Aquatic ape hypothesis

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The aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH) is an alternative explanation of human evolution which theorizes that the common ancestors of modern humans spent a period of time adapting to life in a partially-aquatic environment. The theory is based on differences between humans and great apes, and apparent similarities between humans and some aquatic mammals. First proposed in 1942 and expanded in 1960, its greatest proponent has been the writer Elaine Morgan, who has spent more than forty years discussing the AAH.

While it is uncontroversial that both H. neanderthalensis and early H. sapiens were better suited to aquatic environments than other great apes,[1][2] and there have been theories suggesting protohumans underwent some adaptations due to interaction with water[3] the sort of radical specialization posited by the AAH has not been accepted within the scientific community as a valid explanation for human divergence from related primates. It has been criticized for possessing a variety of theoretical problems, for lacking evidentiary support, and for there being alternative explanations for many of the observations suggested to support the theory. Morgan has also suggested that her status as an academic outsider has hindered acceptance of the theory.

Contents

History

In a 1942 book, the German pathologist Max Westenhöfer published the idea of humans evolving in proximity to water with the statement "The postulation of an aquatic mode of life during an early stage of human evolution is a tenable hypothesis, for which further inquiry may produce additional supporting evidence."[4]

In 1930 marine biologist Alister Hardy theorised that humans may have had ancestors more aquatic than previously imagined. Because it was outside his field and he was aware of the controversy it would cause, Hardy delayed reporting his theory. After he had become a respected academic, Hardy finally voiced his thoughts in a speech to the British Sub-Aqua Club in Brighton on 5 March 1960, not expecting any attention, but it was reported in a national newspaper. This generated immediate controversy in the field of paleoanthropology. Consequently Hardy published the theory in an article in New Scientist on 17 March 1960. He defined his idea:

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