Aquatic Ape Human Ancestor Theory

Aquatic Ape Theory - What is it?

A Brief Summary of AAT - key arguments

A Brief History and Key Proponents of AAT

When / Where / How?

Ape to Human Evolution Timeline

Alternative theories of human evolution

Wikipedia and the scientific community

... Anatomical Evidence
... Bipedalism
... Birth and babies
... Brain
... Breath control
... Descended larynx
... Diet
... Diseases
... Fat
... Fingers, toes and feet
... Furlessness
... Hair and baldness
... Human ailments
... Kidneys
... Language & Song
... Menopause
... Nose
... Olfactory sense
... Pachyostosis
... Paranasal Sinuses
... Platycephaly
... Reverse osmosis
... Sexual features
... Sleep (USWS)
... Surfer's ear
... Sweating
... Tears
... Underwater vision
... Viruses
... Waterside environments

. Homo Ancestors
... Trachillos bipedal hominids
... Homo erectus
... Homo neanderthalensis
... Sea Gypsies/ the Moken
... Homo sapiens - water afinity
... Coastal Migration
... Pan and Gorilla ancestry
... Semi-Aquatic Animals

. Testable Hypotheses
. Fossil evidence
. Genetic evidence
. Paleoecological evidence
. Retroviral marker in apes
. Acheulean handaxes

A call to scientists...

Recent News and Updates

Books and publications


Videos links



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.

Moken traditional diving societyCurrently, 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 [22]. [23]


1. Grey G. Expeditions in western Australia 1837-1839. London: T & W Boone 1841.
2. Eyre E. Journals of expeditions into Central Australia. London: T & W Boone 1845.
3. Angus G. Savage life and scenes in Australia and New Zealand. London: Smith, Elder & Co 1847.
4. Dahl K. In savage Australia. London: Phillip Allan & Co 1926.
5. Bailey G, Parkington J. The archaeology of prehistoric coastlines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1988.
6. Parkington JE. Middens and moderns: Shellfishing and the middle Stone Age of the western Cape. South Afr J Sci 2003; 99: 243-7.
7. Marean C, Bar-Matthews J, Fisher E et al. 2007. Early human use of marine resources and pigment in South Africa during
the middle Pleistocene. Nature 2007; 449: 905-8.
8. Erlandson JM. The archaeology of aquatic adaptations: Paradigms for a new millennium. J Archael Res 2001; 9: 287-350.
9. Klein RG. The human career. Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1999.
10. Mellars P. Why did modern human populations disperse from Africa ca. 60,000 years ago? A new model. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2006; 103: 9381-6.
11. Tattersal I. An evolutionary framework for the acquisition of symbolic cognition by Homo sapiens. Comp Cogn Behav Res 2008; 3: 99-114.
12. Derevianko AP. The middle to upper Paleolithic transition and formation of Homo sapiens sapiens in eastern, Central and northern Asia. Novosibirsk: Novosibirsk Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography Press 2009.
13. Verhaegen M, Puech P-F. Hominid lifestyle and diet reconsidered: Paleo-environmental and comparative data. Human Evol 2000; 15: 175-86.
14. Wrangham R. The Delta hypothesis: Hominoid ecology and hominin origins. In: Lieberman D, Smith R, Kelley J, Eds. Interpreting the past: Essays on human, primate and mammal evolution in honor of David Pilbeam. Boston, MA: Brill Academic Publishers 2005; pp. 231-42.
15. Hardy A. Was Man more aquatic in the past? New Scientist 1960; 7: 642-5.
16. Sauer C. Seashore - primitive home of Man? Proc Am Phil Soc 1962; 106: 41-7.
17. Ellis D. Human Ancestors in wetlands ecosystems. ReVision 1995; 18: 8-12.
18. Morgan E. The aquatic ape hypothesis. London: Souvenir Press 1997.
19. Cunnane SC, Crawford MA. Survival of the fattest: fat babies were the key to evolution of the large human brain. Comp Biochem Physiol Part A 2003; 136: 17-26.
20. Verhaegen M, Munro S. The continental shelf hypothesis. Nutr Health 2002; 16: 25-7.
21.Gislén A, Dacke M, Kroger R, Abrahamsson M, Nilsson D, Warrant E. Superior underwater vision in a human population of sea gypsies. Current Biol 2003; 13: 833-6.
22. Klein RG, Avery G, Cruz-Uribe K, et al. The Ysterfontein 1 middle Stone Age site, South Africa, and early human exploitation of coastal resources. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 2004; 101: 5708-15.
23. All the above referenced from: "Was Man More Aquatic in the Past: Fifty Years after Alister Hardy. Chapter two: Littoral Man and Waterside Woman: The Crucial Role of Marine and Lacustrine Foods and Environmental Resources in the Origin, Migration and Dominance of Homo sapiens. C. Leigh Broadhurst1,*, Michael Crawford2 and Stephen Munro3

Website: F. Mansfield, 2015

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