Aquatic Ape Theory

17/03/2010 at 7:55 pm (Articles Long, Natural History, Prehistory)

This is a summary of David Attrenborough’s recent series of BBC Radio 4 programs, Scars of Evolution, I have supplemented in places.


Humans differ from other primates in many ways; we have no hair, we have body fat, we can walk upright, we have speech; strange for a land mammal, we can’t run but can swim, most importantly, different from many non-marine mammals is that we have large brains.

Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is the theory that humans early in their evolution, perhaps during the Homo Erectus phase, lived on the shores beside water, beachcombing for shellfish, swimming, diving the seabed and fishing. Living beside water for 10,000s perhaps 100,000s of years is what caused us to evolve in a very different way to inland primates.

Taung Child

Prior to the 1920’s where humanity first evolved remained uncertain and the discoveries of Peking Man and Java Man made Asia the favourite so it was there most work was concentrated. However in 1924 Professor Raymond Dart uncovered a child’s skull that would become known as the Taung Child. The skull was much older than anything found before and switched the focus of human evolution from Peking and Java firmly to Africa.

The Taung Child was found on the South African Savannah and was eventually accepted to be the earliest link between apes and early hominids. The discovery of what was previously believed to be a forest dweller on the Savannah and showing early signs of bipedalism opened the way for the first great explanation of human evolution.

Dart launched a hypothesis of human evolution: Savannah Theory.

Savannah Theory argued the forests of South Africa began to shrink and the primate ancestors of man ventured out onto the hot, flat, African Savannah. There they were forced to stand bipedally to avoid predators and hunt, freeing their hands to develop into intricate tool manufacturing devices and growing a brain to plan even more complex hunting strategy and weapon designs.

By the 1960’s a theory thought up by Dart was accepted as orthodoxy became the theory taught in all schools worldwide, so strong was it that it became scientific heresy to oppose it.

What became known of as Savannah Hypothesis was written on and expanded by many authors, the most famous Desmond Morris in the Naked Ape. Where human ancestors struck out from the forest and threw themselves into competition with the ground birds. Pressure to increase their hunting capabilities caused them to become faster runners, walk upright so their hands became free to hold weapons and tools, their brains grew making brighter quicker decision makers. “A hunting Ape, a killer ape”.

In the wake of wwii and the midst of the Vietnam War a Killer Ape Theory found a ready audience, explaining man’s murderous instincts, war and attributing an urge to do violence a fundamental part of his evolutionary psyche. It was a very macho theory, the male apes went out hunting for red meat whilst the females stayed home doing little but tend for the young and being thrown the odd scrap off the table when the hunters had finished eating.

A simplistic but bloody account, throughout the 80’s and 90’s it became apparent Savannah theory was over simplified.

Work on the Taung area where the skull was found, showed hundreds of thousands of years ago it wasn’t as dry as it is now and probably wasn’t Savannah after all.

Also no other species in evolutionary history has voluntarily changed it’s environment, evolution doesn’t work like that, so how could man’s ancestors voluntarily venture onto the Savannah.

And finally the simple ill-suitedness which man is to life on a Savannah. If man had evolved on a Savannah we would be much more adapted than we are.

Over many years these and many more niggling little objections had built up. However in 1995 a bombshell struck the theory. Professor Philip Tobias a former student of Dart had spent decades in the chalk beds where Dart found the Taung Child trying to fill in the gaps in theory was beginning to have doubts about Dart’s theory along with many other leading Paleo-Anthropologists.

In 1995 Tobias declared at a large conference “The Savannah Hypothesis is no more” after it emerged in sites in south and east Africa that some early hominids dwelling in forest became bipedal without ever venturing onto a savannah. Effectively this eliminated Savannah as a cause of bipedalism effectively destroying the whole Savannah Theory of evolution.

Alternative Theories

As the Savannah hypothesis became discredited Palaeontologists began to look around for another theory to explain the early evolution of man without much luck. It was also remembered there was already one that had been around for more than 30 years that had been conveniently sidelined while Savannah Theory reigned unchallenged. The theory often named Aquatic Ape Theory.

In a late 60’s an award winning Welsh playwright and journalist Elaine Morgan read Desmond Morris’s Naked Ape. She noted the theory put all evolution in terms of what was advantageous for the male. And many things disadvantageous to the females, who were left simply sitting around all day doing nothing begging scraps of meat from the male. She regarded female role in the theory was both preposterous and no species could evolve on these terms of it being advantageous to a single sex and disadvantageous for the other.

Morgan also noted a single passage in Morris’ Naked Ape which stated an alternative theory that before the Ape had emerged on the Savannah it had spent sometime as an Aquatic Ape living beside water. This theory had been put forward by an Oxford Marine Biologist Sir Alistair Hardy in The New Scientist in 1960. He had originally thought of the theory in the 1930’s but had been warned against publishing because he would destroy his career through heresy.

Hardy had become interested in the peculiar layer of fat tightly bonded to the skin, that humans have but other primates don’t. Such layers of fat are only found in water mammals. So Hardy thought man might have been more aquatic in the past. In his article he went on to suggest a shore based environment might also explain man becoming bipedal too.

A branch of primates was forced from the forest by competition moved to the sea shore to search for food, shell fish and urchins in the shallow waters of the coast. Initially paddling in shallow waters gradually he evolved the ability to venture into deeper waters, standing on the bottom with his head out the water and the water supporting his weight he learnt to become bipedal in the water.

Elaine Morgan sought permission from Alistair Hardy to write a book on his theory and in 1972 she published, The Descent of Women, and what would become known as Aquatic Ape Theory.

