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- Were we once aquatic apes?
- How the Aquatic Ape Theory Keeps Floating On
- A one-word summary of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis
Despite a huge number of recent fossil hominid discoveries, fossil evidence that might support the AAH has not appeared. The evidence from primate physiology, behaviour and anatomy also fails to support it. Overall, the AAH remains a historical curiosity, but not an acceptable explanation for human evolution. It is, many argue, dead in the water. Sign up to receive our newsletter! Already have an account with us? Sign in to manage your newsletter preferences.
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Were we once aquatic apes?
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Semi-aquatic mammals such as otters and water voles are extremely furry. Sexual selection and adaptations to heat loss better explain our pattern of body hair. Sexual selection may also explain our body fat distribution, which differs between the sexes. Voluntary breath control is more likely to be related to speech than to diving.
How the Aquatic Ape Theory Keeps Floating On
The diet of many of our ancestors certainly included marine resources—where people lived on the shores of lakes or the sea. But this was a relatively late development in human evolution, and humans can also survive and thrive on food obtained entirely on land. Compared with other animals, we are not actually that good at swimming, and our skin leaks as well, letting in water so that our fingers become prune-like after a long bath.
What about walking on two legs? While some of these woods included wetland, this was just part of the mosaic of habitats that our ancestors learned to survive in, and there is absolutely no trace of a hominin ancestor as aquatic as that described by Hardy and Morgan. This flexibility ultimately led to the invention of culture and technology. Recent proponents of the aquatic ape hypothesis have pointed to much later watery adaptations, including early archaeological sites where humans have been shown to be exploiting coastal resources. It attempts to provide a single rationale for a huge range of adaptations—which we know arose at different times in the course of human evolution.
But we must always build our hypotheses on, and test them against, the hard evidence: the fossils, comparative anatomy and physiology, and genetics. In that test, the aquatic ape has failed—again and again.
A one-word summary of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis
It is a great shame the BBC recently indulged this implausible theory as it distracts from the emerging story of human evolution that is both more complex and more interesting. Because at the end of the day science is about evidence, not wishful thinking.
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Read the original article. Alice Roberts is a professor of public engagement in science at the University of Birmingham.