Re: What does AAT mean?

Phil Nicholls (
28 Dec 1994 13:44:14 GMT

In article <>,
Troy Kelley <> wrote:

>In a nut-shell. AAT refers to the Aquatic Ape Theory put forth by Sir
>Alistar Hardy (published in New Scientist in the late 60s) that says that
>man had an intervening stage during his evolution, between the
>tree-dwelling and savanna stage, where he was at least a semi-aquatic
>organism. This aquatic stage helps to explain some unusual physical
>characteristics of man that separates him from his closest relatives like
>the chimp and gorilla.
>Some AAT characteristics include: (obviously some are more supported by
>facts than others) Hairlessness; fat deposits similar to other aquatic
>animals; unusual nose shape compared to other primates; streamlined body
>structure; bipedialism; high water consumption compared to other savanna
>creatures; flat, broad appendages; unusual underwater diving ability
>(especially compared to other primates); ability of newborn infants to
>float in water; constant internal body temperature consistent with other
>aquatic animals; large brain which needs to be kept cool; Red blood cell
>ratios similar to other aquatic creatures; ect. ect.

>Ask your teacher about it, I would be interested to hear his/her
>reaction. I think it is a real crime that the anthropological community
>does not discuss this theory more. I really don't understand why the
>theory is so vehemently opposed by so many anthropologists. Even Alistar
>Hardy was scared to publish this theory because of the scorn he might
>receive from it. He waited until late in his career before actually
>coming forth with his ideas.
>Also, the savanna theory was almost accepted de facto after Raymond Dart
>first proposed it. It made sense, and AAT supporters do not argue that it
>never happened, something I think many AAT proponents forget, but it
>really was not put to the test.
>Also, pick up "Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction". It is a very good book,
>although it is very hard to find, but it does present both sides of this
>fascinating argument, and it was published fairly recently.


The anthropological community does not discuss the theory more because
it is one of the many "pop-science" verging of pseudoscience "theories"
that hang around for a while, sometimes a long while, impressing new
comers from time to time. I taugh a class in human paleontology this
fall in which I asked on an essay question that a student review the
known fossil Miocene apes. One student began to discuss the aquatic
ape "theory" and got upset when I gave them zero points for the essay.
They accused me of being biased against the "theory". I replied that
yes, I thought the theory was nonsense, but that the reason that they
didn't get any points on the essay was that my question was about the
fossil record for apes in the Miocene and that they therefore didn't
answer my question.

You see, part of the problem with the AA "theory" (aside from the
fact that it isn't really a theory at all) is that like all pop-science
and pseudoscience explanations it offers a "quick fix" to questions
that have very complex solutions. Why bother reading a 400+ page text
on human evolution when you can get the TRUTH from a slim, poorly
referenced paperback (I refer to Morgan's _Scars of Evolution_, which
I have now acquired and read).

Yes, there are differences between humans and the great apes. There
are actually more of these differences than the AAH can explain, many
more. However, we didn't evolve from the living African apes. We
share a common ancestor and one thing that happens when a lineage
splits is that the species diverge. It's called divergent evolution.
It is not necessary to explain all of the differences or even most of
them as following from a single adaptation because that again is not
how evolution works.

Consistent with the way proponents of "pop-science" and pseudoscience
work is the claim that it is bias in the scientific community that
prevents their idea from being accepted. The way new ideas get
accepted in science is for individuals to propose them and defend
them from criticism -- not in the popular press, but in the places
where scientific debate is engaged. New ideas will be subjected
to criticism. Troy mentions Dart and this is a good example. Few
believed Raymond Dart had discovered a homind in South African in
1925. Two who did, Robert Bloom and J.T. Robinson, combed South
African and came up with MORE fossils. Dart, Bloom and Robinson
continued to argue their case and eventually won acceptance.

The "savannah theory" is a creation of the AAH people. Most theories
of early human evolution have incorporated the savannah because that
is the environment in which most early hominid fossils are found.
Recently, a new fossil has been presented that lived in a woodland
and as a result we are seeing more people look to the forest as the
place where bipedalism was perfected.

You see, people follow the evidence. Maybe not at first, but if you
have evidence eventually you can force them to consider it. The
problem with the AAH is that it really doesn't have supporting evidence.

Philip "Chris" Nicholls Department of Anthropology
Institute for Hydrohominoid Studies SUNY Albany
University of Ediacara
"Semper Alouatta"