by Roger Golten
There is something strange about us human beings, the naked apes. Ever wondered why we are generally so hairless, compared to our closest ape relatives?
Not only that, we are distinguished from our cousins by being large brained and bipedal. We cry salty tears, have sweat glands, and a layer of subcutaneous fat from birth. We require relatively large amounts of water to remain hydrated. What’s more, we swim, speak and have aquiline noses.
Consider our nearest relatives. If you stand a chimpanzee under a shower, it’s not a pretty sight. The chimp’s hair sticks out in all directions. Our hair is streamlined and flows from the top down. Gorillas hate being in the water and tend to panic and drown rather easily. There are even cases of men saving them from drowning. Strange, but true.
The explanation is our extraordinary relationship with water.
The idea that we may have had a semi-aquatic stage at a critical point in our evolution was first published by eminent marine biologist Sir Alistair Hardy in 1960. It had come to him in 1930, in a “eureka” moment. He suggested that our subcutaneous fat is a kind of blubber, like that of aquatic mammals such as seals and cetaceans.
Hardy put this idea to one side for many years, he had a serious career in the mainstream to think about, but writer and scientist Elaine Morgan heard about it from Desmond Morris. She wrote several books, including The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, bringing it to a non-scientific audience. Eventually Morgan managed to convince some mainstream anthropologists to take the idea seriously.
Nowadays it is becoming a viable alternative to the “savannah” theory of evolution – that old chestnut that we climbed down from the trees and stood upright, a bit like meerkats.
There’s too much to explain in this short article, but if you are interested in learning more do look at the following links. Here is a super little biography of Elaine Morgan. Also, www.riverapes.com by Algis Kuliukas, who is finishing a Phd in Australia on Wading as a component in hominid bipedality, is a treasure trove of information and inspiration about the AAH.
You can hear interviews with Dr Posture aka Roger Golten on PASSION for the PLANET radio and on demand interviews are available on this site.