Immediately the book cause a storm amongst the paleontological world. She was branded a crank and amongst her leading hecklers at lectures were Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams.

In Aquatic Ape Hypothesis man was far from a killer ape and women’s role far from that of a passive breeder. Both males and females, instead, jointly harvested the sea, walking along the shoreline gathering shellfish. Society was not one of alpha males and hierachies of violence and domination but an effort of communal gathering.

However Aquatic Ape Theory was much more than this, it provided something Savannah Theory never could, a comprehensive explanation for all of the characteristics that distinguish us from the other apes. Bipedal, hairlessness, layer fat below the skin, big brain, language skills, large noses but weak sense of smell, ability to sweat, swimming diving, fat babies.

The Brain

The maxim of Savannah Theory that humans developed large brains because of hunting competition with other predators on the savannahs of Africa has no parallels. Every other species that ventured onto the Savannahs reduced its brain size.

Professor Michael Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition in London, in a study into to why there are different sizes of brains in different animals established that the brains of all Savannah animals had shrunk as they grew larger bodies. He also found that in order for a brain to grow it needs a supply of Omega 3, especially VHA and Iodine and the only place to find these nutrient through a marine food chain.

This is a testable theory, the theory argues marine nutrients in the human diet are essential to growth of the human brain, then a change of diet away from these nutrients would surely be detrimental to it.

According to the World Health Organisation report in 2004, Iodine deficiency among inland populations effects around 740 million people worldwide. EG: 60% of school children in Korea are Iodine deficient and 60% of children in Indonesia have thyroid gland goitre but in fishing villages not a single one.

Another important ingredient to brain growth is the body fat only found on man and marine mammals. A Chimp’s brain is almost as big as a human baby’s brain at birth. However a human baby has a 10 fold increase in fat in the last 10 weeks of pregnancy making 30% of the baby’s total weight brain and body fat. Baby Chimps and Gorillas have no body fat at all. The human brain trebles in size from birth to the age 10, Chimps brains don’t. Human body fat provides the fuel for the growth of the human brain.

Of all man’s ancestors, Home Erectus, experienced the largest singe brain growth. Most Homo Erectus finds have been found along coastal areas and Erectus is accepted by mainstream archaeology to be a shore dweller.

Breath Control
There are 3 kinds of breathing pattern in mammals, voluntary, involuntary and both.

Involuntary breathing is how humans breath most of the time, it requires no thought to do and is done unconsciously. Voluntary breathing is when thoughts takes over from the unconscious process. Voluntary breathing is used when we hold our breath, play a wind instrument or practice deep breathing exercises.

All primates and land mammals are involuntary breathers only. None have the capability to hold their breath.

Sea mammals such as dolphins and whales are conscious breathers which is why only half their brains can ever go to sleep at one time, otherwise they forget to breath and drown

A small third groups exist which can both consciously and unconsciously breath, these are amphibious mammals, such as seals and otters, who can hold their breath, dive underwater for food and return to the shore revert back to unconscious breathing. Humans are the only primates with this capacity.

Breath control then goes a stage further. During human speech conscious is needed, people in a conversation freely switch back and forth between conscious and unconscious breathing, many of the noises needing conscious breath control to make. This breath control then may be what allows us to develop speech while other primates, having the intelligence for communication have failed to do so.

Amongst native people’s living in coastal regions it was traditional for women to go into the sea to give birth. This only ceased when the missionaries thought it wrong and made them stop.

One of the main fears about babies being born under water is that they will drown, but they don’t, this is because of what’s called the diving reflex. The human diving reflex, that if water is on the face, the throat closes off, is strongest in new born babies. Babies are very at home in the water and amongst coastal people swimming is so natural it is common for children to learn to swim and dive under water before they can walk.

Professor Peter Wheeler, Dean of Science at Liverpool St John Moore’s University is the leading opponent of the Aquatic Ape theory. He believes giving birth in water cannot be an evolutionary adaptation because “Human babies lose heat very easy”. However in Russia it is quite common for women to give birth in the Black Sea at 19-20 degree temperatures.

One more thing about human birth little studied is, Vernix Caseosa, Latin for ‘cheesy varnish’ and the name of the white fatty/greasy coating on the skin of a human baby when it is born. One theory is that it protects the baby’s skin while it is submerged in amniotic fluid. If so surely all mammal babies would have it, but they don’t, not even any other primates, in fact the only other mammal that has it is seals. Harbour seals are born on land but enter the water 30 minutes or so after birth, have a coating of Vernix Caseosa, though somewhat thinner than human babies. Grey seals who enter several hours after birth are born with an even thinner coat and hooded seals that don’t enter the water for over a day have an almost undetectable coating.

The Beginning

Aquatic ape Hypothesis is far from proven, but at the moment enjoys the luxury of being the only theory of human evolution in existence at present. most of the scientific research being done in the area is on Aquatic Ape Hypothesis and its days as a crank theory in the distant past. A new generation of ethno-paleontologists exist and the killer ape a lot more cuddly than before.


Scars of Evolution – David Attenborough


  1. Jhangora said,

    Really interesting post. Thanx a lot.

  2. Chuck D. said,

    Informative post, but I would proof read the article prior to publishing, grammatical errors take away from my ability to accept this as fact.

    • beka said,

      same here…unfortunatly, when someone is writing an article, it seems so much less credible when there are gramatical errors. still very good article, but next time, employ spell check!

      • B.S. Williams said,


      • Mjdono25 said,

        Gramatical? Two errors in one run on sentence. Man, imagine how many you would have made over the course of an entire article…

      • Collin said,


    • Julie said,

      yes, breath is a noun and breathe is the verb

  3. Chuck D. said,

    or rather factual…see…ambiguity when you don`t proof read!

