New on site - Waters-Edge Evolution

Nutrition and Health, 2001, Vol. 15, pp. 63--67

0260-1060/01 $10

© 2001 A B Academic Publishers. Printed in Great Britain




David E. Marsh, NDA, is an author and (freelance) researcher in Alternative and Complementary medicine.

In his widely read book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962,
Thomas Kuhn 1 explained 'paradigms'-'belief systems'-based on the wisdom
of their age, which answered life's most difficult questions. Paradigms
might be a philosophy, a religion such as Creationism or Christianity: or a
scientific belief system such as Wallace and Darwin's theory of evolution by
natural selection.

Kuhn described the growth and progress of scientific revolutions: showing
how, following new discoveries and theories, one paradigm becomes
superceded by another. Such was the case with Darwin. His idea that
evolution occurred by natural selection, gradually became accepted: i.e. the
earth wasn't made in 6 days after all. God was relegated beyond the
environment. 2

Another paradigm is what is known as 'the savannah theory' of our origins,
established 1925 by Raymond Dart, the famous fossil hunter from
Witwatersrand University in South Africa. He discovered early 4 foot-tall
'australopithicines'. From this, and later finds, it was argued that our early
ancestors, being forest dwellers, learned to stand on two legs and to become
the 'killer' apes who hunted big mammals over the savannahs and plains. This
theory, which also explained how man has so large a brain, became the
'perceived wisdom' for the next 70 years. 3

However, in 1960 Sir Alistair Hardy from Oxford University, enlarging on
Max Westerhofer's ideas of 1923, suggested that "some modem human
anatomical features indicate an aquatic form of adaptation". 4 Hardy floated
the theory that when our (Homo sapiens) forebears, Homo erectus, emerged
from the forests they became riverine, lacustrine or marine shore-dwellers. 5
Elaine Morgan developed the idea in her books the Descent of Woman, the
Aquatic Ape 6 and the Scars of Evolution thus creating the new paradigm of
waters-edge evolution.7 • 8 The theory is based on certain anatomical features
that man shares with marine mammals (the cetaceans-whales, dolphins and
porpoises) which are not found in other land mammals. These include loss of
body hair; a layer of subcutaneous fat; innate ability to swim; a 'diving-
reflex', which slows down the heart-rate and reduces oxygen consumption
when the face is submerged; face to face copulation; the ability to weep (with
the exception of elephants, which have webbing between their toes, and have
been known to swim 300 miles); and far more sweat glands than any other
land mammal [see Aquatic Ape ].

In our books The Driving Force: Food in Evolution and the Future and
Nutrition & Evolution (Crawford & Marsh) we added specifically environ-
mental and nutritional dimensions to the debate, describing important
implications for our food choices today. 7

New evidence is now coming from archeological discoveries in north and
south Africa, Australia, Chile and northern Spain of remains and artifacts from
100,000 thousand years ago in South Africa, 9 from 125,000 years ago in
Eritrea, 10 14,700 years ago in Chile 11 which clearly demonstrate that the early
forebears of Homo sapiens were shore-dwellers living on fish, shell fish, and
aquatic plants, in addition to food from land or woods.

A significant number of top scientists fro10m various disciplines are now
espousing the waters-edge evolution theory which explains that Homo sapiens
didn't come from the lines of prairie dwellers after all. Homo erectus, being
shore dwelling, would have had a very different diet to that of the landlocked
savannah-dwellers, with their 'meat and two roots and shoots' and neanderthal
behaviour.  100,000 years ago in the last ice-age, the sea level would have
been much lower as water was held froze10n in the poles. Using coastways as
tracks the early travellers radiated out from Africa using the oceans rivers and
lakes for their food supply. 12 They would have had ample DHA, (long chained
essential fatty acid see below) one of two essential fatty acids which make up
60% of the human brain.

This "Out of Africa" hypothesis, pioneered by Chris Stringer from
London's Natural History Museum refutes the "multi-regional development
theory" which suggests that modem man emerged in different parts of the
world at around the same time. MRD theorists think Mungo Man from
Australia validates their viewpoint. Stringer thinks their work has been done
incorrectly. As Mungo Man was lacustrine (from Lake Mungo) 13 such
speculation does not detract from our thesis.

Leading biochemists in the field of essential fatty acids, amongst them
Michael Crawford of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at
North London University, explain how 'biochemistry provides an important
role for specific chemistry or nutrients in evolution' . 14 The central core of
Crawford's work over a number of decades has been to explain the roles of
the long-chained essential fatty acids (LCEFAs) in the evolution of the
modem human brain. Our brains are 60% long-chained essential fatty acid,
comprising roughly 50% DHA (n-3 docosahexaenoic acid) supplied by the
aquatic food chain, and 50% AA (n-6 arachidonic acid) from the land food
chain. The land/sea interface represents a niche which probably wouldn't have
remained unexploited in the hard grind of evolution. 14

So were n-3 EFAs the cause of the increase in size and intelligence ofthe
evolving homo brain? If so, could similar deficiencies be involved in the
recent rises in incidence of depression and suicide, or the alarmingly common
Altzheimer's disease? Experts at the cutting edge of EFA research com-
menting on 'unipolar depression' (the new name for depression), believe it to
be caused by a shortage of DHA in the developing and the developed brain.
Furthermore, a link has been discovered in 'tendencies toward violent
behaviour' exhibited by people with poor brain development caused by DHA
deficiency. 14-17 'Meat and two veg' supplies very little DHA: there is concern
that the nation, eating less fish than it used to, may be at risk from a shortage
of this crucial nutrient.

