During the making of David Attenborough’s second Radio 4 series, The Waterside Ape, broadcast in September, 2016, there was much discussion about one particular issue that was not addressed in the programme. – If our earliest ancestors lived on the African coast during the drought-stricken Miocene era, what did they do for fresh water?
Working in consultation with the series producer and a number of other contributors, a sequence of experiments was devised to test the hypothesis that we might be able to absorb water through our pores, contrary to the popular belief that skin is completely waterproof.
The results of both the fresh water and sea water experiments produced evidence that humans are uniquely able to absorb sufficient fresh water when immersed to remain fully hydrated without drinking at all. https://www.academia.edu/36514226/
We propose to expand the study to include a range of ages, sexes and nationalities to satisfy the scientific requirement that the experiment be repeatable and the results reproducible in both salt water and fresh. In addition, more detailed measurements will be taken to establish how soon after immersion the loss of water due to the diuretic effect of atrial natriuretic hormone is exceeded by the function of the eccrine glands by recording changes in body weight, the volume and density of urine produced and other biometrics such as changes in blood pressure.
Volunteers will choose to be either physically active, playing team sports and swimming or else simply relaxing in the water during a four hour period.
Subjective impressions regarding volunteers’ sensation of thirst, mood, and fatigue will also be recorded along with any spontaneous observations. The very specific goals are to test the following three hypotheses;
— that humans can absorb water through their skin;
— that the water is absorbed at a rate sufficient to maintain full hydration;
— that water absorbed from the sea is fresh water.
Why is this project Important?
It is very rare in science, especially in such an extensively studied field as human physiology, to discover something completely new and totally unexpected.
It is even more exceptional when a testable hypothesis may be able to resolve a scientific dispute that has been debated for over sixty years.
Robert Ardrey popularised Raymond Dart’s “killer Ape” theory of human evolution in the early 1960s and Elaine Morgan developed Alister Hardy’s aquatic hypothesis a decade later. Proponents of the two competing theories have been passionately defending their views ever since.
A clearly marine adaptation like eccrine reverse osmosis in modern humans would significantly reduce the likelihood that naked apes acquired this adaptation on the Savannah.
It is important that this experiment is carried out as rigorously as possible because, in science, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”
If the results of the experiment are as conclusive as the preliminary findings have suggested then it would have implications for several fields of research. For instance, in a 32 year long study Professor Steven Blair, University of South Carolina, discovered that swimming confers previously unsuspected health benefits far in excess of those provided by other forms of exercise. In a study of more than 40,000 men ages 20 to 90, he found that swimmers were 50 percent less likely to die during the study period than were walkers or runners. No reason for this disparity has yet been suggested.
One possibility is that, if water is absorbed through the skin, then it must help to flush out every inch of the interstitium as well as all the dead cells, lymphocytes, proteins and fats that can accumulate in the lymphatic system and which may go on to form arterial plaque, whereas water absorbed from the gut will take a more direct route to the kidneys. This could have major implications for a number of cardiovascular conditions.
In this context note will be taken of any difference in absorption rates between regular swimmers and non-swimmers, whose lymphatic systems may be more congested.
One other very obvious implication of a successful outcome would be that anyone cast adrift or ashore without drinking water would have an alternative means of hydration without having to drink urine or endure bilge water enemas as is currently recommended in a survival situation.
Equipment purchase/rental > £1,000
Volunteers’ expenses > £500
Laboratory fees and admin > £1,000
Video production > £500
The scale of the experiment will be dependent on the available finance. Preliminary trials are already in hand and facilities have been secured for the first multi-subject fresh water trial in Minnesota. Several ancillary studies have also been proposed if funding permits.These include laboratory studies of dermal porosity using heavy water (D2O) to put the first hypothesis beyond doubt.
Gareth Morgan is an independent researcher, writer, lecturer and broadcaster. He was the author of the original paper on reverse osmosis in humans. https://www.academia.edu/36514226/
Richard Collins is a radio writer and producer whose BBC Radio 4 credits include the series Scars of Evolution (2006) and The Waterside Ape (2016), both presented by Sir David Attenborough. He is also a co-author, with Professor Tom Brenna, of the first paper to propose vernix caseosa as a semi-aquatic adaptation, published in Nature in 2018.
Role: editing the paper; advising on video production.
Peter Rhys-Evans has over 250 scientific publications to his credit along with five books, including the Principles and Practice of Head and Neck Surgery, which was awarded “best international publication in Otolaryngology’ by the University of London.
He delivered the prestigious 2017 Royal College of Surgeons Arris & Gale lecture on the impact of aquatic environments on early human evolution and chaired an international symposium at the Royal Marsden in London on the same topic.
His latest book, The Waterside Ape – An Alternative Account of Human Evolution, encompasses all the most recent research in the field.
Formerly head of ENT / Head & Neck Surgery at The Royal Marsden Hospital, London, Peter now practices at The Harley Street Clinic, The Lister Hospital and The Princess Grace Hospital.
