by Milla — she=he
Today’s Song: Water – Eggstone
In 1930 another white male – Alister Hardy – came up with another hypothesis sprung from the thought that the fat layer beneath the human skin reminded of the blubber of sea mammals. Hardy thought that humans might have had a semi-aquatic phase in our evolution, causing us to lose our fur. Wading around in water on two legs is not as straining on the knees and back as on land, and a great motivator to stay on two feet would be that it’s necessary to keep breathing. These thoughts developed into what’s now known as The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.
This was a man with ambitions, knowing that it would not be wise to present these ideas within a scientific community with a heart and mind set on Dart’s open plains idea, commonly known as the Savannah Hypothesis. So Hardy kept the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis silent for decades, and first published the theory in an article, after already having achieved knighthood and a position within the scientific ‘scene’.
“My thesis is that a branch of this primitive ape-stock was forced by competition from life in the trees to feed on the sea-shores and to hunt for food, shell fish, sea-urchins etc., in the shallow waters off the coast. I suppose that they were forced into the water just as we have seen happen in so many other groups of terrestrial animals. I am imagining this happening in the warmer parts of the world, in the tropical seas where Man could stand being in the water for relatively long periods, that is, several hours at a stretch.” — Alister Hardy (‘The New Scientist’, March 17, 1960)
For an overview of the Savannah and Aquatic ideas: History Planet – Aquatic Ape Theory
What interests me in this story, is how this thesis was received: Silence. Dismissal. Ridicule.
In schools we kept on hearing that ‘man started walking on the Savannah’ and not even a side-note mentioning other possibilities. What interests me in this story is the interplay between the dominant discourse and what from a mainstream position is labeled as the ‘fringe’. Some stories are viewed as coming from a ‘margin’, and many of these stories are not allowed space within the stories given attention, and validity within the majority/mainstream. This story speaks to me since it is something that I experience as a repeated part, an essential occurrence, in my everyday life.
Every cloud has a silver lining –
Every crowd has a lunatic fringe.
Elaine Morgan – white female – picked up on the Aquatic Ape idea in the 1970’s and wrote a book (The Descent of Woman) criticizing the male centered Savannah hypothesis with men hunting and running, supposedly losing hair because of sweating profusely in the chase, with them as the center of evolution [see the image provided in the beginning of this post] while females – having a use for fur for offspring to cling onto while escaping danger – not being regarded as a relevant driving force for evolutionary change in the human species.
She has with the consent of Hardy taken on the huge task of taking The Aquatic Ape hypothesis from the lunatic fringe of the scientific community, and make its way from silence and scorn to take a place in the attention besotted and credibility adorned mainstream discourse. Four decades and 6 books later you can hear what she has to say on the matter in a 17 minute long speech at TED:
BBC made a documentary in 1998 on the Aquatic Ape, where we can see Elaine Morgan, Alister Hardy, Raymond Dart and Philip Tobias – a former student of Dart, and now a strong proponent of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis:
For more information on Elaine Morgan’s books and discussion on the aquatic ape:
On her site you can download her latest book: The Naked Darwinist. For free.
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