Elaine Morgan

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Elaine Morgan in 1998

Elaine Morgan OBE, FRSL (7 November 1920[1] – 12 July 2013[2]), was a Welsh writer for television and the author of several books on evolutionary anthropology, especially the aquatic ape hypothesis which she advocated as a corrective to what she saw as theories which purveyed gendered stereotypes and thus failed to adequately take account of women's role in human evolution. The Descent of Woman, published in 1972, became an international bestseller translated into ten languages. In 2016, she was named one of "the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time" in a press survey.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Elaine Floyd was born and brought up in Hopkinstown, near Pontypridd, in Wales. She lived for many years until her death, in Mountain Ash, near Aberdare. She graduated from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, with a degree in English. She married Morien Morgan (died 1997) and had three sons, her eldest being Dylan Morgan.[4]


Elaine Morgan began writing in the 1950s after winning a competition in the New Statesman, successfully publishing, then joining the BBC when it began to produce her plays for television.[5] Her works included popular dramas, newspaper columns, and a series of publications on evolutionary anthropology.[6] Her first book, The Descent of Woman, published in 1972, became an international bestseller translated into ten languages. The book drew attention to what she saw as sexism inherent in the prevalent savannah-based "killer ape" theories of human evolution as presented in popular anthropological works by Robert Ardrey, Lionel Tiger and others. She argued that such "Tarzanist" anthropological narratives purveyed gendered stereotypes of women that failed to take adequate account of women's role in human evolution. The Aquatic Ape (1982), The Scars of Evolution (1990), The Descent of the Child (1994), The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (1997) and The Naked Darwinist (2008) all explored her alternative account of human evolution in more detail.[7]

She also published Falling Apart: the Rise and Decline of Urban Civization in 1976 and Pinker's List in 2016, a critique of Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate.

Morgan wrote for many television series, including the adaptations of How Green Was My Valley (1975), Off to Philadelphia in the Morning (1978) and Testament of Youth (1979). Her other work included episodes of Dr. Finlay's Casebook (1963–1970), the biographical drama The Life and Times of David Lloyd George (1981) and contributions to the Campion (1989) series.

She won two BAFTAs and two Writers' Guild awards. She also wrote the script for the Horizon documentary about the disabled fund-raiser Joey Deacon, winning the Prix Italia in 1975. She was honoured with the Writer of the Year Award from the Royal Television Society for her serialisation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth (1979).[8][9]

In 2003 Morgan started a weekly column for the Welsh daily The Western Mail, which won her the 2011 award of Columnist of the Year in the Society of Editors' Regional Press Awards.[10][11]

She was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by Glamorgan University in December 2006,[12] an honorary fellowship of the University of Cardiff in 2007, and the Letten F. Saugstad Prize for her "contribution to scientific knowledge".[13]

Morgan was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to literature and education.[14] She became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature the same year,[15] and an honorary freeman of Rhondda Cynon Taf in April 2013.[16]

Aquatic ape hypothesis[edit]

The Delegates of the Aquatic Ape Symposium 1987
Morgan is to the right of Machteld (Maggie) Roede, a conference organiser who is at the front.

Morgan has promoted a version of the Aquatic ape hypothesis, which proposes that human evolution had an "aquatic phase" in the Miocene or Pliocene epoch.[17]

Although Morgan's promotion of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis is still generally ignored by anthropologists and criticized by some in the scientific community,[18][19][20] it has achieved popular appeal since the publication of Descent of Woman in 1972,[21][22] and now has a growing band of scientists who are open to it and are investigating some of the ideas Morgan wrote about.[23]

Morgan's work has received warm comments from several prominent people. Philosopher Daniel Dennett wrote of the criticisms of her...

"Many of the counterarguments seem awfully thin and ad hoc. During the last few years when I have found myself in the company of distinguished biologists, evolutionary theorists, paleo-anthropologists, and other experts, I have often asked them just to tell me, please, exactly why Morgan must be wrong about the aquatic ape theory. I haven't yet had a reply worth mentioning, aside from those who admit, with a twinkle in their eyes, that they have often wondered the same thing."[24]

And in a BBC/Discovery Channel Documentary, the famous South African anthropologist Phillip V. Tobias said...

