Mermaid Origins: The Aquatic Ape Theory
Could Mermaids Be Real?
Mermaids have captured our imagination for thousands of years. There are those who write the mermaid off as merely a myth, while there are others who propose that the concept of a mermaid might not be that far from the truth. Tales of mermaids can be found in almost every ancient culture on every continent of the world. Did these ancient cultures communicate and share similar stories of mermaids or did they see something that was truly a part of reality? There have been cave paintings, statuettes, and various pieces of ancient art found that depict mermaids and mermen. Depending on the culture, these water-dwelling human-like beings had different names but they all were illustrated to be half-human and half-fish.
So could mermaids be real or are they simply a story for the movie screen and children's books? Certain scientists in the past two centuries have put forth controversial theories as to how evolution could have taken a different turn in the past than what we've been taught. One of these turns might have included an era where we dwelled mostly in water. This means that perhaps the idea of a mermaid might not be too far off the beaten path of actual logic. Let's explore these theories and thoughts further, and then you can decide for yourself if mermaids are or were real and if they might be related to us.
The Aquatic Ape Theory: What Is It?
The Aquatic Ape Theory may be a logical explanation for the legends of mermaids, and it may also assist us in understanding more of our true origins as man. This controversial scientific theory was originally proposed by a man named Max Westernhofer in the early 1940s and was supported by two prominent people in decades thereafter - Elaine Morgan and Alister Hardy. When Westernhofer originally came out and said that we as humans might have had evolutionary ancestors who lived a semiaquatic existence, he was often laughed off the stage by other scientists. Alister Hardy also believed that man had an ancestor of the hominoid branch that may have lived most of their lives in the water, due to environmental changes and a need for food. He hypothesized that they were forced to leave the trees and began to wade in the water in search for shellfish and other aquatic sources of protein. He also imagined that this probably happened in a warmer climate, where man would be able to stand the water for longer periods of time.
Recently, an author named Frank Joseph wrote about the Aquatic Ape Theory in his book Before Atlantis: 20 Million Years of Human and Pre-human Cultures. His book takes a stunning and in-depth look at the evolutionary ancestors of man...including the "aquatic ape" as a legitimate possibility in our evolutionary chain. He describes the various cataclysmic events that might have pushed our early ancestors into a more aquatic existence...including volcanic eruptions and splitting of continents. If you are interested in the Aquatic Ape Theory and man's origins in general, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this book.
Human Adaptations to Water
Now at first glance, you might be thinking this theory is ludicrous! But before judging it, let's look at our biological make-up as it stands today and how it might show remnants of a past existence spent in the ocean waves:
- Sweat and tears: we are one of the only land mammals that produce sweat and tears...possibly to excrete extra salt in the body (think of if we were to live in salt-water)
- Hair: a reduced hair body, our bodies have hair but we do not know when we started losing our fur in millennium past...the aquatic ape theory suggests that we did not need the extra hair in the water and it actually prevented us from swimming with more traction in the water. Therefore, we lost much of it, and the hair we have left lays against our bodies in the way that water would flow off of us.
- Fat: we are one of very few land mammals that have a subcutaneous layer of fat (fat directly under the skin). This feature is seen in all water mammals (i.e. whales, dolphins, etc). This would have aided our aquatic ancestors in buoyancy and also to retain body heat in colder waters.
- Walking Upright: we are the only mammal that walks in an upright two-legged fashion. Is it possible that we started walking on two legs so as to wade through the water and hunt for fish without having the water sloshing into our faces?
- Paddle-like Feet: our feet do not look very much like a monkey's feet today, do they? Our feet are more shaped into a paddle-like fashion...not to climb trees but to propel us through the water.
- Maternal and Newborn Adaptations: women undergo many physical changes when they become pregnant and after giving birth. One of those changes is the size of the breasts: could this be to give her more buoyancy for baby to float on top of the water? How about the fact that she loses less hair during pregnancy and it becomes stronger - this could be so that baby has something to grab onto while swimming through the water. These are just a few examples. Let's take a quick look at newborn instincts - a newborn is born with the instinct to float in the water! If you throw a newborn into a pool, they will instinctively turn face up and float on their backs. Why would this be?
Please take a look at the in-depth diagram below. It highlights so many more features of human adaptation to water.
Mermaids: Just Another Branch of Our Evolutionary Tree?
So I might have got your wheels turning...perhaps you're thinking it might have been possible that human ancestors spent some years in a semiaquatic existence. But isn't this article supposed to be about mermaids? Well, let me explain further. If it is possible that our human ancestors spent part of their lives in the water, isn't is possible that evolution could have continued and allowed them to become fully adapted to an aquatic existence? Couldn't they have evolved fins or flippers instead of feet/legs...couldn't they have developed the ability to hold their breath for substantial periods of time?
If we look at the truly amazing things that evolution has accomplished in the past millions of years, we can begin to see the possibility of a half-human half-fish being existing. And so these beings might actually be cousins of ours, if they indeed exist. This is where the legends of mermaids might have originated...our ancient human ancestors who took to the water ended up adapting entirely to an aquatic existence and therefore becoming the mermaid we now find in storybooks and on the big screen.
Did you know that orca whales were once a type of dog-like species millions of years ago? That's right! They evolved from a canine-like animal into the beautiful aquatic species they are today. If that is possible...anything is possible with a little science and a little open-mindedness.
Humans May Return to the Water
With global warming becoming a real threat to our environment, what will happen when the ice caps melt and more of our land is under water? Will we undergo another cycle of evolution? Many of us might die out, but there might be a few who survive...perhaps we will return to the water and go through another adaptation as our human ancestors might have done in the distant past.
Will we meet our mermaid cousins in the depths of the oceans? Will we be taught how to hunt for food under the ocean waves or will they leave us to fend for ourselves? After all, it's not that we've done much good for our ocean in recent years.
What do you think? Did we spend some of our existence in the water, and if so is it possible that mermaids are a by-product of that part of our evolution? Do mermaids exist now in hiding? Will we ever prove or disprove their existence?
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© 2014 Nicole Canfield
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