Peter is also the founder and Executive Chairman of Oracle Cancer Trust, a charity that has raised over £6 million since 2001 for head and neck cancer research.
Role: advising on protocols and interpreting physiological data.
Francesca Mansfield is owner/director of a yacht charter company based in the Gulf of Volos, Greece.
Fluent in both Greek and English, her lifelong love affair with the sea has been enhanced by her fascination with the aquatic theory of human evolution which began when her mother handed her a copy of Elaine Morgan’s ‘The Descent of Woman’.
She maintains and manages The Aquatic Human Ancestor Theory website and has made many contributions to our understanding of early human development, with particular reference to the role of women and their enhanced aquatic abilities.
Role: website development; identifying potential volunteers.
Tom Brenna is Professor of Pediatrics, of Chemistry, and of Nutrition at the Dell Medical School of the University of Texas at Austin and Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
He carried out much of the fundamental work studying the efficacy, safety, and metabolism of food sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids. He also developed instrumentation and methods for mass spectrometry techniques that led to further understanding of trans fatty acids. More recently he has explored the nutritional significance of the little known saturated branched chain fatty acids and the potentially life-saving importance of balanced omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids used in recovery from severe acute malnutrition.
Professor Brenna has served on numerous national and international advisory panels on human nutrition. He is currently immediate past President of ISSFAL, the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids and a board member of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership.
Role: designing and carrying out the heavy water experiment.
Michael Crawford is a director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition and is currently a visiting professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College, London.
Michael may be best known for his work on the link between dietary fats, atherosclerosis and cardio-vascular disease while his ground-breaking work on dietary fatty acids and their impact on the evolution and development of the human brain has made omega 3 and omega 6 household names.
Role: advising on experimental methodology; data analysis.
Four times World Record-holding freediver Sara Campbell brings a unique perspective to the subject of human immersion.
In her Discover Your Depths courses she teaches people to transcend their perceived limitations through breathing, yoga and meditation and to achieve goals that may be considered theoretically impossible. The same techniques enabled her to go from beginner to three-times World Record holder in just nine months.
As “the world’s deepest woman” Sara has been the subject of several BBC documentaries and numerous feature articles in the international press. She is also an experienced video producer, director and presenter in her own right.
She is passionate about people and perceives a fundamental connection between humanity and the ocean as our natural home and is dedicated to its protection.
Sara lives and works in the town of Dahab on the shores of the Red Sea in Egypt.
Role: advising on care and welfare of volunteer subjects.
Jonathan Foss, who graduated with a BA in biology, is the co-founder and Chairman of the FOSS Swim Schools, based in Minneapolis, USA, with 800 staff in six states who have taught over 300,000 graduate swimmers. FOSS-trained swimmers have set 40 national age-group records and include the fastest ever American women in both the backstroke and breaststroke.
Keynote speaker at Coaching and Teaching conferences in Australia, Sweden, New Zealand and the USA, Jon has also sat on the board of national swim school associations, (NSSA, U.S. and ANZUS) as well as being awarded Age Group Coach of the year by ASCA.
Role: providing equipment and facilities, supervising fresh water immersions and liaising with ethics committee.
Algis Kuliukas graduated in Zoology/Pharmacology from Nottingham University, followed by a Masters’ degree in Human Evolution at University College London.
He has spent many years studying waterside hypotheses of human evolution and earned his PhD at the University of Western Australia (UWA) for his thesis “A Wading Component in the Origin of Hominid Bipedality” which included experiments revealing the energy efficiency of wading in different depths with different traits.
Dr Kuliukas is currently teaching at the School of Human Sciences at UWA.
Role: advising on metabolic processes and interpreting experimental data.
Marc Verhaegen is a medical doctor practicing near Mechelen in Belgium. One of the major contributors to the study of the influence of aquatic environments on human evolution, he has written some fifty publications on a wide range of related topics.
These include papers on specific anatomical features such as pachyosteosclerosis, sinus function and tooth enamel erosion as well as on wider issues such as the significance of a marine diet and the origins of human speech.
He has written extensively on the evidence for the coastal dispersal of early humans and maintains a 300 member internet discussion group devoted to relevant research.
Role: advising on methodology and post publication dissemination.
To thank you for your support
Thank you for your support! All donors will be the first to see the raw data from the experiments.
Thank you for your support! All donors at this level will see the raw data and be first to read the resulting paper pre-publication
Thank you for your support! All donors at this level will receive the above, plus first viewing of the video.
Thank you for your support! All donors at this level will receive the above and a personalised message of thanks from the author, with additional background details and inside stories.
Thank you for your support! All donors at this level will receive the above plus an invitation to observe the experiment, meet the team and appear in the video.
Thank you for your support! All donors at this level will receive the above plus an invitation to join the team for the celebratory meal and post game analysis.
Thank you for your support! All donors at this level will receive the above plus your name on the paper as co-author.