14 comments on “Bipedal – The Aquatic Ape Theory

  1. Humans didn’t descend from aquatic apes, of course, although our ancestors were too slow & heavy to run over open plains as some anthropologists still believe.
    Instead, Pleistocene Homo populations simply followed the coasts & rivers in Africa & Eurasia (800,000 years ago, they even reached Flores more than 18 km overseas), google “econiche Homo”.
    –eBook “Was Man more aquatic in the past?” introd.Phillip Tobias
    –guest post at Greg Laden’s blog

    • Thank you for your comment. I immediately went over to Scienceblogs and read your post. Very impressive and informative.

      Did you read the companion to this article: Bipedal – The Savanna Theory?

      Even though we “didn’t descend from aquatic apes,” would your analysis agree at all with the later description of “semi-aquatic?” From my naive point of view, that seems similar to what you say in your post.

      Again, thank you for taking the time to comment.


      • Thanks a lot, but sorry for this late reply. Yes, “semi-aquatic” is a good term, but biologically more correct IMO is “littoral”, e.g. H.erectus & relatives did not run to Crete, Cyprus, Flores, Sulawasi etc… My last paper: The aquatic ape evolves: common misconceptions and unproven assumptions about the so-called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. Hum.Evol.28:237-266, 2013.

  2. Sorry for this belated answer, rjb. Thanks, yes, “semi-aquatic” is correct IMO.
    I think we can schematically see ape & human evolution as follows IMO:
    – aquarboreal theory of Mio-Pliocene hominoids: early”apes” incl.Oreopith., Sahelanthropus, Orrorin, australopiths etc. were vertical (orthograde, ie, with vertical lumbar spine) aquarborealists (ie, living in swamp forests & later wetlands, spending a lot of time wading or floating in the water, feeding on surface plants & animals (aquatic herbaceous vegetation, eg, papyrus sedges, & hard-shelled invertebrates, eg, snails or mangrove oysters), climbing vertically in the branches above the swamp, not unlike lowland gorillas in forest bais.
    – lit(t)oral theory of Pleistocene archaic Homo, trekking along coasts & later also rivers, parttime diving for sessile animals (shellfish) & probably plants (seaweeds).
    – wading hypothesis of late-Pleistocene H.sapiens, wading with complex tools (harpoons etc.) in very shallow (often fresh)water, collecting more mobile animals (eg, fish, waterfowl, ungulates in mud etc.) & shallow aquatic & waterside plants (eg, rice).
    Human Evolution will soon devote 2 special editions to the semi-aquatic theory:

    Proceedings of the Symposium held in London on 8-10th May 2013
    “Human Evolution: Past, Present & Future”
    Human Evolution:

    SPECIAL EDITION PART 1 (end 2013)

    Introduction – Peter Rhys-Evans

    1. Human’s Association with Water Bodies: the ‘Exaggerated Diving Reflex’ and its Relationship with the Evolutionary Allometry of Human Pelvic and Brain Sizes – Stephen Oppenheimer

    2. Human Ecological Breadth: Why Neither Savanna nor Aquatic Hypotheses can Hold Water – JH Langdon

    3. Endurance Running versus Underwater Foraging: an Anatomical and Palaeoecological Perspective – Stephen Munro

    4. Wading Hypotheses of the Origin of Human Bipedalism – Algis Kuliukas

    5. The Aquatic Ape Evolves: Common Misconceptions and Unproven Assumptions about the So-Called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis – Marc Verhaegen

    6. The Epigenetic Emergence of Culture at the Coastline: Interaction of Genes, Nutrition, Environment and Demography – CL Broadhurst & Michael Crawford

    SPECIAL EDITION PART 2 (begin 2014) with 12 contributions

  3. Thanks a lot, rjb, sorry for this very late reply. A short summary & update of the “littoral theory” (more correct IMO than “aquatic ape”):
    Human ancestors did not become bipedal by moving from the forests to the plains (schematically: ape=>human = forest=>plain = 4-legged=>bipedal): primates that move from forest to savannah become more, not less quadrupedal (“baboon paradox”); sweating requires salt & water (=scarce in arid grasslands); etc. Comparative, paleo-environmental & other data show:
    (1) Plio-Pleistocene australopithecines (=fossil African apes?) were typically wetland species (K.Reed 1997). This helps explain the remarkable combination of bipedality (e.g. for wading) & curved hand-bones (vertical climbing). Human fetuses never have hand-like feet, but prenatal African apes have more humanlike feet (with longer & adducted big toes) which later become more hand-like (C.Coon 1954). This suggests Pan & Gorilla had more bipedal ancestors (e.g. for parttime wading for papyrus, frogbit, waterlilies etc.), google e.g. bonobo wading, or gorilla bai.
    (2) Our Pleistocene ancestors (archaic Homo) did not disperse intercontinentally walking or running over the open grasslands, but followed African & Eurasian coasts & rivers (“coastal dispersal”l, S.Munro 2010), walking & wading bipedally & parttime diving for waterside, littoral & shallow-aquatic foods (= richest in brain-specific nutrients: DHA etc., S.Cunnane 2005), even colonizing islands overseas: Flores, Crete, Cyprus etc.
    Homo’s diet included animal (e.g. shellfish opened with hard tools, waterside carcasses of herbivores & marine mammals, salmon & other fish) as well as plant foods (e.g. traces of waterlily roots in neanderthal dental calculus & of cattails on their tools).
    Homo’s brain enlargement (e.g. DHA) & parttime shallow diving (which requires breathing control) were preadaptive to human spoken language.

  4. There is a new version of the aquatic ape hypothesis, that finally makes sense: humans evolved in western Africa, where there are no fossils, from isolated chimpanzees on a Galapagos-like volcanic island called Bioko. They rafted there, found no forest foods, and therefore ate seafoods, and evolved all the human features. See this new version: http://AquaticApe.net

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