The "Evolution and Complexity" Scientific Research Network of

the Fund for Scientific Research (FWO) - Flanders

has the pleasure to announce the



Water and Human Evolution

Savanna, forest or aquatic origins of our hominid ancestors?


Friday April 30th 1999, Ghent, Belgium




Modern humans have several typical characteristics like bipedalism, nakedness and breath control, which make us different from our nearest cousins. The classic idea is that these features can be explained as adaptations to a terrestrial and dry woodland-savanna environment, where our ancestors would have been active during the diurnal phase of the day. Recent fossil findings of early hominization times indicate that the possible origin of bipedalism within a forest context cannot be excluded.


However, there have been claims, mainly by non-specialists in the field, for a more or less aquatic way of life during parts of our past evolution. The latter view has been especially defended by journalist Elaine Morgan (UK) and physician Marc Verhaegen (Belgium), but until now these claims have been rejected by the majority of the professional scientific community, due to a lack of factual support.


Very recently, the well known paleo-anthropologist Phillip V. Tobias (South Africa), has proposed - without going into full details - that some data might justify a renewed interest in the hypothesis that at least part of our history took place in wetland environments.

(see: Phillip V. Tobias, Human Evolution, Outthere, December 1998).

On the other hand, John H. Langdon (Indiana) has made a critical study about the subject (J. Human Evolution (1997) 33: 479-494).



The EVOLUTION AND COMPLEXITY Scientific Research Network of the Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders (FWO) decided to organize a symposium, for which - among others - specialists in different disciplines were invited to speak, to discuss the pro's and contra's in the debate about the "dry" versus "wetland" hypothesis. The challenge of this symposium will be to find out whether there are irrefutable facts in the fossil record, and/or in our anatomy and physiology which prove that the acquisitions of the typical human features must be seen as primary adaptations to a kind of aquatic life in our past history, or whether many of these aspects are also seen in other mammals and vertebrates, which are presumed to have not had any water life past.


Organizing Committee:

Mario Vaneechoutte, Walter Verraes, Achiel Gautier, Dani De Waele,

Gertrudis Van de Vijver.

Faculty of Philosophy, Blandijnberg  2, Auditorium A and D, University Ghent, Belgium


Thursday April 29th (Auditorium A):
: Introductory BBC Natural History Unit film: "The aquatic ape".
To be premiered on Discovery Channel on May 22nd.

Friday April 30th 1999 (Auditorium D):

Chairmen: Walter Verraes & Achiel Gautier

8.45: Welcome. Walter Verraes, Department Zoology, Faculty Sciences, University
Ghent, Belgium

9.00: Elaine Morgan (Mountain Ash, UK): Human evolution - the water theory.

9.50: Marc Verhaegen (Putte, Belgium): Australopithecines wading, Homo diving?

10.35: Break.

11.00. Erika Schagatay (Lund, Sweden): The human diving response in a comparative mammalian perspective.

11.30: Armand Christophe (Gent, Belgium): Fatty-acids in diet and brain.

12.00: Stephen Cunnane (Toronto, Canada): A shore-based diet rich in energy and 'brain-specific' nutrients made human brain evolution possible.

12.30: Lunch (not included).

14.15: Mario Vaneechoutte (Gent, Belgium): Singing as a preadaptation to speech. Diving as a preadaptation to song?

14.45: John Langdon (Indianapolis, IN): The parsimony of aquatic and terrestrial models: How many hypotheses are necessary?

15.30: Break.

16.00: Phillip V. Tobias (Johannesburg, South Africa): The many currents in the stream of human evolution: the all-pervading roles of water.

17.00: Final discussion

18.00: End