" Picture, if you will, a tropic isle . . . "

   ( The 'Flying Pickets' )

The Aquatic Ape Theory - AAT -

- my personal contribution.

By Juergen Hinrichs, Kassel, Germany

( I'm sorry, I just didn't know what else to call it. I happen to like the Aquatic Ape Theory, in fact I find it, in the words of one opposed to it, "very sexy" indeed - absolutely beguiling, to tell the truth - "sexy"?! It is our vision of a safe paradise. Clubbing something big and strong to death while running away from danger in a lethal environment is not. That, by contrast, is a hellish nightmare. )

And so, by now far more than a decade ago, after reading " The Descent of Woman ", I wrote to the author, Elaine Morgan; received a very nice letter back and started to look up what I ever could find in the libraries of my home town in Kassel 1 ), Germany 2 ), which luckily happened to have an old traditional one 3 ) connected to the university 4 ), and which, by chance, had partly survived the bombing of World War II.

There I found one thing or the other and kept on gathering whatever Information I could find that I thought could be related to the theory that Adam and Eve, in the young days of their growing into human beings, had spent a very long day on the beach, and, together with their offspring, had never forgotten it since. )

The following pieces of text are, in part, excerpts from personal letters I wrote to Elaine Morgan, the author of so many books on the Aquatic Ape Theory, some ten-plus years ago. Time goes by. Now I am talking to her Grandson, Dewi Morgan.

Added to these excerpts are quotes from books, papers, etc. on the subject of AAT.

| The quotes are in a different color! And my comments on them are in Italics.

| Excerpt from the paper:

Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B292, 103 - 107 ( 1981 )


By L. P. La Lumiere

Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D. C. 20375, U. S. A.

A geologically plausible locality for aquatic evolutionary processes leading to bipedalism is postulated.

Among attempts to explain the evolution of human bipedalism, the aquatic hypothesis proposed by Hardy ( 1960 ) and elaborated by Morgan: ( 1972 ) and Morris: ( 1997 ) suggests that, during the late Miocene or early Pliocene epochs, a group of apes was isolated by increasing desiccation of their habitat somewhere along the coast of Africa. To escape predators and to find food they entered the water, an environment for which they were poorly adapted. This radical situation resulted in heavy evolutionary pressure for morphological changes from ape to man within a relatively short span of time. The human features possibly accounted for by the aquatic hypothesis include: superior swimming ability, babies swimming at a few weeks old; relative hairlessness; hair tracts arranged for water streamlining, streamlined body compared to those of other primates; insulating layer of fat beneath the skin plus copious sweat glands erect posture; and highly sensitive, generalized hands. Along with these, certain behavioural traits were evolved, such as fondness of aquatic activities and sea foods. At the beginning of the Pleistocene, when favourable changes permitted, the upright, hominoid descendants of these apes resumed to a terrestrial existence.

So far, the aquatic hypothesis has received little acceptance because no supporting fossil evidence has been adduced ( Morris 1967 ). In particular, no region in Africa containing marine Pliocene deposits associated with ape - like and man - like fossils has ever been found ( Howells 1967; Leakey 1976 ).

Reflection upon the Hardy hypothesis leads to the following conclusions: ( a ) the region was a forested area inhabited by apes during the late Miocene; ( b ) the region was isolated from the rest of Africa during the Pliocene, in which period the evolution of ape - like to man - like creatures occurred; ( c ) the region was reconnected to Africa in the late Pliocene or early Pleistocene, enabling the hominoids to migrate elsewhere. Conclusion ( b ) suggests that bipedalism evolved on an island.

| Mr. La Lumiere goes on , referring to  Haroun Tazieff, to postulate that a possible or likely location for this transition could have been the Danakil Alps, a block of mountains now effectively blocking the entrance of the Rift Valley into the Red Sea near Djibouti, where the Awash river loses itself in the Afar desert, now one of the driest places on earth ( And some years ago traversed by, among others, Rüdiger Nehberg, German confectioner, adventurer, activist and survival specialist, who wrote a very nice book about it, called "Through the Afar Desert"-or something of the like. - ) :


Tazieff ( 1972 ), Tazieff et al. ( 1972 ) and Barberi et al. ( 1972 ) suggest that the northern and central Afar triangle in the past was covered by sea water, with only the Danakil Alps and high volcanoes standing above water as islands. They state that the Danakil Alps are part of a horst: an uplifted crustal block that was broken off and separated from the Nubian plate to the west and the Arabian plate to the east through the action of plate tectonics and sea floor spreading.

