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Aquatic Ape Theory

Updated on April 17, 2017
A Bonobo ape wading the the water. The Aquatic Ape Theory shows that it was wading that taught humans to walk upright.
A Bonobo ape wading the the water. The Aquatic Ape Theory shows that it was wading that taught humans to walk upright.

Our Aquatic Evolution

At school, university and in scientific programs you might see on TV, the explanation of how we evolved from apes to humans is only about the Savannah theory, which goes something like this

In times of climatic change when forests were retreating in Africa, some of the apes living in trees were forced to come down from the trees and live on the African plains.

In this dangerous environment where carnivorous animals like lions and hyenas lived, this ape become a top carnivorous animal itself, through learning how to use tools and weapons to hunt and kill other animals and fight off predators. (This theory is also called the killer-ape theory).

In the 1960s this was considered to be the undisputed theory of why humans evolved from apes, but one feminist called Elaine Morgan had a number of strong objections to this theory and voiced them in a book called, “The Decent Of Women”. In this book she made the point that in the Savannah theory, the role of women and children is not mentioned at all. But when she asked the question what were women and children doing while man the mighty hunter was out hunting, the whole theory fell apart

This is because in the animal kingdom the human baby is more helpless than any other animal. It can take up to two years before it walks and takes 15 to 20 years to grow to full size. So how did mothers ensure the safety of themselves and their children in open plains? Where you had predators like lions, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs and jackals.

Another point was that another primate the baboon also came out of the forest and learnt to live on the plains but it didn't evolve human like characteristics. There is very little difference between a forest baboon and a Savannah baboon.

It is possible for Babies to learn to Swim, before they learn to Walk
It is possible for Babies to learn to Swim, before they learn to Walk
Elaine Morgan, TED lecture
Elaine Morgan, TED lecture

Sir Alistair Hardy And Elaine Morgan

Elaine Morgan then mentioned a far better theory on how apes evolved into humans, the Aquatic Ape theory, which was proposed by the scientist Sir Alister Hardy.

As a marine biologist he noticed the striking similarity between the blubber of marine mammals like seals and dolphins and the layer of subcutaneous fat around human beings.

This wasn't present in any other primate. He also noticed that all large marine animals were hairless like a human being. From this he concluded that human beings must have once lived in an aquatic environment in their evolution from ape to human

Unfortunately Sir Alister Hardy received such a negative response from his colleges about his theory that he dropped it, but Elaine Morgan took up its cause and wrote about it further is a series of books called. “The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis”, “The Descent of the Child: Human Evolution from a New Perspective” and “The Scars of Evolution”

Elaine Morgan in her books developed the theory further and was able to explain not only why human beings were naked and had subcutaneous fat, but why we walk upright, why we talk, why we sweat and cry, and why we have far larger brains than any other ape.

Unfortunately even though she was able to make a strong case for the Aquatic Ape Theory, male scientists have still preferred the Savannah Theory, or Killer Ape theory, simply because this theory gives men the staring role in human evolution. But this has changed in recent times when more archaeological finds of early humans undermine the case for the Savannah Theory and support the Aquatic Ape Theory.

The Wading Ape

Aquatic Ape Video On Youtube

There are a number of videos on Youtube on the Aquatic Ape Theory but when doing this hub-page I realized just how difficult it is to navigate around Youtube to find them all.

So i have made up a blog, where they are all in one place. - As well as more of my articles on the Aquatic Ape Theory.

TED lecture - Elaine Morgan

Desmond Morris on the Aquatic Ape Theory

First of four part lecture by Elaine Morgan

Elaine Morgan interview (12 clips)

Waterside Hypotheses is another name for Aquatic Ape Theory

Part One of seven videos of my mermaid theory

Radio On -Aquatic Ape Hypothesis-Radio 4-David Atttenborough

© 2008 William Bond


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    • profile image

      marc verhaegen 3 months ago

      For an update, please google:

      -Ape and Human Evolution 2018 made easy,

      -not Homo but Pan naledi,

      -Aquatic Ape Theory made easy 2017,

      + refs therein.


    • profile image

      marc verhaegen 4 years ago

      Some recent info.

      Human Evolution now publishes the proceedings of the recent symposium "Human Evolution: Past, Present & Future" London 8-10 May 2013

      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

    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 5 years ago from England

      Thank you Marc, for the links.

    • profile image

      marc verhaegen 5 years ago

      Humans didn’t descend from aquatic apes, of course, although our Pleistocene ancestors were too slow & heavy for regular running over open plains as some anthropologists still believe.

      Instead, Homo populations during the Ice Ages (with sea-levels often 100 m lower than today) simply followed the coasts & rivers in Africa & Eurasia, eg, 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


      - Human Evolution confer.London 8–10.5.13 with David Attenborough, Don Johanson etc.

