05 July 2006

Aquatic ape

Back in high school, I read Elaine Morgan's The Descent of Woman, which argues that there was a key recent period in human evolution in which humans lived in an environment where they did a lot of swimming, and thus became well adapted to it. It's a charming, well-written book, and the hypothesis accounts for a number of human morpological peculiarities—the very weird distribution of fur on our bodies, and the peculiar structure of the human nose, for instance. I was a casual aquatic ape booster for a long time; it's a seductive idea.

But a few years back, I had the hypothesis debunked to my satisfaction. Charming as the theory is, it's just wrong. Lindsey Beyerstein of Majikthise reports a similar recent disenchantment, as a result of a very impressive site which debunks the aquatic ape hypothesis very thoroughly.

Sigh. I don't believe in Julian Jaynes' Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind any more either: an even lovelier idea, but utterly impossible to really demonstrate. And the neutrino turns out to be a disappointment, too. And Lovecraft had no connection to Crowley.

Next you're gonna tell me that Oswald really did act alone.


Kate said...

Anyone who tells you that about Oswald is sorely mistaken.


Marc Verhaegen said...

We did not descend from aquatic apes, of course, although our ancestors were anatomically & physiologically not adapted to running over open plains as some anthropologists still believe. Instead, Pleistocene Homo populations simply followed the coasts & rivers in Africa & Eurasia (800 ka they even reached Flores >18 km overseas), google, eg, “econiche Homo”.
–eBook “Was Man more aquatic in the past?” introd.Phillip Tobias
–guest post at Greg Laden’s blog

Artturi Laitakari said...

Aquatic ape is a terrible name for the theory.

We are COASTAL APES, been for millions of years.