Wikipedia and the scientific community
A brief summary of AAT's Key Arguments
We live in a time of scientific enlightenment; a time when the answers to a great many questions seem to have been provided by empirical study and peer endorsement. We can explain many things that previous generations could only have guessed at, from the micro-study of quarks and quanta to the largest questions of the infinite universe, and that is why it is all the more extraordinary that science, to this day, can still not offer any consensual explanation about our own human evolution.
Despite what many people believe, there is no prevailing consensus among scientists about why humans differ so much from our closest cousins: chimpanzees and bonobos. There is no consensus about why we have no fur, walk on two legs, have such a large brain, speak complex grammatical languages, shed briny tears, have a much reduced sense of smell, have well-developed breath control, are so much fatter than other apes, and much, much more.
For most of the twentieth century, the dominant theory suggested that humans evolved from an ape that for some reason or another decided to climb down from the trees and abandon the forests altogether in favour of a life on the open savannah. There, because of the heat, he (for as Elaine Morgan pointed out in her 1972 book The Descent of Woman, this was essentially the story of how men – the Mighty Hunters – evolved, rather than women) shed his fur in order to cool down; he rose up on two legs in order to see over the tall grasses in search of prey, and he started running on two legs so that he could carry a spear. He developed language because he needed to communicate with his fellow hunters regarding hunting tactics, and so on. This, essentially, is the story that is still taught to children and university students today, is still assumed by professionals and academics, and as a result is still the story that appears in popular cultural representations of human evolution including comics, books, movies and documentaries. It is, in essence, the dominant paradigm of human evolution. Even though this 'Savannah Theory' has now more or less been completely discredited, mainstream scientists continue to ignore any alternative theories. They have come up with terms such as ‘savanna mosaic’, and ‘environmental generalist theory’ to make it look as if they have moved on from the savanna theory, but closer inspection reveals that these models offer no substantial differences from their predecessor. They are still searching, they claim, for that fossil evidence that will provide the indisputable 'missing link'.
And yet there is another theory, very much alive, endorsed by a large and growing number of scientific proponents, academic advocates and enthusiastic supporters, which does seem to provide rational answers to many of these questions, and has been gaining in popularity ever since Sir Alister Hardy made his idea public in 1960. Quite simply, the (perhaps misleadingly named) "Aquatic Ape Theory" suggests that at some point between the split from the last common ancestor (LCA) of chimpanzees (Pan) and humans (Homo), the human lineage went through a period, or periods, when they were dependant to a significant degree on a permanent body of water for their survival, and that foraging for food in water led to a number of the features that are present in humans but not the great apes, as previously mentioned, such as furlessness, increased subcutaneous fat tissues, external nose, poor sense of smell, large brain, linear build, voluntary breath control, high need for water, sodium, iodine, poly-unsaturated fats such as DHA, etc.
Many of these features are seen in different combinations in mammals that spend time foraging in water (otters, seals, dolphins), yet these traits are never, or only ever rarely seen in animals that live in terrestrial habitats (cats, kangaroos, horses).
There are, in fact, various factors that contribute to the way features evolve in a species, and therefore it is impossible to point to a single feature and say: because of x, therefore y. Instead, a systematic comparison of all the features of a species is necessary (comparative biology), a technique pioneered in human evolution by Sir Alister Hardy, and continued by Elaine Morgan, Marc Verhaegen and many others. The results of these studies (as summarised on this site), when viewed in combination, leave next to no doubt, that the most parsimonious explanation for why human beings evolved the way they did, is that unlike other primate species, human ancestors spent at least part of their time foraging, probably in relatively shallow waters, for sessile and/or slow-moving foods such as aquatic plants and shellfish.
The following video (in three parts) is quite a good introduction to the ‘aquatic’ theory of human evolution, which summarises the main points.
|Website: F. Mansfield, 2015|
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