past has become so deeply rooted that, even when Phillip V. Tobias, one of its most eminent former promoters, - as the mental heir of Raymond Dart, who proposed and defended the open plains theory most explicitly [4], - publicly and explicitly disavowed it, (see Chapter 1), this did very little to shake his colleagues' faith in it.

At the end of this book, Tess Williams (Chapter 14) reviews the different reasons that may be at the basis of this way of reacting by the scientific establishment. My personal understanding is that such neglect and/or hostility can be regarded as a quite understandable, emotional, response, which can be observed rather often when new ideas pop up. Indeed, it is often overlooked that new ideas, which contradict established theories, also threaten the lifelong work and achievements of many individuals, i.e. established scientists.

This occurs whenever a paradigm that has long commanded consensus turns out to be flawed and needs replacing. Thomas S. Kuhn, in his treatise on The structure of scientific revolutions [5], provided some illuminating examples of what happens then. The new idea is reviewed by the great and good who have invested a lifetime in upholding and building on the old idea, which has brought them scientific appreciation, which they have taught for decades to hundreds of students and on which they have published in highly-valued journals, supported by so many highly-valued peers. They speak with one voice in condemning anyone who dares to threaten it. Hence, the new paradigm can only be promoted by outsiders.

In fact, I would not be too surprised if one day when the AAH has become the established orthodoxy - and the authors of this book are convinced that that day is not far off - its supporters would close ranks in exactly the same way against any even newer idea that threatened to supersede it.

The resistance against a partially aquatic past of our ancestors is even more intriguing when we consider the 'scientific' basis for the open plain theory of our past. Indeed, the theory that we fell out of the trees and started walking on our hind legs on the ground is not based on scientific scrutiny, but on the endless repetition of what looks a straightforward sequence of events, only at first sight. It seems that, if only an idea is repeated numerous times, it becomes established truth and generally accepted wisdom, which needs no further evidence, and which becomes almost impossible to tackle. (See also Bender [6] for a description of the history of the 'savannah' hypothesis).

So far the philosophy, with the hope that this book finally puts the AAH at the level at which it should have been treated since decades: as a sound alternative and possibly powerful explanation of many of the peculiar characteristics of our species. But the content of the AAH and the predictions it may enable to make are even more intriguing than the philosophical debate of why it encounters so much resistance. Yes, I have become a 'believer' in the meantime, and even more so after reading the diverse contributions to this book.

One of the reasons of why the AAH is worth considering is that it is supported by findings from so many different lines of research. Breathing physiology research (see Chapter 7), vision research (see Chapters 10 and 11), obstetrics (see Chapter 9), nephrology (see Chapter 8), brain development research (see Chapters 2, 5 and 12) and skin biology (see Chapter 2), among many other disciplines, all point to a semi-aquatic past and to the importance of this past still in our present day lives. This underlines what is one of the greatest strengths of the AAH: Other theories have set out to account for one or two of the several anomalies that characterize human morphology and physiology, but none even attempts to find a common thread that could, just conceivably, throw light on many of them simultaneously.

Moreover, adopting the view that much of our current physiology is explainable as 'scars' of an evolution that was partially aquatic, may contribute to better understanding of several ill-comprised medical problems. Some were already addressed in the books of Elaine Morgan, in an article by Marc Verhaegen [7], and others are dealt with, albeit briefly, in this book, e.g. in Chapter 10, with regard to obstetrical problems.

Not only our bodies, but also some of our social behavior may have been strongly influenced by an aquatic past, and part of our behavior is maybe better understood when viewing ourselves as a pair-bonding, water-adapted and musical ape, rather than from the present-day Man-the-hunter story.

In summary, it is long overdue to consider the possible influence of aquatic adaptations in our past evolution over the last 5 million years, since the split with the chimpanzee, not only because this may provide the best explanation of many of our peculiarities, but also because it may bring us practically useful and important insights in who we are and in how it affects our present-day health.

Having had the opportunity and the honour of editing the different chapters in this book, it is clear to me that the burden of proof now rests on the opponents of the aquatic ape hypothesis, or maybe better, semi-aquatic ancestor hypothesis. After first having progressed from being a sceptic to becoming an interested bystander, I am now convinced - because of overwhelming support from very different lines of research, all pointing in one direction - that we need a thorough reappraisal of the events that may have caused us to differ so profoundly from all other anthropoids, eventually by adopting a wetter view of our ancestry.