    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 9 years ago from England

      Hi Marian Swift

      Sir Alister Hardy did first speak of it back in the late 1960s and it got a lot of publicity but then it was forgotten. And it would of remained forgotten if it wasn't for Elaine Morgan.

      The first scientific paper on the Aquatic Ape theory was back in 1943 by a german scientist.

      William Bond

    • Marian Swift profile image

      Marian Swift 9 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      I remember reading a magazine article on the Aquatic Ape Theory back in the 60s(!!!).  I don't remember the author, but the concept made a lot of sense to me.  Then I forgot all about it ... until now.

      Many thanks for the reminder and the update!

    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 9 years ago from England

      Hi Steve

      I'm afraid you will have to got to go to Youtube to see all the Aquatic ape and Elaine Morgan videos. I suppose it depends if you like the first ones i have shown and want to see more.


    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 9 years ago from England

      Hi Lady Guinevere

      I forgot to metion on the first video one the Aquatic Ape theory it does show a swimming baby.


    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 9 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Hi William! I am glad to see you have published this excellent new hub! I will watch the videos tomorrow because it is nearly midnight and I have been out all day!

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 9 years ago from West By God

      oooooohh yeah. I saw the male gener thing the first week of being married to my current husband..and I see it here from some friends.

    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 9 years ago from England

      Hi C.J. Stone

      I read, "The Decent of Women" when it was first published. Back in the 1970s I had an uncle who got me interested in Stone-Age Man and I read a few books on it from my local library. Then I came across the “Decent Of Women” and very much liked it. I preferred her explanation than the ‘killer-ape’ stuff I had been reading. I naively lent the book to my uncle and was surprised when later he told me how much he disliked it.

      I was also later surprised at the scientific establishments opposition to the Aquatic Ape Theory and it took me some time to understand it was all about gender politics.


    • CJStone profile image

      CJStone 9 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Hello William, I've always held to the Aquatic Ape theory ever since i read it in the Descent of Woman back in the eighties. Yes it makes perfect sense and also explains why all humans have a strong feeling, a longing almost, for the sea. When I first read the book I'd just moved into this small sea side town where I live now, so it coincided with daily swims in the sea and with eating oysters and other seafoods, all of which probably helped to convince me of the theory. Glad to read it again here and to once more finding myself in complete agreement.

    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 9 years ago from England

      HI Lady Guinevere

      The Bible to was written by men with an agenda to promote male supremacy. The first diety humans worshipped was the Great Mother. So the Bible was a reaction against this and was promoting a male god with a male priesthood.


    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 9 years ago from West By God

      I think a lot of the sexism comes from Genesis because it says the Adam was made first and then came Eve and somehow they come to the conclusion that since Eve was second that she is inferior................but...................she was made from Adam which only makes sense that they are equal because they have the same genes. I also posted something in one of my hubs that if we were made in God's image and liekness that we have brains and actions like them too which only proves that they were intelligent in the Garden of Eden-so they what---all of a sudden became dumb and they blame it on the women. Where was Adam--twittling his thumbs in another part of the Garden? That makes no sense because they didn't know of anyplace but there then and he had to have seen or heard them talking. It is easy to blame it on someone else to make themselves be the superior race--but it makes them look stupid because they ate the same fruit....and they are neither are supoerior....hmmmmm

    • wabond profile image

      William Bond 9 years ago from England

      Hi Lady Guinevere

      Thank you for being the first to comment on my Hub.

      Water births is nothing new, the Sea Gypsies of South East Asia have been doing it for thousands of years. In most Sea Gypsy families the children learn to swim before they learn to walk.

      As for the male scientists being egoistic and arrogant. In Elaine Morgan's Lecture at University College London, she expresses total bewilderment, because as far as she is concerned she has won all the scientific arguments. But the scientific establishment still refuse to accept the Aquatic Ape Theory. I know think the reason for this is pure sexism. The Savannah theory, which the scientific establishment clings to, gives men, the whole credit for our evolution from apes to man. If also establishes the idea that men have always been the dominant sex since we evolved from apes. This is because the Savannah theory claims that early man was carnivorous and therefore very violent, and probably used his violence to keep their women ‘in line’.

      The Aquatic Ape Theory doesn’t show early humans as violent and therefore doesn’t support the idea of male dominance in pre-historic times. And this is the reason the scientific establishment does not like it.


    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 9 years ago from West By God

      I didn't watch the youtubes but I can understand part of the theory. Some mother's are electing to have their children in water and the children when born have no problem being in the woter. Some babies when put in water right after birth can and do swim effortlessly--like dolphins ans such. I also beleve in mermaids and that they are not seacows or manatees. The male gender is egotistical and arrogant in what and how we evolved. They don't even think of women and children. That needs to stop!


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