  4. Marc Verhaegen said,

    Thanks a lot. Well-said. Human waterside past is no hypothesis, but a well-proven theory, beyond reasonable doubt. Comparative, fossil & paleo-environmental data suggest
    1) Mio-Pliocene apes & australopiths typically lived in flooded forests, where they often fed on wetland foods, eg, google “Shabel durophage”, “van der Merwe boisei papyrus”, “aquarboreal”,
    2) Plio-Pleistocene Homo populations dispersed along coasts (eg, Mojokerto, Flores) to different continents & inland along rivers, collecting waterside & littoral foods, eg, shellfish (DHA), turtles, eggs, palmnuts, stranded whales, drowned bovids, cattails etc., eg, google “econiche Homo”.

  5. Why are we naked? (The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis) « Another scene is possible said,

    […] For an overview of the Savannah and Aquatic ideas: History Planet – Aquatic Ape Theory […]

  6. God Evolved from Humans « Atheist Climber said,

    […] the primitive brain to think in a different way. Other theories include the idea that the act of standing upright was the catalyst for the species to evolve, because the primate was able to see further, and […]

  7. Bill Jackson said,

    This theory is not given much credibility for several reasons, partly because its proponents tend to overstate the pluses and understate the negatives.

    You say that humans can swim but can’t run. In fact, almost all mammals can swim better than humans, and without any teaching. The statement that we can’t run is hard to fathom. We don’t run fast, but people who run regularly can run with amazing stamina. When horses were re-introduced to North America, young warriors could catch them on foot because the selected animal would scamper away and then stop, wasting energy, while the hunters simply persisted and spelled each other off in a cirular chase.

    Bipedal locomotion is very energy efficient. It would seem to me that the most likely reason for our bipedal ability is that it frees the forelimbs to carry pointed sticks, a fairly self evident advantage given that chimpanzees have violent border skirmishes with neighboring units.

    Relative hairlessness could have evolved in many ways. The use of animal skins to regulate temperature and expand range is a possibility, but the obvious explanation is a more effecient way to reject body heat when running after prey or enemies.

    It’s not that the aquatic hypothesis is impossible, it’s just that there’s no really compelling argument for it. That’s why the professionals in the field dismiss it, pending actual evidence.

    • londium said,

      “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

      Where is your imagination, your theory?

      The whole “hairlessness” based on rejecting body heat when running after prey is quit silly. I don’t see hairless lions, or cheetahs running down hairless gazelles, and they are in a hot environment.

      Open your mind dude.

    • dt3 said,

      While you’re partly right about other mammals swimming, the fact remains no other primates swim or dive but us.

    • Angel said,

      I like your rebuttles but a part of the theory that isnt posted here is that we shed hair which causes drag in the water. How do you explain the partial webbing between our fingers and the fact that we shed salty tears and sweat water and salt which are valuable to the body while other animals have efficient means of preserving them. I truly believe part of our evolution took place in the sea we have more in common with many marine mamals then with other primates

      • zachariah said,

        Think how we have sex it is so different from other animals. We enjoy it we just don’t due it for reproduction, we do it for recreation. Think about it next time you have sex. I think about it every time I have sex with a female, but its different with each female.

    • Olly said,

      Still clinging on huh? Yes, its true that many mammals can swim longer distances than us – that’s natural advantage of being a quadruped, see? We started out at a disadvantage, being tree-hugging primates.

      And yet out of all those mammals, which of them would dare to dive, to hunt, to forage, make love, give birth or even just play about in the water? For most of them (the furry ones especially) its about getting from A to B, and getting out as quick as possible.

      On the other hand we humans can’t seem get enough of water. A swimming pool in the garden adds how much to the value of your house? Know any kids who don’t like paddling pools, swimming pools, the seaside? What’s more relaxing than a nice shower? We are even happy just lying next to it, listening to the surf, or to the babbling brook. Now compare our love of water with our closest relative – the chimp. Hmmm….

      Oh yeah – there are some mammals who love water just like us – elephants for example, hippos and pigs. They don’t have fur any more either.

      Funny that.

    • Brandyjack said,

      Our closest mammalian relative, the Great Apes, are frightened of deep water, and will drown even in relatively shallow waters. The only mammals capable of swimming better than a human are aquatic. You can jump into deep water and out swim a tiger, which is not totally adverse to swimming. Elephants don’t swim, they blunder across deep water.
      Hairless right. Name any other predator mammal that lives in a hot environment, and is hairless.

  8. God Evolved from Humans | Martin S Pribble said,

    […] the primitive brain to think in a different way. Other theories include the idea that the act of standing upright was the catalyst for the species to evolve, because the primate was able to see further, and […]

  9. Dirk Meijers said,

    For whom it interests. Not published yet.


    • Chak said,

      Hi Dirk,

      Very, very interesting paper… I hope you can get it published soon. (but you may well face some resistance force by merely mentioning the AAH)

      I’m always puzzled by the fact that there are different phases in human infant diving ability — first reflexive, then disorganized, then voluntary. The parallelism you draw with language acquisition surely demystify the whole thing. If culture permits (like that in the Mokens), all babies will be able to learn swimming within the critical period, and our nature of affinity to water could be restored in the level of a whole population. Learning to swim secondarily is like an adult learning a second language (I know how difficult it is), we still able to do but much less efficient and less “internalized”.

      But why there should be a subtle difference between a “critical” period and a “sensible” period? I hope there’s some more explanation.


