Aquatic Ape Theory – Man passed through an ocean, sea phase in human evolution

The 43rd President of the United States seemed to be infatuated by alternative anthropology science during his marijuana phase in the 1980s.

As explained by the Smithsonian, Erin Wayman,

A New Aquatic Ape Theory

My project 1 42 1 » Aquatic Ape Theory poem by Barack Obama uncovered from 1988 » Human Evolution News » 1The aquatic ape theory, now largely dismissed, tries to explain the origins of many of humankind’s unique traits. Popularized in the 1970s and 1980s by writer Elaine Morgan, the theory suggests that early hominids lived in water at least part of the time. This aquatic lifestyle supposedly accounts for our hairless bodies, which made us more streamlined for swimming and diving; our upright, two-legged walking, which made wading easier; and our layers of subcutaneous fat, which made us better insulated in water (think whale blubber). The theory even links an aquatic existence to the evolution of human speech.

Aquatic Ape Theory was derided, cast off similar to Crypto-zoology for decades.  It was not quite on the level of Bigfoot or the Lochness Monster.  But Aquatic Ape Theory advocates were thrown into a similar genre of thinkers.

Continuing:

Obama » Aquatic Ape Theory poem by Barack Obama uncovered from 1988 » Human Evolution News » 2About 2.5 million to 1.4 million years ago, when the genus Homo emerged, Africa became drier. During certain seasons, already dry savannas became even more arid, making it difficult for hominids to find adequate food. But Wrangham’s team argues that even in this inhospitable environment there were oases: wetlands and lake shores. In these aquatic habitats, water lilies, cattails, herbs and other plants would have had edible, nutritious underground parts—roots and tubers—that would have been available year-round. These “fallback” foods would have gotten hominids through the lean times.

Botswana is mentioned as a possible site of early human evolution, and the climate at certain times, seemed perfect for Aquatic Ape Theory to take hold.

Famed zoologists/anthropologists of the 1950s and ’60s, Alister Hardy and Elaine Morgan were passionate advocates of Aquatic Ape Theory.

Desmond Morris was considered the greatest of zoologists of that era, and he was a skeptic.  Morris is quoted in a documentary as suggesting that the shape of the nostrils in early humans just do not seem to fit for an aquatic environment.

“I’m a little skeptical… Look at any aquatic animal…  it is possible, maybe the flaring of the nostrils is a sort of movement of something that may have happened in the ancient past.”

Morris does concede that the Human hand does seem to show remnants of webbing, certainly more so than our closest relatives, the Gorillas and Chimpanzees.

“Human ancestors did not evolve in an aquatic environment. But they did make use of coastal and shoreline resources where they were abundant” — Dr. John Hawks, paleo-anthropologist

John HawksRegular readers of this site will be familiar with University of Wisconsin anthropology professor John Hawks.  He is also a close friend and colleague of Dr. Lee Berger of the University of Witerwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Berger was recently appointed a International Board member and fellow for the National Geographic Society.  Of course, Berger is credited with the discovery of both Australopithecus sediba in 2008 and Homo naledi in 2013.

Hawks flat out rejected Aquatic Ape theory in a long blog post in August of 2022,

Human ancestors did not evolve in an aquatic environment. But they did make use of coastal and shoreline resources where they were abundant.

ObamaApe » Aquatic Ape Theory poem by Barack Obama uncovered from 1988 » Human Evolution News » 3I started using the internet in 1990, when text-based Usenet newsgroups were the social media of the day. In those days, groups like talk.origins and sci.anthropology.paleo brought together people with very different perspectives—and too much time on their hands—who wanted to debate ideas about human origins and evolution.

Anyone who followed these newsgroups saw a hearty share of discussion about an idea known as the aquatic ape theory. According to this idea, humans evolved from apes that lived in or around bodies of water. The theory tried to tie together many human anatomical traits as adaptations to an ancient life foraging on shorelines and in the water.

As Hawks correctly points out, some sectors of the Aquatic Ape Theory advocates started connecting the hypothesis to crypto-zoology, even mermaids. Continuing:

But boosters of this idea tended to overreach. Some of them asserted that humans share unique similarities with aquatic mammals like seals and dolphins, and these claims turned out to be overstated or false. The most vocal advocates of the idea wrote for laypeople in books and internet forums, but did not publish scientific studies to substantiate their ideas with real data.

Now a new development from an odd source: The New York Times.

On May 3, the Times published this piece,

“The Poetry of Barack Obama: 2008”

One of the poems is clearly an ode to Aquatic Ape Theory.

“That the Apes… tumble in the rushing water. Musty wet pelts. Glistening in the blue…”

Sam Buntz, a blue check, writes at Twitter on May 8:

Many people still don’t realize that former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote stoner poetry in college about subterranean aquatic apes that eat figs.

See our new video on Aquatic Neanderthal Theory now up at Subspecieist YouTube.

Eric

Author Eric

FSU grad, US Navy Veteran. Houston, Texas

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Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Duncan says:

    We need to correct the record that Barack Obama’s poem about “musty wet pelts” was an ode to the Aquatic Ape Theory.

    It was from the diary entry of his first date with Michelle.

  • Duncan says:

    I’ve been following Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT) for many decades, from Hardy to Morgan. This has been a highly polarizing topic. Many “scientists” refuse to even discuss AAT at all — they seemed to tire of its persistent acolytes. But they have been just as guilty of dogma.