* The main points of this paper were communicated to the meeting by professor Sir Alister Hardy, F. R. S. , during the general discussion.

| End of the excerpt of the paper by L. P. La Lumiere  - 

 >  > Dear Elaine. <  < 

 I have been looking trough the libraries and, have found some more items on the subject of the Aquatic Ape, although I have the feeling they could be the last to be found there. They fall into two categories: one, the possibilities for humans nowadays to survive at sea, and two, the anatomy of he human body. To part one: I enclose the copies of some pages from the book "The Kon - Tiki Expedition" by Thor Heyerdahl:

  Thor Heyerdahl: The Kon - Tiki Expedition - "Halfway" *

We found that after two months fresh water began to grow stale and have a bad taste. But by then one is well through the first ocean area in which there is little rain, and has long ago arrived in regions where heavy rain - showers can maintain the water supply. We served out a good quart of water per man daily, and it was by no means always that the ration was consumed.

Even if our predecessors had started from land with inadequate supplies, they would have managed well enough as long as they drifted across the sea with the current, in which fish abounded. There was not a day on our whole voyage on which fish were not swimming round the raft and could not easily be caught. Scarcely a day passed without any rate flying fish coming on board of their own accord. It even happened that large bonitos, delicious eating, swam on board with the masses of water that came from astern, and lay kicking on the raft when the water had vanished down between the logs as in a sieve. To starve to death was impossible.

The old natives knew well the device which many shipwrecked men hit upon during the war - chewing thirst - quenching moisture out of raw fish. One can also press the juices out by twisting pieces of fish in a cloth, or, if the fish is large, it is fairly simple matter to cut holes in its side, which soon become filled with ooze from the fish' s lymphatic glands. It does not taste good if one has anything better to drink, but e percentage of salt is so low that one' s thirst is quenched. The necessity for drinking water was greatly reduced if we bathed regularly and lay down wet in a shady cabin. If a shark was patrolling majestically round about us and preventing a real plunge from the side of the raft, one had only to lie down on the logs aft and get good grip of the ropes with one' s fingers and toes. Then we got several bathfuls of crystal clear Pacific pouring over us every few seconds. When tormented by thirst in heat one general assumes that the body needs water, and this may often lead to immoderate inroads on the water ration without any benefit whatever. On really hot days in the tropics you can pour tepid water down your throat till you taste it at the back of your mouth, and you are just as thirsty. It is not liquid the body needs then, but, curiously enough, salt. The special rations we had on board included salt tablets to be taken regularly on peculiarly hot days, because perspiration drains the body of salt. We experienced days like this when the wind died away and the sun blazed down on the raft without mitigation. Our water ration could be ladled into us till it squelched in our stomachs, but our throats malignantly demanded much more. On such days we added from 20 to 40 per cent of bitter salt sea water to our fresh water ration, and found to our surprise that this brackish water quenched our thirst. We had the taste of sea water in our mouths for a long time afterwards, but never felt unwell, and moreover had our water ration considerably increased.

One morning as we sat at breakfast an unexpected sea splashed into our gruel and taught us quite gratuitously that the taste of oats removed the greater part of the sickening taste of sea water.