      • Bill Jackson said,

        First, babies do not swim reflexively. They drown. They do move their limbs underwater and they do hold their breath, but they can not swim and breathe. Almost all non-primate mammals swim naturally. People do not, at any age.

        Second, the mammalian diving reflex is called that because it’s a reflex that all mammals have. Aquatic mammals have the reflex to an advanced degree; humans do not. We have just the plain unadorned mammalian diving reflex.

  10. Joyce H. Browning said,

    The arguments presented against the aquatic ape theory seem reminiscent of “there, there, little girl, leave all this thinking to the men who have already made up their minds -”

    Do you know of a website where the objections are clearly stated in response to the claims they “refute,” so that nine million words don’t need to be read to discover that none of the words have clarified the issue?

    Thank you.

    • William Jackson said,

      And the arguments in favor are reminiscent of the arguments for creationism. Such as the post immediately preceeding this one. In any field of science, if you want to understand the arguments on an informed lay level, you can do your own internet research quite easily.

      If you want to understand the arguments on the same level as the professionals in the field — and there are plenty of young women in the field regardless of your implied sexism – – then you will have to invest ten years or more of study and related work. This is true of all fields. A particle physicist with an interest in paleontology isn’t a paleontologist. And vice versa.

      Most intelligent, curious, people are attracted to various theories in various fields. I am particularly interested in cosmological theories, and I have my “favorite”, but I’m also honest enough to know that I’m completely unqualified to take my prejudices too seriously.

  11. Dirk Meijers said,

    ” …to invest ten years or more of study and related work….”

    As far as I am concerned, what about 40 years? Enough?
    Just read my product and visit a babyswimming course yourself.
    There is more. Homo erectus was a walker, yes. But an open habitat runner? No.
    ..Keep on widening your knowledge and always stay polite.

    MSc biology and oceanography

  12. Steven Seibert said,

    At the very beginning you say humans can swim but can’t run.

  13. Aviwe said,

    i dont blv anythng u guys r sayn here

  14. Dirk said,

    First: Steve, I do state that “humans” at the beginning can swim. Nor I did say tey could not run. My point is: ancestral “creatures”, not Homo spec., that did exist ? million years earlier. We are here like H. sapiens possibly 300 – 400.000 years (assumption, not absolutly certain). They (you maybe) can run, trampiline jumping, climb the Everest, walking on your hands and swimming the Dover strait and /or from Alcatraz to freedom…

    That ancestral “start” is diffuse and a proces that had to have lasted far more time than H. sapiens took. And then semi aquatic, swimmers and walkers and climbing and…
    Look at the proboscis monkey…and maybe he resembles your ?x(grand, grand, grand..parents.)

    Sorry, I am a teacher, cannot withstand this.

    More details about “us”:

    Then: Aviwe

    Believing is not the same as being sure,but only THINKING something could be true. Science also can never be “it is absolutly true” (as alas a lot of scientists do) but it is collecting as muchh facts as possible giving knowledge that leds to a “picture” that COULD be true.

    PFF, end of my college for now.


  15. Bill Jackson said,

    My own guess on human evolution. I won’t call it a theory because, like the aquatic theory” the reasoning is utterly unsupported by evidence.
    I imagine that bipedalism and brain development were forced by tool use, hunting and border skirmishes with neighboring troops.
    1) Chimpanzees do make simple tools from sticks. It’s not hard to imagine the discovery that a stick can be sharpened by rubbing on rock, and can then be used to poke folks.
    2) Reproductive advange is conferred both by power within the troop and by competition beween troops. Hence a strong advantage to the specialization of hands for gripping and carrying.
    3) The evolution of a big brain was very costly. The difficulty of birth results in a trade off between birthing fatalities and modifications. The modifications include prolonged infant helplessness, early susceptibiity to brain-shaking damage, alterations of the female hip etc. There had to be a powerful impetus to drive brain size so far. Armed border warfare would do that because of the huge advantage of strategizing.
    All of the above is my own intellectual amusement only.

  16. g said,

    I’m pretty sure HUMANS CAN RUN! Duh….

  17. Dirk said,

    Here we go again.

    Biig brain compared to yours does not fit at all. Look at “Lucy”. She was bipedal and that started with HER ancestors. Brainsize not much more than chimp’s brain. She could certainly walk and in our view also swim. But running? Accept that recently is established that Homo erectus was NOT a runner like you. We are runners andt our “sapiens” ancestors about 400.000 years ago indeed were smething like that.
    H. habillis and erectus did not have a big brain like you but could possibly spear you and canibalize you roasted like your ancesters here and there did (proved). Armed border warfare like we do for milleniums and more? Do chimps or gorilla’s your nephews do it the merciless way we do? Especially if your nabours big brains believe somtething else?

    So, as I know – and that is something more than believe – it is part of our “sapiens” features, more agressive and selfish than all ancestors had. Go back to the library.


  18. Dirk said,

    Look this up (more will be offerd to you once in a while)

    BIPEDIA 22.1
    François de Sarre
    vendredi 25 juillet 2003

  19. Walter Romania said,

    Based on all of the available evidence, modern humans most certainly evolved from a semi-aquatic period in which Homo Sapiens distinguished themselves from their Heidelbergensis relatives. Our species probably evolved at waters edge, developing a water based culture and diet, that was useful as protection from terrestrial predators, as well as a guard against inland stressors such as seasonal influxes. By having a year-round water-food based diet—our superior hominid intelligence was greatly augmented by consuming soft, easily digestible proteins. This propelled our ancestors to develop the intelligence to eventually return inland and further advance their technology; eventually leading to the colonization of the world.

