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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

The Aquatic Ape

Author: Guest Writer/Tuesday, January 24, 2012/Categories: Uncategorized

Humans evolved … in water.

You’ve probably already heard this fascinating/bizarre/hilarious pseudo-theory before, but I hadn’t.

When I stumbled onto it yesterday, I spent hours clicking through all the links about it. Most fun you can have outside the NFL Playoffs.

Basically, one respected biologist … and apparently only one … once proposed that humans didn’t evolve on the grasslands of Africa but in the shallow water nearby.

That idea … which he never really followed up on, because there’s not much to it … was carried by one ambitious writer. And it’s still kicking around the Internet.

Here’s the line of logic:

-- Humans are hairless, so are most aquatic mammals.

-- Babies can hold their breath underwater without any training.

-- We’re pretty good swimmers, come to think of it. Fathoms better than any dumb ape.

-- It would have been easier to stand upright and learn to walk in shallow water than on land. 

-- We have a little bit of webbing between our finers and toes.

Desmond Morris summarizes the evidence, and it’s seductively beautiful and simple:


Here’s a TED talk by the main proponent of the idea (warning: long and rambling):

And the beginning of a long BBC doc on it, which points out some of the obvious flaws:

And here’s a flavor of the ridicule the idea (rightfully) receives:

It’s a fun little idea trail that breaks down quickly, just like most fringe theories. But what about the Endurance Running Hypothesis? I’ll check that out next.


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