The significance of the current paradigm shift may make us realise that
nutrition is a key not just to brain development but to brain function. Genes
we know are vital, but genetic potentiSeeal will not be achieved when central
biochemical nutrients are in short supply. 'Waters-edge evolution theory' may
help us to realise that the health and fitness of our own immediate micro
environment is dependent on quality nutrition, including fish or shell fish if
possible, or otherwise foods such as chlorella, a microscopic unicelled leaf
(which 'divides', making four unicelled leaves every 28 hours). Chlorella and
spirulina have a wide range of vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and some
surprisingly long-chained essential fatty acids. (In France they give chlorella
to backward school children).

Pondering on the now well-understood transgenerational effects of
nutrition, 14 • 16 whilst also considering the eating habits of certain social
groupings over the last couple of centuries, it can be reasoned that the diseases
of our civilisation, some of which have almost reached pandemic pro-
portions--cancer, heart disease, depression, mental illness, asthma,
Alzheimer, diabetes, suicide and other common problems such as low birth-
weight babies: autistic, hyperactive and allergic children-may be seen
collectively as examples of non-adaptive evolution - in response to an
increasingly impoverished and polluted environment providing the nation with
a multi-generationally poor diet.

Coincidentally or not, Great Britain with its Neanderthal diet, has the worst
health record (and possibly, behavioural problems) of any country in western
Europe. Making political targets to ease these problems is worthy: but the
solutions lie in improving the qualities of our environment, soils, food chain 18
and particularly our eating habits. 19 Were we to return to the diet our dis-
tinguished ancestors lived on for hundreds of millennia we could help to
prevent worse pandemics in the near future. 20

To conclude: for more than 70 years paleobiologists held the view that it
was on the savannahs, in fierce laboratories of competition, that the human
brain evolved. Crawford comments. "The biochemical evidence indicates that
this was impossible. The savannah species lost brain capacity logarithmically
as they evolved larger bodies. The richest source of the lipids and trace
elements that would have been needed for cerebral expansion was at the land/
water interface". 14

We now have the knowledge: do we have sufficient political and economic
will to change? 20 • 21


1. Thomas S. Kuhn (1962; 2nd ed. 1970). University of Chicago Press.

2. By his own admission Darwin had no love for Christianity. It's ironic to look back-from
a century or so later-to see that the new paradigm of natural selection virtually 'pulled
the rug' from beneath the feet of religious institutions and values. And by adding to
Darwinism a stiff dose of Richard Dawkins we discover a recipe for a form of materialism
imbalanced by lack of artistic, philosophical, spiritual and other cultural values.

3. R.A. Dart (1953). The Predatory Transition from Ape to Man, International
Anthropological and Linguistic Review, 1(4).

4. Professor Emeritus Phillip V. Tobias, Department of Anatomical Sciences, University of
the Witwatersrand, Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown, 2193, Johannesburg,
S. Africa: see

5. Alistair Hardy (April 1960). Was Man more Aquatic in the Past? New Scientist, 1, 64-65.

6. E. Morgan, The Descent of Woman, 1972; The Aquatic Ape, 1982 (written with Professor
Sir Alistair Hardy's assistance), and The Scars of Evolution, 1990; Souvenir Press,

7. Crawford, M.A. and Marsh, D.E. The Driving Force; Food in Evolution and the Future,
Harper & Row, N. Y: Heinemann, London, 1989; Nutrition and Evolution, Mandarin,
London 1991, paperback. For an e-mail version of the manuscript before editing, upon
which both these books are based, contact the author.

8. Kate Douglas, Taking the Plunge, New Scientist, 25/11/2000, pp 28-33; see also

9. Professor Chris Henshilwood: the State University of New York.

10. Walter, Robert C. et al., Letters to Nature, 405, May 4, 2000; Mexico's Centro de
Investigacion Cientifica y Educacion Superior de Ensenada.

11. Pitts, Mike: The Guardian (London, UK) Are we all from the land of Oz? Thursday

12. Stringer, Chris; Coasting Out of Africa: Nature, 405, May 4, 2000; (there were certain neanderthals in Europe-some think there is neanderthal blood around today).

13. http:l/

14. Professor Michael A. Crawford PhD, CBiol, FlBiol, FRCPath; at the time Chair: the McCarrison Society for Nutrition and Health;  Director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition, Imperial College, London.

15. Sir Robert McCarrison, an early pioneer of nutritional science, was a research doctor,
funded by the British government. He was founder and director of the Nutrition Research
Laboratories, Coonoor, India His unique work 'showed how human health is related to the
wholeness of food (and the health of the soil it is grown on)'.

16. House, Simon (2000). Generating Healthy People, Nutrition and Health, 14, 147-193

17. Pook, Sally, One in ten thinks that life is not worth living, The Daily Telegraph, October 16, 2000. Separate survey by the Schools Health Education Unit.

18. HRH The Prince of Wales and Charles Clover. Highgrove: Porait of an Estate,
Chapmans, 1993.

19. Sir Robert McCarrison, Nutrition and Health; The McCarrison Society for Nutrition and
Health, 1982.; Weston A. Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Price-Pottinger,
Nutrition Foundation, 1982; P 0 Box 2614, La Mesa, CA 92041; E. Firman, Variations
in mineral content in vegetables, Baer Report, Rutgers University, Iowa, USA.

20. Marsh, David E. (March 2001). The New Paradigm; a new theory of human origins,
International Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

21. Marsh, David E. (May 2001). The Role of the Essential Fatty Acids in the Evolution of
the Modem Human Brain. Positive Health, 64.

(Received 21 December 2001)