    • Dao said,

      The Aquatic Ape theory is an idea (popularized by the big guns like Attenborough, so it seems credible), but actually, no one has proposed a biological mechanism whereby “soft, easily digestible proteins” convert themselves into brain matter (which is made of predominantly fats, not proteins), and the bigger reality, that; of all the millions of creatures that have existed on the seashore throughout the whole of evolution, none of them developed big brains – not one !
      If it was about nutrient supply, we would see many examples, but we do not. (PS: The biggest brains in the sea typically eat krill – not soft, easily digestible proteins)
      Yet, in the forest (where we know we spent originated) there are many big brains – notably in our direct lineage !
      PS: There are no major aggressors in the dense forests, nor are there season fluxes – again Attenborough not looking at the data !

    • Dao said,

      Hello… Walter… Any response…?

  20. Dao said,

    None of you have noticed the major flaw here.
    Apparently (according to the post) humans must have had access to the sea the grow big brains. This does not bare in mind that ALL the higher apes have brains far in excess of the norm brain/body ratio, with no access to the sea. And we grew our brain in the forest alongside them.
    The reason there is little evidence for our time in the forest is that the forest recycles everything – IE: the only skeletal remains of humans are those who ventured out onto the plains. They are all singularly dead end routes, and all show diminishing brain size.
    Our brains have done what all the other animals have when venturing out of the forest into a brutally harsh carnivorous lifestyle – the brain mass has shrunk – around 10%.
    There are only two place in the whole of evolution that show significant brain/body ratio. Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, etc), and higher apes – of which we are one.
    Stop looking for reasons outside of the obvious. We grew our brain in the forest, as did our closest relatives…
    PS: And if you’re looking for a reason as to why, check our the hormonal effects of Flavonoids and Beta-carbolines – and the most abundant source of them on the planet – fruit – our basic diet for 120M years…

  21. Walter Romania said,

    Primates evolved an intellect based on cunning and problem solving which began to set them apart from other forest creatures. Hominids took the next step by increasing brain capacity while they began to alter their environments (i.e. use of fire). There is some evidence to consider; that the Heidelbergensis species became severely threatened by a period of drought on the African continent—which may have contributed to the extinction of other hominids? This ‘dry period’ may have contributed to some Heidelbergensis migrating to Eurasia to eventually become the Neanderthal species? Those Heidelbergensis who stayed in Africa may have had a brush with extinction—which can explain the ‘bottleneck theory’ of the modern human gene-pool? Perhaps the ‘survivors’—our ancestors—were a faction that adapted to a water-based culture and diet and came out of the drought period more mentally proficient to become the most dominant species of all time. One can’t deny that modern humans have physical characteristics that are attributed to adaptation to water—including subcutaneous fat, sweat, and relative lack of body hair. I would theorize that all other hominids—including early Heidelbergensis and Neanderthal had relatively full body hair.
    A water based diet may have played a role in increasing human intelligence, and further research is warranted.

  22. Dao said,

    There are very few problems to solve in primate environments Walter. They have almost no predators, and their food (predominantly fruit) drips out of the tress all around them. What problems are there that require such a huge brain expansion according to survival pressure?
    The selective adaptation principle works for many instances, but it is not the only driving force in nature. There are other models (more on that in a mo).
    You cite subcutaneous fat, sweating, and hairlessness as obvious pointers to marine life, but all mammals sweat, all apes have sub-cutaneous fat, and hairlessness is only cited in this instance because we can find no other advantages for it.
    For any of these things to be relevant to the argument, they cannot be shared with apes (IE: occurred after our leaving the forest).
    And any comparison to apes shows that these things are common all primates (bar hair).
    Our hairlessness is far more likely to have been a hormonal consequence of diet change (along with thin (troublesome) nails, menstruation (no other primates do this), brain shrinking (synaptic pruning), handedness (all other primates have greater dexterity in both their hands – and their feet!), and rapid brain expansion (far faster than selective pressure on the genes can create).
    Here’s 3 biological facts to consider as a starting point for the human cranial explosion.
    1. Fruit contains chemistry not found anywhere else – it is loaded with hormone modulators (flavonoids, carbolines, etc.)
    2. Hormone modulators always affect mammalian hormones (IE: change gene expression in cells) given time and dosage.
    3. We ate fruit for 120 million years or more !!!
    This has to have an effect !
    And any evolution argument that discounts simply has not done its biology homework.

    Here’s a few more logical steps.
    4. The brain (especially in utero) is the most hormonally sensitive system yet seen, thus any hormonal discrepancies would be expressed predominantly.
    5. Flavonoids block receptors for growth and sex hormones (androgens) specifically. – interrupting their signals. Thus we have a bio-mechanistic view of neotony.
    6. A bigger brain requires more sugars to run it.
    7. Our co-evolution with fruit encouraged it to contain more sugars (to be attractive to us), and incidentally came with more flavonoids, etc.
    8. We have a runaway feedback loop, that expands brain-size little by little over generations (hormones are far faster to change than genes), and relies upon fruit to do so (not selective pressure).
    9. Hormone-induced Neotony requires us to come out of the treetops (carrying a baby for YEARS is perilous at height), so we become bipedal (starting to separate from other apes).
    10. And then we left the forests – leaving the fruit, and its hormone modulating effects behind, and boom ! brain shrinkage – over many thousands of generations – but still far faster than any genetic explanation has come up with.

    Can you leave the ‘selective pressure’ argument long enough to consider that our cranium is possibly a chemical accident, synergised by growing dependency upon its environment (fruit)?

    I know it requires cross-discipline knowledge, but all the above is standard biological text. Only the perspective is radical.
    It took me years to accept it. But it does fit every picture, answers ALL the questions, and generates no new ones – a rarity in science to say the least.

