Re: AAT Theory

Elaine Morgan (
Mon, 11 Sep 1995 15:19:51 GMT

Wegener/crocodiles/fossil relevance

First, I do not consider myself as the new Wegener, nor a misunderstood
genius. If I had originated the aquatic theory, th temptation to
consider myself a genius would be overwhelming. I think the concept is
quite as brilliant as Wegener's and as surely destined to be in essence
accepted. I would never have thought of it in a million years.It was
advanced by a professor of Oxford University, a Fellow of the Royal
Society, and independently by an eminent German professor of
anthropology in Berlin. These things need repeating from time to time.

I did mention Wegener in "The Scars of Evolution" as an example of how
some new ideas take a very long time to be accepted. I have never argued
that because, like Wegener and Dart and Mendel and Sarich and Wilson,
Hardy found his idea was scorned and neglected, therefore Hardy must be
right. I have argued and do argue that these instances prove that a
theory cannot be refuted by saying "nobody believes this" or "nobody
who counts for anything believes this". You cannot settle scientific
questions with a head count, not even of the great and good.

Wegener asked a good question - why all the continents looked as if
they fitted together, not just in general outline, but matching in
geological detail and parallelism of wildlife. He came up with a good
answer: he proposed that the continents had once been one big
continent which had split up. Nobody worth mentioning would listen to
him. They said "Make that man shut up, he's a lunatic, picket his
meetings, hiss him, shout him down ." This happened, quite literally,
on both sides of the Atlantic.

He was wrong on the mechanism of how a solid thing like a continent
could move. Later the true mechanism of plate tectonics was
discovered and suddenly everyone was saying "Personally I always
thought there must be something in it. Of course I couldn't say so
publicly, I had my career to think of, but you ask my wife, she'll
tell you".

Parallel: Hardy asked a good question: Why are humans so different
from apes in so many varied respects, and why is it that so many pf
our anomalous features -most of them unique among primates, some unique
among land mammals - can readily be found among aquatic animals? He
came up with the suggestion that what happened was a period of
adaptation, subsequent to the ape/hominid split, to a temporary aquatic
or semi-aquatic habitat. Nobody of any account listened to him. They
said: "Stop it at once, Alister, you're rocking the boat" and "All
nonsense , we're not really naked, look at these little follicles" and
"I don't need any of this, I know all the answers to all those
questions already and if I don't I'm sure there's somebody somewhere
who does".

As for the mechanism , the details, the how and where and why- I don't
know, I'm only guessing, I'm trying to work it out, just at the s'mers
are trying to work out their own scenario. Maybe, as with Wegener,
there's some missing piece we haven't discovered or are wrong about.
But I believe that Hardy, like Wegener, had done the important bit, the
Eureka bit, and that in both instances the how-and-why details would
have come to light much sooner if the initial knee-jerk reaction
to the idea had not been so fiercely hostile. As with continental drift
it explains more of the facts more concisely than alternative theories,
and there no facts to prove it must be wrong

Clever question from Christopher Brochu. He says when hunting fossils
of crocodylians (that "y" looks strange, but he's got to be right) he
finds their bones in association not only with fishes and hippos but
al;so with herbivores and giraffes etc. So he asks: "Does that imply
that these horses and camels were aquatic?"

Answer: No, certainly not. But it doesn't prove that the crocodiles and
hippos lived out on the plains or in the desert either, just because
their bones were found in association with those of the camels. It is
the opponents of AAT who have always tended to assume that the fossil
record constitutes conclusive proof of the Savannah/mosaic theory. It
conclusively proves nothing of the kind. It leaves the question open.

Did I ever say the fossil record was irrelevant to AAT? If I did I was
out of my tiny mind. What I thought I said was that it was unlikely
that a hominid fossil would ever be discovered between that of the last
common ancestor and Lucy, the anatomy of which would prove conclusively
one way or the other whether or not it lived in a semi-aquatic
environment. On the main skeletal change i.e.bipedalism, we have no
consensus. To me it is evidence of wading behaviour, but I have to
accept that to others it means no such thing.

Of course the fossil
record is evidence. The anatomy is fuzzy evidence, open to debate and
different interpretations, even among opponents of AAT, who cannot
agree how arboreal Lucy was and so on.But the milieu is a different
thing. If somebody found an Afar-type First Family of hominids dating
from 6mya in an environment which testified to near-desert conditions
only by the presence of those camels, but by palynological evidence
also) then I would say AAT had suffered a near-mortal blow. If anyone
found an Afar-type First
Family from 6 or 7mya on Danakil, with evidence that they had been
eating fish or crustacea or at least lived in a habitat where those
things were in plentiful supply, I would think it was my birthday.
Of course if they found the desert fossils I would still try hard to
wriggle out of it, and if they found the waterside fossils the s/mers
would try hard to wriggle out of it. But in either case it would be all
over bar the shouting. Of course fossils are relevant.