    Take John Hawks’ statement in this article:

    “Human ancestors did not evolve in an aquatic environment. But they did make use of coastal and shoreline resources where they were abundant.”

    Dear John, if a population thoroughly “makes use of coastal and shoreline resources” consistently and long enough, it WILL “evolve in an aquatic environment.” That’s natural selection in action.

    Hawks’ assertion seems to be that this did not happen by any member of the homo genus, ever. How many populations is that, over millions of years? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. What is the evidence to support that categorical claim, John ?

    For me, AAT had a bit of resonance back in the day. But I have to say that as we have learned more its arguments appear less persuasive and its potential effects less pervasive than first argued.

    AAT CLAIM: Unlike other primates, sapiens has subcutaneous fat. That’s a buoyant insulator, an adaptation to immersive aquatic exposure.
    A RESPONSE: Insulation is what you would expect in species subjected to repeated periods of harsh glaciation.

    AAT CLAIM: Unlike other primates, sapiens is relatively hairless. Streamlines drag for swimming.
    A RESPONSE: Full body hair no longer necessary with clothing and that reduces parasite habitat.
    [FUN FACT: You can date the transition from full body hair by genetic clocking the speciation of head lice and pubic lice.]

    AAT CLAIM: Sapiens newborns are adept at swimming.
    A RESPONSE: Was the placenta a sandbox for those nine months?

    AAT CLAIM: Sapiens eventually became bipedal by wading in aquatic environments.
    A RESPONSE: We no know that full human-style bipedality arose some 4 million years ago in definitively non-aquatic environments. We thought bipedality was an advantage to see in tall savannah grass, now we’re thinking maybe it began in arboreal climbing and feeding like with orangutans.

    There are a number of other point-counterpoints with AAT, but these are pretty typical.

    The two I still think of considering with AAT are the relative gracility of sapiens and the webbed hands and feet. But that’s just me pondering.

    Another question: If sapiens had a substantial aquatic component in its evolutionary development, where and when would it have taken place?

    Answer: The morphological record suggests it would have had to have happened after the Jebel Irhoud era. And the map screams out the ideal region would be the east and west banks of the Red Sea. Interestingly, it’s beginning to look like a lot of significant early sapiens action was centered around Arabia.

    I watched the Aquatic Neanderthal Theory on YouTube. Bony growths from diving are an individuated physical response and it is not surprising to find them in the ears of feeding coastal Neanderthals. This syndrome has nothing to do with the evolutionary tenets of the Aquatic Ape Theory.

  • Eric says:

    Errr….. if it was with Michelle wouldn’t it be more sticky rather than wet?

    I know, I probably shouldn’t have said that since this site is a family forum and such. Oh, wait! It’s my site and I make the rules. Lol.

  • Eric says:

    Duncan you should check out my YouTube channel. Here’s my latest on Aquatic Ape Theory.

    And do subscribe.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1LnzE9gRq5k&t=3s

  • Duncan says:

    The kind of development I was talking about, a paper published May 23, 2023:

    The role of genetic selection and climatic factors in the dispersal of anatomically modern humans out of Africa

    “We identify a previously unsuspected extended period of genetic adaptation lasting ~30,000 y, potentially in the Arabian Peninsula area, prior to a major Neandertal genetic introgression and subsequent rapid dispersal across Eurasia as far as Australia. Consistent functional targets of selection initiated during this period, which we term the Arabian Standstill, include loci involved in the regulation of fat storage, neural development, skin physiology, and cilia function. Similar adaptive signatures are also evident in introgressed archaic hominin loci and modern Arctic human groups, and we suggest that this signal represents selection for cold adaptation.”

    https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2213061120

  • Duncan says:

    To lash the points together in further explanation.

    IF you can concede that there might be some circumstantial evidence indicating some degree of shoreline adaptation in some developing sapiens population(s):

    The Red Sea seems to offer the broadest and most optimal region for this to have occurred.

    A persistent seafood diet has long been speculated to be associated with advanced brain development.

    More recent fossil and genetic interpretations indicate that the simplistic one-shot “Out of Africa” theory has serious empirical problems. Some waves from Africa, yes, but a messy mosaic collage washing through with various other regional homo populations seems to be more the drift.

    Nevertheless, a major surge out of Africa seems to have occurred some time around where this study I have cited happened.

    The study says that there is genetic evidence that a sapiens population emerged from the continent some 80,000 years ago and settled somewhere around Arabia for 30,000 years ago before moving on to other regions.

    This study says that there is genetic evidence that this Arabian population developed specialized adaptations to colder climate, and it speculates that this may have successfully prepared it for migration to colder regions in Asia and elsewhere.

    Arabia has a long coast on the Red Sea. The coldest part of Arabia was its Red Sea coast.

    When looking at periods this expansive, time is not the limiting factor in evolutionary adaptation — differential environment is. Under certain circumstances selective pressures can adapt a population faster than you think possible (see Darwin’s finches).

    My point: As the study concludes, 30,000 years is indeed sufficient to genetically modify a sapiens population for the cold.

    “Aquatic Ape Theory?” Don’t be so quick to dismiss it out of hand. There may be a kernel of truth to it.

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