    Incidentally, as you go up the scale of apes according to brain size (chimps, gorillas, orang utans, bonobos), you find greater fruit in their diet – not soft proteins.
    Apes are the only lineage not able to secrete the enzymes necessary to create Vitamin C because it was in our diets for so long, and since leaving the fruit behind, we haven’t even been able to turn that gene back on, let alone grow a massive brain.
    If you want the full picture of how all this fits together, I suggest you look to Left in the Dark, or molecules of madness – both by Tony Wright.

  23. Walter Romania said,

    Perhaps it was wrong of me to suggest that subcutaneous tissue, perspiration, and body hair are all black and white differences between humans and other primates (and broadly mammals)? And the ‘Aquatic Ape’ theory certainly has holes that would need to be filled before it is declared a scientific fact. However, adaptation to changing external realities are an essential part of evolution. Your introduction into the conversation of how a diet (i.e. fruit) can affect hormones—and thus revolutionize our biology, is extremely interesting and must be considered. But we all need to step back and consider that changing circumstances, as well as prolonged and altered diets, can affect biological change.
    Extant non-human apes do have a minimal amount of predators to deal with, and most are relatively successful extracting abundant fruit from trees. This is probably one of the main reasons that they are extant! However, in between contemporary apes and humans there were many experiments in species that ultimately failed. And many of these experiments (from australopithecines, to erectus, to neanderthal, etc) all dealt with the stress of predation. Humans still must be aware of predators when treading on their environments.
    I’m looking forward to more of your insight!

    • Bill Jackson said,

      You describe earlier hominid species as failed experiments, as if you are viewing the present as the goal of evolution. Every species has been a complete entity in its own time, not simply a stepping stone to theh present. Nothing makes our own time special. Homo sapiens has existed less than 200,000 years, about the same time period as the neanderthals, and much less than homo erectus’ 1.8 million. And there are several reasons to suspect that homo sapiens is close to the end of its time.
      I also suggest to all on this site, that if you are interested in stepping back and considering something, that you consider the convictions of religious and philosophical writers of the past few thousand years. Applying logic in a vacuum of proof, they’ve given us endless examples of strongly argued nonsense.

      • Olly said,

        You mean like those who stubbornly refused to entertain the possibility that the Earth went around the Sun I suppose.

        The thing is, it sounds like you have your mind shut to the possibility of AAH. Why is it so wrong just to consider it as one of the alternatives? It has a lot of explanatory power.

        As to its apparent lack of evidence, I guess you mean the fossil record, well what evidence would convince you? Fins?

        If you are prepared to accept the study of modern man and his behaviour as evidence, (and why not since we are always referencing modern reptiles when studying dinosaurs for example), then I’d say there is a breath-taking range of evidence.

        Of course babies don’t swim. They don’t walk either. We are primates – we are born clinging to our mum. We have to learn to swim, just as we have to learn to walk. Neither is inbuilt. It doesn’t make any difference.

        Humans instinctively love water in a way that a chimp never will. Why should this be?

  24. Walter Romania said,

    Our time is special to us and I would never degrade other creatures, past or present. All we are trying to do is take all available evidence and form logical assumptions out of them. The ultimate goal is to paint the most accurate picture of our past as we can. Religion is not science. Religion is an expression of some humans.

    • Bill Jackson said,

      Absolutely. Religion is not science. Speculative argument isn’t science either, regardless of how well the speculation is argued. It’s the primary tool of philosophy. And it’s fun to do, but is almost inevitably overturned when hard evidence becomes available.

      The point that I was trying to make in my previous post was that history shows “logical assumptions” to be extremely unreliable. That is the most important lesson we can learn from the history of philosophy and religion.

  25. Walter Romania said,

    You are absolutely correct—speculative argument is not science! Speculation should always be based on scientific fact—but speculation of itself must never be used as a substitute for hard science. Anthropology, psychology, evolution, etc are not exact sciences—but they are based on science. Speculation is a useful guide for further scientific study, which in turn usually creates better and more accurate speculation. I believe that sharing opinions and expertise helps to create new possibilities until science reveals solid evidence. I think it is in our nature to fill in the gaps until there is more proof?

  26. Chuck Norris said,

    i Was just wondering how they figure out the history of the apes

  27. Bee said,

    That was very interesting to read and I think it’s amazing I had no idea this theory exsisted and I think it’s a very interesting theory and it is possible I mean who knows

  28. hunrter said,

    “All primates and land mammals are involuntary breathers only. None have the capability to hold their breath.” BULLSHIT HOW THE HELL DSE MY DOG DIVE TO THE BOTTEM OF MY POOL TO GET HIS BALL?and there are plenty of monkeys can swim under water. get your shit straight.

  29. Mermaids: The Body Found,’ on Animal Planet | Business News Articles said,

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  30. ‘Mermaids: The Body Found,’ on Animal Planet | ‘Mermaids: The Body Found,’ on Animal Planet | ll7 – news 7 days per week said,

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  31. Vincent V. said,

    Im not a scientist but we all know fact wise that our research is limited to our tools. religious and scientific “man-creating” theories are good all around personally i think it does make sense (AAT/H), im not a total believer but hey, no other animal compares even closely. We have attributes to terrestrial and aquatic. instead of battling both together, you’ll find it more “real” to join them. our history is more then just leaving the jungles into open lands or simply staying close to shorelines. We will surprise and laugh at our selves when we find out how our ancestors came to really be us. Just one man’s opinion. P.S do we really think we are going to find our past out this soon. give it another millennia or two. i love these topics keep them up.