The old Polynesians had preserved some curious tradition, according to which their earliest forefathers, when they came sailing across the sea, had with them leaves of certain plant which they chewed, with the result that their thirst disappeared. Another effect of the plant was that at a pinch they could drink sea water neat without being sick. No such plants grew in the South Sea islands; they must therefore have originated in the ancestors' homeland. The Polynesian historians persisted so obstinately in these statements that modern investigators look into the matter and came to the conclusion that the only known plant with such an effect was the coca plant, which grew only in Peru. And in prehistoric Peru this very coca plant, which contains cocaine, was regularly used both by the Incas and by their vanished forerunners, as is shown by discoveries in pre - Inca graves. On exhausting mountain journeys and sea voyages they took with them piles of these leaves and chewed them for days on end remove their feelings of thirst and weariness. And over a fairly short period the chewing of coca leaves will even allow one to drink sea water with a certain immunity.

  | * meaning: halfway across the Pacific on a log raft - 

I have two more things to add to the copies out of "Kon - Tiki" : Heyerdahl describes on another page I have not included that it is possible to eat plankton and fish raw, and probably to survive on it for a longer period of time; this is supported by the report of one Luis Alexandro Valesco, a Sailor who survived ten days in the Caribbean Sea on an open life raft without food or water ( written down by Gabriel Garcia Márquez ). Valesco once caught a fish and ate part of it raw and found it not only relieved his hunger, but quenched his thirst, and that drinking a little sea water helped to that effect, too ( in fact, people cast adrift on the sea have often survived off the sea for months on end ). And, furthermore, that sharks feed at five p. m., shortly before nightfall, a fact also described by Haroun Tazieff in an old book on an expedition in the Red Sea, where I found the following:

  1. There are - or were - dugongs in the Red Sea.
  2. The water remains a temperature of 27 degrees Centigrade down to a depth of 110 meters.
  3. The crabs there are curious, intelligent, aggressive and quite terrifying. Camping out on Abu - Lat, a desert island in the Red Sea, Tazieff found himself at nightfall surrounded by hundreds of crabs who advanced on him in a military fashion, keeping away only for the fires he had lit and because he moved. If he was still, i. e. seemed dead, they would come closer at once, and could only be chased off by hurling rocks at them, upon which they would immediately devour their fallen comrades the instant these stopped moving their legs. ( It sounds like a siberian wolf - chase. I gather he had a sleepless night, feeling quite uneasy. )
  4. Sharks and barracudas patrol the region of deep water beyond the coral reefs. ( He does not mention eels. Thor Heyerdahl says these are even known to move across sections of dry land, if I remember rightly. )

On the subject of human anatomy, I looked up a book someone opposed to the Aquatic Ape theory told me about, saying the idea was not new and unproven:

"Der Eigenweg des Menschen" by Max Westenhöfer , written 1942
( Taken from the site: "Meeresprimat" )

It is a thorough book on anatomy, Westenhöfer was a medical man, and the title roughly means "The Singular Path of Man".

After some very detailed studies of the anatomy of humans, apes and other animals, he comes to the following conclusions:

  1. Apes are much more specialized than humans
  2. Humans developed from quadrupeds, not from climbers. ( He poses the beautiful question: how many times a day does even the most primitive - living native climb a tree, and how often do the women and children follow suit? )
  3. Humans did not develop from any of the known partly biped apes. These have a very different anatomy of the bone structure ( spine, pelvis, legs, feet  ).

Looking closely at a few other human oddities, he comes to the conclusion that man, once upon a time, must have been - aquatic.

He bases this on:

  1. The form of the human foot, very good to walk in mud with.
  2. The loss of body hair. No other plausible explanation.
  3. Subcutaneous fat.
  4. The pigmentation of the skin; originally white.
  5. Relatively weak jaws and teeth; soft food ?
  6. Atrophied sense of smell.
  7. Webbing of the hand
  8. Ventro - ventral copulation; the form of the vagina
  9. Occasionally occurring slime - producing cells in the skin of the back.
  10. The nose cartilage. ( He even mentions the proboscis monkey )

Sounds familiar? Well, here is something new, maybe ( or rather, old ):

| * Children seem to keep this ability to close their nostrils at will up to a certain age, then lose it . Maybe the noses just grow too big, and it turns into something useless like flaring the nostrils.

Well, there you are.

 ...but what Uwe George of the German ' GEO ' magazine did do, was to make a very good film on the mangrove Swamps in the estuaries of river in Borneo, and of the animals living in them. ( GEO Film: "Schritt an Land." i. e. "Step onto Land" - the corresponding GEO article is called "Pioniere zwischen den Gezeiten" i. e. " Pioneers between the Tides" ). The trees have grown into the water and some of the fish partly live on land. All in all, the scene on Danakil island could have been very similar. But what really hit me was a short scene showing a group of Proboscis Monkeys walking along the shore and behaving very human indeed ! It was so unbelievable. This scene was taken from the Japanese ( ? ) film:

"Long nose, long tail"


NHK International Inc.

