Monday, 4 July 2011

The Apeman That Never Was

Ilia Ivanov was a Russian biologist who tried to prove that man descended from the apes. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Joel Kontinen

In February 1926 the Russian biologist Ilia Ivanov set sail for French Guinea to capture chimpanzees for his tests. He wanted to produce a baby that would be part human and part ape.

Ivanov was a pioneer of artificial insemination and had succeeded in producing a zeedonk (a zebra-donkey hybrid) and a zubron (a cross between a European bison and a cow). He assumed that he could also cross a human and a chimpanzee.

The chimps Ivanov found were too young. He had to return later in 1926. This time he succeeded in inseminating three chimpanzees. After failing to get permission from the French authorities to inseminate women with chimp sperm, he took 20 chimpanzees to the Soviet republic of Abkhazia, where he carried on his tests.

Recently, Alexander Etkind, a specialist in Russian history at the University of Cambridge told New Scientist that the Bolsheviks wanted to show that the Bible was wrong and Darwin was right. Ivanov presented his project to the Soviet Academy of Sciences as part of the campaign against religion. A human-ape hybrid would be proof of evolution, be a boost for Soviet science and be effective anti-religious propaganda.

According to Etkind, the Soviet leaders could have had a more personal reason for supporting Ivanov’s experiments. Ivanov had also dabbled in eugenics and used blood exchanges between the old and young in an attempt to rejuvenate the old. The ageing Bolsheviks might well have put their trust in him in the hope that he would restore their youth.

Ivanov’s tests were a failure. The desired apeman failed to materialise. The Genesis principle of after its kind suggests why he could not have succeeded even in theory.


Pain, Stephanie. 2011. The forgotten scandal of the Soviet ape-man. New Scientist 2670, 48-49.