    • Markus said,

      What explains homo sapiens current affinity for water? How far back in time does it go? When was the first boat made? 10,000 or 100,000 years ago? What kind of aquatic lifestyle preceded the first boat? I’ll speculate that humans lived in and around shallow water for thousands of years before the first boat was used. When humans had the capacity to design “Land on the Water” (boat), the evolutionary pressure to become more physically adapted to an aquatic environment was diminished.

  32. mermaid body found | said,

    […] Foley finds assorted ways to lend plausibility to the tale, like expanding the aquatic ape theory, which postulates that human evolution was influenced by a shore-dwelling phase; in this film’s […]

  33. Sharon said,

    I’m just glad to finally hear open minded thoughts on this very compelling theory. I have been wondering for years why leading paleoanthropologists have been so dead set against this, but the more I read about ‘scientists’ who stick to one theory regardless of its obvious flaws (Savanna theory) I’m not surprised at all. (Yes I am. The very word science implies open minded) Thanks for this refreshing view…

  34. james said,

    i think he means humans cant run as in we arent as adapted for it as most other mammals. most mammals are quadrupedal and all of them can run faster than us. monkeys are bipedal as well and not suited to running(not as much as quadrupedal mammals)-most monkeys are designed to live in the trees and travel quickly amongst the treetops. If monkeys that arent suited for running and use trees to travel quickly, its not beyond belief that humans used to be somewhat aquatic, using the sea as monkeys use trees.

  35. Yolanda said,

    There have been many tales of seeing aquatic creatures that resemble humans in many of our world’s cultures… This theory may not be perfect, but it does make a lot of sense… This person is not saying that we did not evolve from the Savannah theory at all, this person is saying that perhaps we first made a “pit stop”, and then proceeded to the plains of the Savannah… It’s can be hard to let go of something that was your only point of view, but I’m quite sure the nay-sayers of the the theory of how the earth revolves around the sun are turning over in their graves right now… Lolol… Let’s just try to keep an open mind…

  36. IKnowTheLimitsOfMyIngnorance said,

    Like most of man’s theories, it is mostly conjecture with a sprinkling of evidence for veneer. However, I agree/think that “our” ancestors did evovle around a semi-aquatic enviroment. Want proof, here it is. Most of modern(right now) human civilizations are found along large concentrations of fluid, i.e. water.

  37. IKnowTheLimitsOfMyIngnorance said,

    And yes, it’s spelled Ingnorance because I believe what I was conditioned to believe. Even my conditioning was conditioned.

  38. zachariah said,

    This comment is so hydroucumlatenperblestic, and amazing. It is so interesting.

  39. Bill Jackson said,

    Farewell, folks. This is like arguing with creationists in that your beliefs are ingrained and immune to common sense. It’s less anti-science of course, and harmless, so I’ll leave you to it.

    According to current models of perception there is a top down contextualizing component which creates the “story” from the bottom-up informational components. I suggest that on this topic, your conviction is in control. I’ll argue with people like that if they’re telling parents not to get their kids immunized. But this is a waste of time.

    • Dao said,

      You guys are still all focusing in the wrong place. Why the presumption that we grew a big brain after leaving the forest? We obviously grew it IN the forest along with all our present and ancestral cousins – and for the same reasons – the unique, hormone-mimicing chemistry that is available there :
      Obviously it wasn’t selection pressure – that takes far longer, and you don’t need a big brain to hunt fruit and leaves….
      If it was purely nutritional (iodine and fatty acids) then why are there no other shore-line big brains? You ONLY find them in the deep oceans (cetaceans – whales/dolphins) and deep in the forests – and where do we come from ?!!!
      So, let’s look at the environments that we know we come from – instead of inventing new ones.
      Plus, we know that the brain has been shrinking for 100,000 years (1500cc in Erectus down to 1350cc in sapiens).
      Also, all mammals produce their own Vitamin C to protect the highly oxidative nature of their Omegas (comprising 80% of grey matter), only the apes do not – because of the dominance of fruit in their diets – without it there is inevitable shrinkage over age and generations.
      No fossil record in forest because everything is recycled. Fossils on shoreline (plus glaciers, deserts, etc) because they don’t recycle so well. So the only records we have are of aberrant locations, not homelands…
      Lastly, fruit is the most highly complex hormonal cocktail known, and flavonoids within it are known to change how genes are expressed in cells. This eliminating the need for selection pressure over genetic timescales – because only the expression of the genes was changing, not the genes themselves.
      And finally. Herein you have a weapon (flavonoids), a motivation (hormone modulation through saturation), and a body (rapidly expanded and the shrinking cranium) and a location (forests, along with all (and ONLY) other large-brained mammals. Why look elsewhere for a smoking gun when you have on in your hand.
      PS: We have body fat to ensure the growing baby a supply of rare and essential fatty acids during gestation and breastfeeding.
      Have none of you read the only real work of interest in this field (Left in the Dark) – it answers all the questions, not just in this field, but all the related subjects – paleontology, endocrinology, neuroanatomy, sleep research, split-brain psychology, menstruology, etc. etc…
      Check it out if you want a model that gives not only a decent hypothesis, but also a provable biochemical inheritance mechanism, and a solution to the unravelling we are experiencing…

