Wikipedia and the scientific community
Waterside environments for the evolution of Homo sapiens' ancestors
Back in 1972 in her book The Descent of Woman, Elaine Morgan intelligently pointed out that paleoanthropologists were skewed towards a male-centric bias in their quest for the missing link in human evolution. In fact, even today, so reluctant are most students of the subject to let go of the "Man, the Mighty Hunter" model, that they invariably fail to recognise that it is, and always has been, women who are the primary food providers in any community, for themselves and for their children. If and when meat became a primary food resource, it was most certainly very recently and long after the anatomical and social differences occured which mark us as human. Meat may have become a welcome source of protein and nutrients at certain points in our history, but it could never have been the driving factor.
Currently, over 75% of the world’s population live at or near the coast, and most of the remaining 25% live on or near one of the world’s major river systems. Living in the interior of continents was in fact unusual until the 19th century, when rapid transportation became possible. There are still several traditional human societies all over the world who gather part of their food from the water, such as the Moken in Indonesia and the Ama in Japan. The Aboriginal populations of Australia dived for food along the coasts and in inland pools, lakes and rivers, often staying submerged for minutes at a time to hunt and collect mussels, turtles, fish, crayfish and aquatic plants [1-4].
The ability to exploit and thrive on a wide variety of foodstuffs from diverse environments is a hallmark of Homo sapiens. Humans are particularly well adapted to exploit waterside environments, where they can forage in areas offering protection from both terrestrial and aquatic predators. Humans are able to walk, run, climb, wade, swim and dive. Reliance on the aquatic food chain is also an easy way to provide consistently abundant brain-specific nutrition for all members of a group or society, thus facilitating the development of the technology and culture that is uniquely human.
Rather than running over open plains or relying on others for their provisions, nursing and pregnant women, the primary providers of nutritional needs for the developing generation, could have collected all the nutritious food they needed by inhabiting the water’s edge. Likewise for children and the elderly, injured and sick. Prodigious amounts of long chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) can be obtained with little effort or organisation by collecting shell fish, turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, and eggs of flightless birds (see table). Stranded or beached fish, sea birds, marine mammals and even whales will also be found occasionally. All these potential littoral food sources appear in the Homo archaeological record.
Collecting shell fish is an activity that all able-bodied people can participate in from an early age. Ethnographically, women in traditional shoreline hunter-gather societies are observed collecting shell fish [5-6]. These coastal societies have greater complexity in their social systems and are less nomadic than traditional inland hunting societies [7-8]. The stability of the population and the food supply in turn lead to higher population densities and advancements in technology and artistic expression [9-12].
Human ancestors could have gathered food by climbing and by wading in the shallow waters along coastlines, rivers, lakes, deltas and swamps [13-19]. They might have learned to dip their heads under water to search for food, and could gradually have become more proficient at moving under water so that they could collect shell fish, crayfish, frogs, underwater plants etc. that would otherwise have been unavailable [20-21]. Provided that one has grasping hands and basic stone tools, turtles and tortoises become easy prey and were in fact consumed by Homo . 
1. Grey G. Expeditions in western Australia 1837-1839. London: T & W Boone 1841.
|Website: F. Mansfield, 2015|
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