|Algis Kuliukas BSc, MSc|
|University College London|
Although I graduated with a degree in Zoology/Pharmacology from Nottingham University - a relevant degree for someone who is interested in human evolution - that was a long time ago. I have worked in the computer industry for most of the time since then (self-employed since 1990 as a SQL Server instructor), gradually drifting away from biological sciences and feeling growingly frustrated that I'd wasted my degree.
When my wife, who is a midwifery teacher, gave birth to our fourth child with the help of a birthing tub, it rekindled my interest in human evolution and sparked a fascination with the so-called "aquatic ape hypothesis" (AAH). I read most of Elaine Morgan's work about it and became distracted by the dilemma it posed: Everything she wrote seemed so sensible and plausible and yet the official texts on human evolution ignored the idea absolutely. There was no rebuttal, no explanation of why it was wrong... nothing. It was as if the theory did not exist.
I became so frustrated by this I decided to go back to university to study human evolution properly for myself. I was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of why the AAH was ignored. When I arrived at UCL in September 2000 I honestly expected that the AAH would be a hot topic. Everyone would be discussing it, I thought. I couldn't wait until it was the subject at one of the seminars. Then, perhaps, I'd find out why it was flawed. Then I'd get to hear why Elaine Morgan must be wrong.
Of course, that never happened. The AAH was
simply not on the agenda. It was not on the syllabus, not on any reading list
and it was only discussed in seminars because I raised it - to the predictable
groans of frustration from most of my fellow students! I felt rather like a
pariah bringing it up and I even started self-censoring myself,
allowing myself two mentions of the dreaded 'a' word per session. I must say the
most disappointing moments on the course from my point of view were those spent
sitting in a lecture hall with scores of undergraduate students all writing down
the story about human evolution. All those young, inquisitive minds listening
and concentrating on the fascinating enigma which is the study of human
evolution and yet the
most common question they asked was "how do you spell that?"
Even then, in 2001, the 'official' answer was still ...
... "s - a - v - a - n - n - a - h".
I really enjoyed my time at UCL although I'm not sure if they felt the same way about me! The key people I had dealings with: Leslie Aeillo, Cathy Keys, Mark Collard, Volker Sommer, Simon Hillson and Mark Thomas were inspirational. They taught me a great deal in a short space of time. But perhaps the thing I learned most was that the AAH has not actually been rebutted at all. In fact it has hardly even been considered.
It would appear that it has been dismissed out of hand but it is difficult to know on what basis this conclusion has been made as the number of scientific studies into it have been minimal to say the least. In that regard I was pleased that I knew, right from the moment I stepped into UCL, what subject I wanted to study for my project.
I decided to write my thesis on the origins of bipedalism and look at the possibility - again never seriously considered in academia - that it arose out of apes that were adapted to a water-side niche. My thesis "Bipedal Wading in Hominoidae past and present" is, (incredibly to my mind), perhaps the first serious study into the possibility that bipedalism might have originated in wading apes. I found that the evidence is actually very strong indeed. It seems to me that if only someone, in the previous 41 years and 5 months that had passed by since Alister Hardy did most of the thinking for us and first published the idea, had even given the possibility a cursory glance they would have seen its explanatory strength. Amazingly, nobody seems to have done so.The fact that my thesis, controversial as it was, was rewarded with a distinction was a big surprise to me and did much to restore my faith in academia. It convinced me that if only more people were motivated to study this area objectively with the scientific method then the AAH is sure to receive a much fairer hearing than it has so far. So, that is what I decided to do. I am currently now doing a PhD at the University of Western Australia, again looking at wading as a possible precursor to hominid bipedality.
There is so much work still to be done in this fascinating area. I want to be part of it. I would encourage anyone else interested in this to do the same.
I have given a couple of talks on the AAH. Once at the Radical Anthropology Group (organised by Chris Knight and Lionel Sims of UEL) in London and once at the UEL itself to a class of undergraduates.
Since 2003, I have been enrolled at UWA (The University of Western Australia) where I'm doing a Ph.D. in bipedal origins. My general PhD proposal can be found by following this link.
Since arriving in Australia I've attended three ASHB (Australiasian Society for Human Biology) seminars and presented three short papers. In 2004 I was awarded the student first prize for my talk entitled 'The so-called aquatic ape hypothesis: Rejected or just misunderstood?"Over the past four years now, I've been working on my PhD thesis "A Wading Component in the Origin of Hominid Bipedality?". The thesis begins by reviewing all the models (at least 35 of them) that have been published on bipedal origins to date against an evaluative framework of twelve criteria which, it is suggested, would be essential characteristics of an 'optimal' model. Based on this evalutation the wading ideas of Hardy, Morgan, Verhaegen and Niemitz appear to be the strongest, but also have a few weaknesses. The rest of the study attempts to fill in those weaknesses by modifying the wading model and, where possible, by testing those modifications. The thesis is very much a multithreaded project, including exercise physiology components analysing the energetic cost of wading with different gaits and at different speeds in different depths of water, the morphometric analysis of australopithecine femur and pelvis, comparative locomotor behaviour in primates and other mammals, as well as the paleoecology of fossil sites. Although the thesis is not yet completed it is clear that the work done so far strongly supports wading models of hominid bipedalism. The first place it will go when it is finished, will be this web site.
Some of my work and more unusual ideas...
Paper published on the wading hypothesis in HOMO. The relative cost of bent-hip bent-knee walking is reduced in water. Kuliukas, Milne & Fournier (2009)
AAH ASHB 2004 Prize-winning presentation - Powerpoint Slides. (10Mb)
AAH ASHB 2004 Presentation - Transcript of the talk with slides. (6.7Mb)
AAH ASHB 2004 Pesentation - Transcript of the talk text only.. (78Kb)
Langdon's Critique of Aquatic Ape Hypothesis - Not the Last Word
Wading for Food: The Driving Force of the Evolution of Bipedalism. (Published in Food & Nutrition. V 16 N0 4 2002)
Bipedal Wading in Hominoidae Past and Present (MSc Thesis September 2001) (PDF Format)
Why did we start walking? ... or was it wading? (Easier read version of thesis - September 2001)
Human hybridisation origins theory. (Archaeological Genetics Essay: March 2001)
"Water Babies" a 30 minute documentary produced by the Home Office for a series of science programmes called "The Edge." It included interviews with people such as Alister Hardy, Elaine Morgan, Phillip Tobias, Leslie Aeillo, David Horrobin, Vernon Reynolds, John Parkington, Peter Wheeler and... me (thanks to Leslie Aiello putting my name forward to them). I was interviewed by a swimming pool about my wading hypothesis and they actually used twelve seconds of it. Here is the full transcript. (You'll need Adobe.acrobat to read it.)
Seminar ACQIs: Richmond & Strait's Knuckle-Walking Paper. Wheeler's Thermoregulatory hypothesis
I'd welcome any feedback on the
Aquatic Ape Hypothesis generally or my River Ape model specifically.