“There is no doubt that man is not a fish, but, at the same time, we cannot accept the too limiting idea that he has an exclusive bearing on life on land and that, therefore, he cannot (…) readjust to the aquatic environment”(from “L’uomo è l’acqua” (Man is water))
The Holy Scriptures tell us that water precedes Creation itself: from the aquatic Abyss the heavens, the earth and everything in them were formed.
“Man is formed at the end of Creation so that he is an active part in building order out of chaos”, and is a creature capable of adapting to the characteristics of the environment in which he lives. So the question arises as to how, at the origin and in the course of evolution, its relationship with water developed, from which it all begins.
An answer comes from the recent past through a leap in time to England in the 1900s, 60s, which carries us on two Chesterfield armchairs in a very refined tobacco colour, in the company of the zoologist Sir Alister Hardy to listen to the “Aquatic ape hypothesis”.
Proposed for the first time in the 1940s by the German Max Westenhöfer, it states that our ancestors would have undergone some physical transformations favoured by a semi-aquatic phase before returning to terrestrial life, then decisive for Homo sapiens.
The adaptation to the water has determined the hairlessness, precisely because a more effective insulator than fur is needed in this element. Then there are other characteristics of the feet, hands and skeleton that bring man closer to aquatic mammals and which, in a part of the world’s population, are still present today, including almost webbed toes.
We are bipedal and attracted to water unlike most primates, especially chimpanzees who occasionally walk on two legs only when they need to avoid getting wet.
For the “swimming” ancestors, on the other hand, it would have been precisely the same contact and life in the water that contributed to the development of the brain, intelligence and language.
Peculiar characteristics on which anthropology constantly questions itself and to which this Hypothesis is the only one able to give coherent answers.
There is also an analysis conducted by a group of palaeontologists in the 1990s: studying the fossils of the contemporary microfauna coexisting in the same environment as the human ancestors, they discovered that these belong to river environments and not to the savannah. Deepening their studies to seek further confirmation, they found the same characteristic in the study of fossil pollen.
It is clear that this theory outlines an even closer man-water link than one might imagine, leading to further profound reflections.
Speaking of water and ancestors, here is an invitation to (re)read the legend of the ancient amphibious inhabitants of the Po Delta, which inspired the great Howard Phillips Lovecraft (>Legendary landscapes: among the waters in the Po Delta).
“Knowing where we come from helps us understand in which direction we need to go”.
“L’uomo è l’acqua” (Man is water) by Armando Sangiorgio, Francesco Guarino, Lucia Martiniello (Editoriale Anicia, 2021)
“L’acqua pura e semplice” (Pure and simple water) by Paolo Consigli (Tecniche Nuove, 2005