A conversation with Vernon Reynolds
Sunday April 16th 2023 (9am UK time)
(3rd Sunday in April - after Easter)
Roede et el (1991) is a title anyone interested in the so-called "aquatic ape hypothesis" should have on their bookshelf. It is the proceedings of the 1987 Valkenberg Symposium, Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? This was where a group of scientists and other interested academics gathered in the Dutch town near Maastricht to debate what was, at the time, a very hot topic in the field of physical anthropology.
The book is still one of the most important, and certainly the most balanced, on the subject, presenting eleven chapters for and eleven against, rather like a football cup final.
The key person with the unenviable task of editing the proceedings and coming up with a suitable form of words to summarise the conference was the famous primatologist, Vernon Reynolds.
His carefully chosen words in the final chapter are, perhaps, the most important written on the subject: "... I do not think it would be correct to designate our early hominid ancestors as 'aquatic'. But at the same time there does seem to be evidence that not only did they take to the water from time to time but that water (and by this I mean inland lakes and rivers) was a habitat that provided enough extra food to count as an agency for selection."
These words made a big impact on a few interested readers. Another famous primatologist, Colin Groves, for example, picked up on them in his book review of Roede et al in 1993. When I read them in the late 1990s I thought "at last! some common sense on the subject".
Vernon's words were used in the attempted relabeling and definition of the idea as "waterside hypotheses of human evolution" and his interest indirectly led to the start of this WHAT Talks series.
His conversation with Simon Bearder on the subject a couple of years ago inspired Simon to make contact and provide the impetus for this series of talks.
So, who better than Vernon to discuss these ideas today?
Vernon chose not to give a formal talk in the way most guest speakers have here and preferred a more informal conversation format for which it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to oblige.
The conversation was recorded and then a second meeting was held to talk about things that had been missed. The recording of the second was appended to the first and the resulting (fairly long) video will be posted here soon as WHAT Talk #18a.
We talked at length about Vernon's impressive career and then focused on Valkenberg. What aspects of waterside hypotheses did Vernon think were most compelling back then, and how might the debate have changed in the 36 years since?
A truncated version of the conversation will be made and presented 'live' at the next WHAT Talks meeting on 16th April at 9am UK time.
Vernon Reynolds – short bio
Collyers School, Horsham, Sussex 1946-53
Army service (Royal Artillery) 1954-56
First degree was in Anthropology at University College London 1956-9
PhD on rhesus monkeys 1959-62
Chimpanzees in Uganda 1962 to the present day with interruptions
Taught Anthropology at Bristol University 1966-72
Taught Biological Anthropology at Oxford University 1972 – 2001
Professor of Biological Anthropology, Oxford
Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford
1990 Founded the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda (www.budongo.org)
Now retired and living in Sussex since 2001, with annual visits to the Budongo Forest, Uganda
Married to Frankie Reynolds since 1960, 2 children and 5 grandchildren.
The original recorded conversation with Vernon Reynolds (on 16th February) and subsequent meeting (on March 7th) to discuss anything we thought we'd missed.
The Proceedings of the Valkenberg Conference 1987.
Part 1 : The Aquatic Ape Theory
1 The Origins of a Theory (Elaine Morgan)
2 Why a New Theory is Needed (Elaine Morgan)
3 The Evolution of Genus Homo: Where it Happened (Leon P LaMuniere)
4 Is an Aquatic Ape Viable in Terms of Marine Ecology and Primate Behaviour? (Derek Ellis)
5 Aquatic Features in Fossil Hominids? (Marc Verhaegen)
Part 2: Reactions to the Aquatic Ape Theory: For and Against.
6 The Refutation that Never Was: The Reception of the Aquatic Ape Theory, 1972-1987 (Graham Richards)
7 Does the Geological Evidence Support the Aquatic Ape Theory? (Martin Pickford)
8 Adaptation and the Aquatic Ape (Alan Turner)
9 The Aquatic Ape Theory, Seen from Epistemological and Palaeoanthropological Viewpoints (Holger and Sigme Preuschoft)
10 What Constitutes an Aquatic Mammal? (Paul Leyhausen)
11 Human Regulation of Body Temperature and Water Balance (Marc Verhaegen)
12 Adipose Tissie in Human Evolution (Caroline Pond)
13 Body Hair Reduction and Tract Orientation in Man: Hydrodynamics or Thermoregulatory Aerodynamics? (Peter Wheeler)
14 Human Respiratory Adaptations for Swimming and Diving (John Patrick)
15 The Significance of the Human Diving Reflex (Erika Schagatay)
16 The Burden of Locomotion in Water: Could the Aquatic Ape Have Overcome It? (Joseph Ghesquiere and Helene Bunkens)
17 The Non-Aquatic Ape: The Aquatic Ape Theory and the Evolution of Human Drowning and Swimming (Jan Wind)
18 Do Aquatic Mammals Provide Support for the Aquatic Ape Theory? (Machteld Roede)
19 More Thoughts on the Aquatic Ape Thoery (5 short pieces)
20 Aquatic Man (Machteld Roede)
Part 3: General Conclusions
21 Cold and Watery? Hot and Dusty? Our Ancestral Environment and Our Ancestors Themselves: an overview. (Vernon Reynolds)
22 Epilogue: Is There a Future for the Aquatic Ape Theory?
For anyone who does not have a copy of Roede et al. Here are PDFs of the chapters.
... and the rest.
Sunday March 13th 2023
Saint Olaf College, B.A. Biology 1987
Level 5 ASCA Swim Coach
• Coach, Foxjet Swim Club 1987 to 1995, 8 Overall State Championships, 12 national records, American Record Holder.
• Over 25 years as CEO of one of the world’s largest and most successive swim schools.
• Wrote curriculum that now teaches Two million lessons per year.
• Aquajet Swim Club Founder/Coach 2002-08, Fastjet Swim Club 2007 to 2018, 40 national records, 30 state championships, 2 American Records, 2 Olympians. • Designed, built and financed $40 million commercial buildings. • CEO Vitamin C solutions LLC. 2019 to present.
• Wrote unique curriculum for swim school and competitive training. 225 skills and techniques called KADS.
• Collegiate NCAA All-American, Masters All-American.
• Top 10 finisher Masters World Swimming Championships 2004
• Keynote speaker to 2002, 2002, 2006, 2008 Swim School ANZUS Conferences, 2010 ASCTA Australia Gold Coast, 2012 NZSCTA Auckland, 2014 WADC Malmo Sweden
• Board of Directors
• Awarded five U.S. Patents
• Author: The Oxenforders Begin to Swim” 2021
Jon Foss has over 25 years experience as CEO of one of the world’s largest and most successive swim schools.
In this talk, he gives us the benefit of his time competing and coaching swimming which led him to the conclusion that humans have a set of anatomical traits that give all of us the potential to become highly competent in water.
A detailed list of such traits is presented, some more speculative than others, but all consistent with the idea of humans having a more aquatic past.
Here is the PDF Jon used in his presentation...