      • Olly said,

        Hi Dao,
        Thanks for your response. I haven’t read that book, but I’ll look into it – thanks.I’d like to answer some of your points with my own views. Your smoking gun is that a superior diet gave us a larger brain, prevented brain-shrinkage, and that we got this diet within the forest – just as the other large-brained great apes did. Is that a brief but fair summary?
        My understanding is that the oldest ancestor that walked had a small(ish) brain that grew afterwards. So my understanding is that our brains started to grow after we began walking on foot. You are suggesting then that we were walking around two-footed but remained in the forest. I don’t particularly contest that view – it actually helps the wading ape theory I think. It certainly lands another blow to the theory that we migrated from the forest to the savannah.
        So we are walking around in our forest home, two-footed like Tarzans of the jungle, all sounds good. Why though did we not select knuckle walking, like the other great apes? Assuming we took to the forest floor during a different era to our cousins the chimps and gorillas, what was so different that we chose a radically different, and apparently inferior gait? It wouldn’t be inferior, however, if the forest floor is flooded.
        Let’s suppose, as I do, melting ice caps caused the forest floor to become flooded. The fact that human ancestors roamed around the forest floor, but at that time they did so walking on two legs instead of four, a radically different gait to that selected by both of their close cousins the chimps and gorillas. That’s a point in favour of the wading ape theory IMO.
        As the earth cooled and the waters receded again the wading apes now adapted to water followed it, explaining our ancestors’ diaspora.
        As for increased brain size, (and the point to make I believe is increased intelligence), then your argument is that our diet alone caused our brains to grow. Rather like the other arguments from critics of AAH regarding fur-loss and bipedalism, it seems you are saying we just got smart and that’s that.
        If that’s true, if we are smart because our healthy forest diets made us smart, then surely chimps would be just as smart as we are.
        You’d expect chimps to be talking, writing, inventing marvellous machines, expounding on philosophical principles, writing poetry, writing music, pondering the mysteries of the universe and women etc. Get my drift?
        So what made us stand out from the equally well fed chimps? Might there have been an evolutionary need for high intelligence?
        What use is high intelligence in evolutionary terms? It’s no good in a chase, that’s for sure. No, what smarts is good for is problem-solving. Orang-utans are expert problem solvers, as are chimps and humans. Gorillas don’t have too many problems, and so their brains got smaller as their bodies grew larger. How does a gorilla find food? Easy – it reaches out and pulls off a leaf. A smart gorilla is not necessarily a desirable mating partner compared to a big, strong gorilla. But when problem-solving becomes a necessity for survival, for example how to obtain food in an unfamiliar, challenging environment for example, an ape with intelligence is sexy. Smart apes are then the chosen breeders.
        Would a radical change of environment – one that renders your adaptive body shape at a disadvantage – would that present one with the kind of problems where high intelligence would be an evolutionary advantage? For sure dolphins and whales must have faced many such problems, and solved them. Could this account for their high intelligence?
        And then for humans, there was yet another radical change of environment – because we became land dwellers once again. From the trees, to the water, then for the first time in our species’ history we had to learn to run, to catch prey, to find new plants to eat, to fight off fast, extremely well armed predators. Many more problems for humans to solve – luckily we were already intelligent, adaptive problem-solvers.
        So my argument is not so much that we are smart because we went into the water, but that such a radical environmental shift is the cause of many problems needing solving, and that high intelligence is a survival necessity in such circumstances. Taking to the plains is a different matter – speed is what is required there. And if we were runners, then why don’t we run on our toes, like all the other chase animals? We don’t run on our toes, so we were never a plains animal. What did happen to our toes is that they actually shrunk and got even daintier. I don’t need to point out where else in nature that occurs.
        Do we have difficult problems to solve nowadays? Not in comparison to our ancestors. For many of us the problems are what to get from the freezer, what to watch on telly, what to do about our girlfriend, boss, mother in law etc. Hardly surprising our brains are shrinking. At least some of us are attempting to answer the big questions, hey? 

  40. marc verhaegen said,

    Thanks a lot. Some recent info. Better terms than ‘aquatic ape’ are IMO ‘Littoral Theory’ or ‘Coastal Dispersal Model’, google ‘Greg Laden blog Verhaegen’: rather than running over savannas, Homo populations during the Ice Ages followed coasts & rivers, where they collected very different sorts of waterside & shallow aquatic plant & animal foods.
    Human Evolution soon publishes the proceedings of the symposium ‘Human Evolution: Past, Present & Future’ in London 8-10 May 2013:
    SPECIAL EDITION PART 1 (end 2013)
    Introduction – Peter Rhys-Evans
    1. Human’s Association with Water Bodies: the ‘Exaggerated Diving Reflex’ and its Relationship with the Evolutionary Allometry of Human Pelvic and Brain Sizes – Stephen Oppenheimer
    2. Human Ecological Breadth: Why Neither Savanna nor Aquatic Hypotheses can Hold Water – JH Langdon
    3. Endurance Running versus Underwater Foraging: an Anatomical and Palaeoecological Perspective – Stephen Munro
    4. Wading Hypotheses of the Origin of Human Bipedalism – Algis Kuliukas
    5. The Aquatic Ape Evolves: Common Misconceptions and Unproven Assumptions about the So-Called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis – Marc Verhaegen
    6. The Epigenetic Emergence of Culture at the Coastline: Interaction of Genes, Nutrition, Environment and Demography – CL Broadhurst & Michael Crawford
    SPECIAL EDITION PART 2 (begin 2014) with 12 contributions

  41. One More Reason to Fear the Beach - HBO-LA Programming Research Site said,

    […] Foley finds assorted ways to lend plausibility to the tale, like expanding the aquatic ape theory, which postulates that human evolution was influenced by a shore-dwelling phase; in this film’s […]

  42. marycheshier said,

    Reblogged this on Travels with Mary and commented:
    Had to post…

  43. marycheshier said,

    Great post! Thanks 🙂

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