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No. 139: Jan-Feb 2002

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Who Needs Boats?

We don't know why our distant ancestors would forsake the idyllic tropical island of Bali, but some 900,000 years ago they somehow reached Flores, the next Indonesian island in the chain trending toward Australia. Sea levels were lower 900,000 years ago, but Flores was still 19 kilometers away. How did our ancestors cross this water barrier? There is no evidence whatsoever that these hominids built boats. How about simple rafts? Possibly, but there is another way. They swam the 19 kilometers (12 miles)! Many modern humans can paddle this far and it seems reasonable that ancient peoples could, too.

Another water barrier may have been crossed by African swimmers a million or so years ago. Their artifacts are found in southern Spain. Did they swim across the Strait of Gibraltar rather than trek the long land route through the Middle East and across mountainous southern Europe?

These possible aquatic feats of our ancestors are not in themselves enough to strongly interest an anomalist but when they are coupled to another recent discovery they add weight to a much more fascinating speculation that early hominids were once marine mammals -- or at least nearly so.

More important to this radical thesis than human swimming prowess is the recent scuttling of of the vaunted paradigm that modern humans began evolving only when they split from the forest-dwelling primates and invaded the African savannahs. It now seems that the regions once thought to have been savannahs were actually heavily forested when the human Great Leap Forward occurred.

Anthropologist P. Tobias now ventures that modern man really began evolving when he escaped the heavy competition from other primates in the dense forests and took to the seacoast , which was a wide-open niche. There, in the coastal waters, the "aquatic ape" swam up the evolutionary ladder -- toward us! Before snorting in derision at such apostasy, reflect upon some of our aquatic features -- -can they all be coincidental?�Compared to the other primates, we are exceptional swimmers.

(Douglas, Kate; "Taking the Plunge," New Scientist, p. 28, November 2000.)
Reference. There is much more to the "aquatic ape" theory. See BHA in Biological Anomalies: Humans I.

From Science Frontiers #139, Jan-Feb 2002. � 2001 William R. Corliss

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