Re: AAT is dogma

alex duncan (
10 Aug 1995 20:59:23 GMT

In article <> Nicholas Rosen, writes:

>The Danakil/aquatic hypothesis seems potentially vulnerable to a
>black eye or two, if not to absolute falsification. Suppose that a
>human ancestor postdating the alleged aquatic interlude were shown
>to be as hairy as a chimpanzee. Suppose that skeletons of australo-
>pithecus ramidus or something very similar were found elsewhere than
>at Danakil, and definitively dated to the the time when Danakil was
>an island. These would go along way toward falsifying the Danakil/
>aquatic hypothesis.

Well, we've got problems then. A. afarensis is known from as old as ~4.0
Myr from Fejej in Ethiopia. (Note: A. ramidus may well not be as old as
White et al. claim. There are capping volcanics dated to about 3.8 Myr,
and basal volcanics dated to around 4.4 Myr. White et al. use a single
normally magnetized paleomag. sample to suggest A. ramidus comes from the
older end of the time range, but there is also a normal zone around 3.8
Myr. A. ramidus may then be either around 3.8 Myr old, or 4.4 Myr old.)

The hominid mandible fragments from Tabarin (4.25 - 5.15 Myr) and
Lothagam (around 5 Myr) will have to be reevaluated in light of the new
discoveries. Until recently they've been placed in A. aff. afarensis,
but only because that was the closest thing available.

There have been abundant unpublished hominid discoveries from the S. end
of L. Turkana that are dated to older than 4.0 Myr. We should see
publication on these in the next few months.

>On the other hand, if australopithecine fossils were found in the
>Danakil Alps, and dated to the interval when the region was an island,
>and no other fossils dating to that period were found elsewhere, the
>hypothesis would be strengthened, although not absolutely proven. In
>short, the Danakil/aquatic hypothesis seems at least as open to
>testing as its rivals, and I think it deserves investigation. I am
>aware that hair doesn't usually leave fossil traces, but something
>might happen, as it did in the case of the Iceman.

I fail to see exactly how this would work. Australopithecines are
clearly adapted to living in a terrestrial/arboreal environment. They
show no skeletal features that one can cite as evidence of living in an
aquatic environment. If they are found on a paleoisland, then that must
mean they were living ON the paleoisland.

By refusing to make any predictions about what an "aquatic" hominid would
look like that differ from what we predict based on the
arboreal/terrestrial model, Ms. Morgan has provided an unfalsifiable

Alex Duncan
Dept. of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-1086