Re: Savanna: a slow demise

Elaine Morgan (
Fri, 22 Sep 1995 16:43:01 GMT

Pnich says there is no such thing as savannah theory, only a
range of ideas about what the habitat may have been, and the savannah
naturally gets a frequent mention.

That sounds fine. But in answering the question of why we are
different from the apes, nearly everyone assumes that it was due to
some change in the habitat. And until quite recently, whenever any of
them got down to hypothesising what it was in the habitat that caused
the speciation and the changes, nine out of ten attributed it to
savanna-type conditions, whether they used the term or not. It was
because conditions were arid, or plant food was scarce, or because
they were chasing herbivores. A very few, like Lovejoy, suggested
that bipedalism predated leaving the forests. Now a few like Hunt
are looking for new explanations, but this is quite recent. Wheeler
talks about mosaic conditions, but when explaining bipedalism or hair
loss, he still assumes the heat and the overhead sun and the
hyperthermia were the operant factors, for lack of anything better to

Savannah theory is not the theory that there was a savannah. It is the
use of it as sufficient explanation of human divergence from the
primate norm. I agree that that argument is a bit less explicitly in
evidnce nowadays, but as a presumed causal condition for change it does
not seem to have been replaced by anything nearly as convincing as
the pristine S.T. seemed to be in Dart's day.