Mario Vaneechoutte

The editors thank Christian De Boever for excellent assistance in lay-out.

References

[1] Hardy A. Was Man more aquatic in the past? New Sci 1960; 7: 642-5.

[2] Morgan E. The descent of woman. London: Souvenir Press 1972.

[3] Langdon JH. Umbrella hypotheses and parsimony in human evolution: A critique of the aquatic ape hypothesis. J Hum Evol 1997; 33: 479-94.

[4] Dart RA. Australopithecus africanus: The man-ape of South Africa. Nature 1925; 115: 195-9.

[5] Kuhn TS. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1962.

[6] Bender, R. Die evolutionsbiologische Grundlage des menschlichen Schwimmens, Tauchens und Watens: Konvergenzforschung in den Terrestrisierungshypothesen und in der Aquatic Ape Theory. PhD dissertation at the Institut für Sport und Sportwissenschaft, Universität Bern, Switzerland 1999.

[7] Verhaegen MJB. The aquatic ape theory and some common diseases. Med Hypoth 1987; 24: 293-9.

List of Contributors

Editor(s):
Mario Vaneechoutte
University of Ghent
Belgium




Co-Editor(s):
Algis Kuliukas
University of Western Australia
Australia


Marc Verhaegen
Study Center for Anthropology
Belgium




Contributor(s):
C. Leigh Broadhurst
Department of Environmental and Civil Engineering
University of Maryland, College Park
Maryland
/
USDA, ARS Beltsville
10300 Baltimore Blvd.
Beltsville
MD, 20705
USA


Wang-Chak Chan
Lund University Cognitive Science, Department of Philosophy
Lund University
Kungshuset
Lundagård , 222 22
Sweden


Michael Crawford
Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition
Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College
Chelsea and Westminster Hospital
London
SW10, 9NH
UK


Richard Ellis
American Museum of Natural History
42 West 15th Street
New York
NY, 10011
USA


Anna Gislén
Department of Cell and Organism Biology
Lund University, Helgonav 3, 223 62
Lund
Sweden


Algis V. Kuliukas
Centre for Forensic Science
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley
WA, 6009
Australia


Elaine Morgan
Mountain Ash, 24 Aberffrwd Road
Glamorgan
CF45 4AR
UK


Stephen Munro
School of Archaeology and Anthropology
Australian National University
Canberra, 0200
Australia
/
Curatorial Fellow at Centre for Historical Research
National Museum of Australia
Canberral, ACT, 2600
Australia


Michel Odent
Primal Health Research Centre
72 Savernake Road
London
NW3 2JR
UK


Pierre-François Puech
Institut de Paléontologie Humaine à Paris
Le Zénith 1, 561 avenue Evêché de Maguelone
Palavas, 34250
France


Erika Schagatay
Department of Technology and Sustainable Development
Mid Sweden, University
Akademig 1
83125 Östersund
Sweden
/
Swedish Winter Sports Research Centre
Mid Sweden, University
83125 Östersund
Sweden


Phillip V. Tobias
School of Anatomical Sciences, Institute for Human Evolution
University of the Witwatersrand
Johannesburg, Medical School, 7 York Road
Parktown
Johannesburg, 2193
South Africa


Mario Vaneechoutte
Laboratory for Bacteriology Research, Department of Clinical Chemistry
Microbiology and Immunology, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
University of Ghent
De Pintelaan 185, 9000 Gent
Flanders
Belgium


Marc Verhaegen
Study Center for Anthropology
Mechelbaan 338, 2580 Putte
Belgium


Marcel F. Williams
Mu Omega Enterprises
748 Oakland Avenue 306
Oakland
CA, 94611
USA


Tess Williams
Research Services
University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley
WA , 6009
Australia




Reviews

“Review by Robert Langdon."


HOMO - Journal of Comparative Human Biology - Volume 63, Issue 4 Pages 315-318 (August 2012)


“Reply to Robert Langdon’s Review, Veneechoute et al.


HOMO - Journal of Comparative Human Biology - Volume 63, Issue 6, Pages 496-503 (December 2012)"


http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0018442X12000650


http://users.ugent.be/~mvaneech/Vaneechoutte%20et%20al.%202012.%20Reply%20to%20Langdon.pdf


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