Daini Kyodo Bldg.

7 - 13 Udagawa - cho, Shibuyu - hu

Tokyo 150

Dear Elaine, I don' t know how your chances are in getting at such films, but I' d like to know your opinion, if you are able to see it. I am also till searching for that film with the key scene showing South American Indian women breast - feeding their babies while sitting up to their waist in a lake.

It could have been a film by T. Asch and N. Chagnon, c. o. NAC, Washington DC 20409 ( National Audiovisual Center ), USA, or PEN, The Pennsylvania State University, PA 16802; maybe the one called "The Feast".

But I just don' t know, and I have no way to find out!
I have been trying to get information on reflexes but, as Westenhöfer writes, they are very primitive, and as Prof. Prechtl from the university hospital in Groningen wrote me, are found similar in all primate infants, so that's a dead end.

But I have also been thinking about shortsightedness* in humans and why we can not see very well under water ( at least I can' t, being of normal sight ). So I asked my sister, who is very short-sighted indeed, and she said, no, she couldn't see better under water but when rain gets into her eyes she can see very much better. This was confirmed by other short-sighted people who told me they sometimes suddenly saw much better when they were crying etc.

| *Which seems to be quite a wide-spread impediment, and no good if you are hunting for a living; on the other hand, of course, it is good for gathering.

P. s. from a National Geographic Magazine, 1975: Aboriginal Women in Tierra del Fuego spend long periods of time in the water, with their children hanging on to their hair!*

Sincerely yours,

Juergen Hinrichs Roehrig

* Although the water and the weather is quite cold down there.

According to another story, a mother who was one of the 10000 aboard the "Wilhelm Gustloff" when it was torpedoed in freezing weather during the last days of the Second World War, had her 6 weeks old baby stuffed down the back of her blouse by sailors and was thrown into the icy waters of the north sea with a life saver and another life saver with her second little daughter tied to that. Being one of the few survivors, she later showed bystanders the scars on her shoulders where the baby had sunk its tiny fingers and nails into the very skin and flesh of her back to hold on in sheer terror, surviving by the warmth of its mothers body, whereas the older one, being on its own, died of the cold. So, it need not be the hair alone.

While on the subject of hair: Humans have no hair where animals usually do, and they have hair where animals ( usually ) do not: in their arm and leg pits. The pubic hair is not so much pubic in itself; it grows in the joints of the big limbs with the torso - possibly to reduce friction ( while swimming? ) among other functions. In humans, two such joints just happen to fall together with the pubic region; which itself lies squarely in the center of the body, and not at one end, as is usual in quadrupeds. This is caused by the stretching of the human body, and is not at all unique in aquatic animals, as most of them have tails.

One more afterthought: constantly being near water may have contributed to the building of intelligence through self - awareness by providing a mirror; but maybe any puddle would do for that.

There remains one question still - amongst very many others:

Why has the female chimpanzee - according to Jane Goodall - have an oestrus cycle of roughly 28 days, while the human female has a menstrual cycle of the same period? Has anybody ever really studied this very subtle - but marked and consequential! - difference in their hormonal makeup, and how did that difference come about?

( I suppose nobody has ever postulated - or found - a significant difference in the hormonal makeup between the males of the aforementioned species! But I also suppose we will have to live with that. )

PPS: Dear Mr. La Lumiere, I do hope I am not infringing on your copyright by putting part of your paper on the web ( we met in Valkenburg * 1987 ) . I would like to have done it completely :- )

- the same goes for Mr. Heyerdahl and anybody else I may have quoted.

*The 10th meeting of the European Sociobiological Society and the Dutch Association of Physical Anthropology, held in the Geerlingshof Conference Center, Valkenburg, The Netherlands, Aug 28-30, 1987, from which abstracts have been published. See The Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction

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  Uwe George / GEO Magazin  - German journalist   - view the first instance on the second page

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