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Observations placeholder

Seven Ages of Man - 05 The Mermaids and mermen - 01 Aquatic man



Type of Spiritual Experience


Oannes - Kirchner

One of the most intriguing theories to emerge about our ancestors is that of the ‘aquatic man’.  All the legends of mermaids and mermen, nixies, nymphs, naiads and so on may have evolved from these peoples.  Shamans can shape shift and imagine themselves to be fish, thus there are other explanations for the categories.  In some systems such as that of the Greek, they also became archetypical representations of the functions of the universe related to water.  But the idea of a ‘water people’ appears to be tenable and becomes more interesting when one considers the feats of the free divers. 

Just like the other types of peoples, these people became ‘extinct’, and being aquatic, the chance of any fossils being found would seem completely impossible.  Thus the theories remain theories.

In 1987 a symposium was held in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, to debate the pros and cons of whether mermaids and mermen existed. The proceedings of the symposium were published in 1991 with the title Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? Needless to say the results were totally inconclusive.  But this does not mean the idea is wrong.  It just needs more evidence.

The following people contributed to the development and exploration of this topic:

Max Westenhöfer


The German pathologist Max Westenhöfer (1871–1957) was possibly the first scientist to propose the idea of  "the aquatile man" (German: aquatiler Mensch), which he described in several publications during the 1930s and 1940s.  Westenhöfer argued that a number of traits in humans derived from a fully aquatic existence in the open seas, and that humans only in recent times returned to land. In 1942, he stated: "The postulation of an aquatic mode of life during an early stage of human evolution is a tenable hypothesis, for which further inquiry may produce additional supporting evidence." Without supporting physical evidence, such as fossil bones, Westenhöfer's aquatic thesis reached a dead end in conventional scientific circles, although anthropologists did not abandon his ideas and he gradually ceased publishing on the subject around the end of the Second World War.

Sir Alister Hardy


Independently and unaware of Westenhöfer's writings, marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy (1896–1985) had since 1930 also hypothesized that humans may have had ancestors more aquatic than previously imagined, although his work, unlike Westenhöfer's, was rooted in the Darwinian consensus. As a young academic with a hypothesis belonging to a topic outside his field, and warned by colleagues that he could jeopardize his career if he published such a controversial idea, Hardy delayed reporting his idea for some thirty years. After he had become a respected academic and knighted for contributions to marine biology, Hardy finally voiced his thoughts in a speech to the British Sub-Aqua Club in Brighton on 5 March 1960. Several national newspapers reported distorted presentations of Hardy's ideas, which he countered by explaining them more fully in an article in New Scientist on 17 March 1960. Hardy defined his idea:

My thesis is that a branch of this primitive ape-stock {hominoids} was forced by competition from life in the trees to feed on the sea-shores and to hunt for food, shell fish, sea-urchins etc., in the shallow waters off the coast. I suppose that they were forced into the water just as we have seen happen in so many other groups of terrestrial animals. I am imagining this happening in the warmer parts of the world, in the tropical seas where Man could stand being in the water for relatively long periods, that is, several hours at a stretch.

If the legends have any basis in fact at all, however, the water people existed in colder climates – as far north for example as the Orkney and Shetlands islands.

The idea received some interest after the article was published, but was generally ignored by the scientific community thereafter.

Elaine Morgan


 In 1967, the hypothesis was briefly mentioned in The Naked Ape, a book by Desmond Morris in which can be found the first use of the term "aquatic ape".  While doing research for her book The Descent of Woman published in 1972, TV-writer Elaine Morgan (1920–2013) was struck by Morris' term and the potential explanatory power of Hardy's hypothesis.   Morgan became the leading proponent of Hardy's original idea, which after a number of publications culminated in 1997 with the book The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, which, with its factual language and proper referencing, was aimed primarily at the academic community.

A description of the experience


Thomas Keightley - The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and other Little People

It is a prevalent opinion in the North that all the various beings of the popular creed were once worsted in conflict with superior powers and condemned to remain till doomsday in certain assigned abodes. 

The Dwarfs of Hill [berg] trolls were appointed the hills; the Elves the groves and leafy trees; the Hill people the caves and caverns; the Mermen, Mermaids and Necks the sea, lakes and rivers; the River-Man the small waterfalls.

Both the Catholic and Protestant clergy have endeavoured to excite aversion to these beings, but in vain. 

They are regarded as possessing considerable power over man and nature, and it is believed that though now unhappy, they will eventually be saved [return].




The source of the experience

The Ancestors

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps