The Savannah Hypothesis: Origin, Reception and Impact on Paleoanthropology
Renato Bender, Phillip V Tobias, Nicole Bender.
Hist. Phil. Life Sci., 34 (2012), 147-184
The reconstruction of the human past is a complex task characterized by a
high level of interdisciplinarity. How do scientists from different fields reach consensus on
crucial aspects of paleoanthropological research? The present paper explores this question
through an historical analysis of the origin, development, and reception of the savannah
hypotheses (SHs). We show that this model neglected to investigate crucial biological
aspects which appeared to be irrelevant in scenarios depicting early hominins evolving
in arid or semi-arid open plains. For instance, the exploitation of aquatic food resources
and other aspects of hominin interaction with water were largely ignored in classical
paleoanthropology. These topics became central to alternative ideas on human evolution
known as aquatic hypotheses. Since the aquatic model is commonly regarded as highly
controversial, its rejection led to a stigmatization of the whole spectrum of topics around
water use in non-human hominoids and hominins. We argue that this bias represents a
serious hindrance to a comprehensive reconstruction of the human past. Progress in this
field depends on clear differentiation between hypotheses proposed to contextualize early
hominin evolution in specific environmental settings and research topics which demand the
investigation of all relevant facets of early hominins’ interaction with complex landscapes.
Keywords - Human evolution, history of paleoanthropology, savannah hypothesis,
aquatic hypothesis, interdisciplinarity.
Waterside hypotheses of human evolution assert that selection from wading, swimming and diving and procurement of food from aquatic habitats have significantly affected the evolution of the lineage leading to Homo sapiens as distinct from that leading to Pan. (p118)
Kuliukas, A., Morgan, E. (2011). Aquatic scenarios in the thinking on human evolution: What are they and how do they compare?. In: Vaneechoutte, M., Verhaegen, M., Kuliukas, A. (2011). Was Man More Aquatic in the Past?