The Waterside Ape BBC Radio 4 reply to Alice Roberts and Mark Maslin
In my recent post, Aquatic Ape Attacked Again, I pointed to an article that purported to falsify what is commonly referred to as the Aquatic Ape Theory. My post pointed out a few of the shortcomings of that article. Now here’s a link that does a much more thorough job of it.
David Attenborough’s latest BBC documentary indulges wishful thinking over evidence.
Internet magazine, The Conversation, has published an article by authors Alice Roberts and Mark Maslin entitled “Sorry David Attenborough, we didn’t evolve from ‘aquatic apes’ — here’s why.” They begin by claiming that the Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT) suggests that a whole raft of our biological features stem from an aquatic phase in our evolution. Then they go on to imply that the “hypothesis” says that everything about those features could only have come about due to time spent in the water. Once they have set up this implausible falsehood, they proceed to cherry-pick it apart, beginning with the fact that the “hypothesis” had its beginnings a long time ago, and we’ve learned a lot since. They imply that the AAT is the plaything of fuzzy-thinking amateurs, while they represent clear-headed professionalism. In other words, it’s the same old thing all over again, only from a new generation of Savanna apologists.
Like their predecessors, they portray the AAT as an unscientific Just So Story, and say that all of the anatomical features can just as easily be attributed to other hypotheses. We’re left to presume that these other hypotheses are not Just So Stories, but Real Science. They run through all their Straw Men, showing that there are plausible explanations for all of them, thus implying that the Aquatic Ape explanations are not plausible. Then they accuse the proponents of the AAT of trying to use it to explain everything. That’s a typical ploy. You ask your opponent to support their argument, then when they’ve done so, you accuse them of overdoing it. It’s very handy. Either they don’t have enough, or they have too much. You simply ignore the sweet spot in between, all the while highlighting the weaker arguments and ignoring the stronger ones.
Their conclusion is nothing more than a reiteration of their opinions and beliefs. There’s nothing new here. It’s just the same old thing dressed up in new clothes. They say they’re making use of new knowledge and new ideas, but it’s obvious they’ve restricted themselves to those they agree with.
In Ireland there is a stone structure called Newgrange which has been dated to more than 5,000 years before present. This megalith – literally, big stone thing – is built in a circle, like its famous English cousin, Stonehenge. Both of them are built so as to mark the position of the Sun precisely at winter solstice. Newgrange is a few centuries older than Stonehenge, but they served much the same purpose: to provide a place where people could monitor and probably celebrate the passing of the solstice.
To mark the Solstice, which is just about now by my clock, I’m going to point to a well-received earlier post on the subject. To return to the adventures of Thud, son of Thog, here is Solstice.
People have been using color for a long time. For tens of thousands, probably for over a hundred thousand years, we’ve been using minerals and vegetable extracts to color our clothing and our environments. We were most likely daubing colors on our bodies before that. Cave paintings and rock art made use of it. Ancient textiles show it. Stone age burials have been found containing red ochre, possibly used as a form of blessing for the deceased. For a long time we’ve shown a desire, even a need to embellish nature with color. Sources of dyes and pigments became important factors in all cultures, with various plants and minerals taking on cherished, even sacred auras. Of all the colors, the most esteemed might be blue, due to its rarity and expense.Continue Reading
About thirty thousand years ago there was a huge increase in grandmothers. At the same time the human population experienced explosive growth.
Scientists studying hominid fossils found that in the Early Upper Paleolithic period, thirty thousand years ago, there were more people living into old age than ever before. They made this observation based on the fossils’ teeth. It’s possible to estimate how long they lived by the amount of wear on their teeth. Old age in the study is defined as twice the age of sexual maturity, or about thirty years. While we don’t see very many thirty year old grandparents these days, it was probably common then.
Throughout the first three million years of the study, from Australopithecines through Homo Erectus to early modern humans, only a small percentage of people lived long enough to help raise their grandchildren. Then there was a population explosion of grannies. And grandpas, too. Five times as many people were living beyond the age of thirty. At the same time there was a marked increase in the population of modern humans in general. And the archeological record shows that their social structures were becoming more complex as well.
This supports the Grandmother Hypothesis. Anthropologists believe that the older members of human societies allowed their cultures to develop. They increased the accumulation of useful knowledge and its transmission down the generations. Their continuing presence helped to build bridges between families and clans. And grandmothers’ experience improved the success of child bearing and child rearing.
When this is put together with continuing improvements in areas like tool-making, language and food preparation, it helps to explain why modern humans did so well populating the planet. Having all those older, wiser people to rely on gave us an advantage.
Something else that contributed to our success is that we are better at cooperating than are other primates. Scientists can infer that from fossil evidence from as long ago as 3-4 million years. The bones indicate a small sexual dimorphism, or size difference, between hominid males and females. In other primates like gorillas and baboons, which have fierce mating competition among males, the sexual dimorphism is much greater. Our ancient hominid ancestors differed in size between the sexes by less than 15% on average, the same as our modern ratio. The toning down of competition and an increase in group cooperation seem to have been successful traits for us hominids.