"I see Elaine Morgan, through her series of superbly written books, presenting a challenge to the scientists to take an interest in this thing, to look at the evidence dispassionately. Not to avert your gaze as though it were something you that you hadn't ought to hear about or hadn't ought to see. And those that are honest with themselves are going to dispassionately examine the evidence. We've got to if we are going to be true to our calling as scientists."[25]

In 2000 Morgan was awarded the Letten F Saugstad prize in Oslo for her "contribution to scientific knowledge" and in December 2008 she was admitted as a Fellow of the Linnean Society, following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.[26]

Death and legacy[edit]

Morgan died at the age of 92 on 12 July 2013. Welsh author Trevor Fishlock described her in an obituary as a writer "who brought out the flavour of Wales."[4]

In 2019, Morgan was one of five women on a shortlist for a Cardiff statue.[27]

In 2020, to commemorate the centenary of her birth, two complimentary biographies of her life were published. The Welsh historian Daryl Leeworthy wrote one focusing on her earlier career as a writer [28] and Algis Kuliukas wrote one emphasizing more her "aquatic ape" work. [26]


Morgan's earlier works as a playwright include:[5]

  • The Waiting Room: A Play for Women in One Act (Samuel French Ltd, 1958)
  • Rest You Merry: A Christmas Play in Two Acts (Samuel French Ltd, 1959)
  • Eli'r Teulu: Comedi Dair Act (Gwasg Aberystwyth, 1960)
  • The Soldier and the Woman: A Play in One Act (Samuel French Ltd, 1961)
  • Licence to Murder: A Play in Two Acts (Samuel French Ltd, 1963)
  • A Chance to Shine: A Play in One Act (Samuel French Ltd, 1964)
  • Love from Liz (Samuel French Ltd, 1967)

Morgan's books on human evolution include:[5]

  • The Descent of Woman, 1972, Souvenir Press, ISBN 0-285-62063-0
  • The Aquatic Ape, 1982, Souvenir Press, ISBN 0-285-62509-8
  • The Scars of Evolution, 1990, Souvenir Press, ISBN 0-285-62996-4
  • The Descent of the Child: Human Evolution from a New Perspective, 1995, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-509895-1
  • The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis, 1997, Souvenir Press, ISBN 0-285-63377-5
  • The Naked Darwinist, 2008, Eildon Press, ISBN 0-9525620-3-0

Other works:

  • An essay "The Escape Route", also on Hardy Theory
  • Falling Apart: The Rise and Decline of Urban Civilisation, 1976, Souvenir Press Ltd ISBN 0-285-62234-X
  • Pinker's List, 2005, Eildon Press, ISBN 0-9525620-2-2
  • Autobiography Knock 'Em Cold, Kid, 2012, Troubador Press, ISBN 9781780882130


  1. ^ "Elaine Morgan obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  2. ^ "Leading writer and feminist Elaine Morgan dies aged 92", BBC News, 12 July 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013
  3. ^ "The 50 Greatest Welsh Men and Women of All Time". Wales Online.
  4. ^ a b "A writer who brought out the flavour of Wales". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b c "Elaine Morgan". List of Writers (in Welsh and English). The Academi. 2009. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
  6. ^ News Are we all Aquatic apes?[permanent dead link]Cardiff University
  7. ^ Milam, Erika Lorraine (2019). Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. Princeton University Press. pp. 153–167. ISBN 9780691181882.
  8. ^ Citation for her honorary degree at Cardiff University in 2007 – accessed 7 August 2008[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ Hitt, Carolyn (10 January 2019). "Hidden Heroines: Could Elaine Morgan win statue vote?". BBC News. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 March 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Glamorgan Honours Wales' Finest
  13. ^ "My Cardiff", Cardiff University Elaine Morgan Archived 18 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine: Writer Elaine Morgan recalls the day she became an Honorary Fellow of the University.
  14. ^ "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 12.
  15. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  16. ^ "BBC News South East Wales". BBC. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  17. ^ Foley R, Lahr MM (2014). "The role of 'the aquatic' in human evolution: Constraining the aquatic ape hypothesis". Evol. Anthropol. 23 (2): 56–59. doi:10.1002/evan.21405. PMID 24753345. Where does this leave us? The AAH has been around for more than 50 years. No significant evidence has accumulated in its favor over that time, and the expansion of the fossil and archaeological record has filled many of the gaps that made Hardy's original idea seem plausible.
  18. ^ Langdon, J. (1997). "Umbrella hypotheses and parsimony in human evolution: a critique of the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis". Journal of Human Evolution. 33 (4): 479–494. doi:10.1006/jhev.1997.0146. PMID 9361254.
  19. ^ McNeill, D (2000). The Face: A Natural History. Back Bay. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-316-58812-1.
  20. ^ Graham, JM; Scadding GK; Bull PD (2008). Pediatric ENT. Springer. pp. 27. ISBN 978-3-540-69930-9.
  21. ^ "Columnist Elaine Morgan dies at the age of 92". Western Mail. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  22. ^ Rae TC, Koppe T (2014). "Sinuses and flotation: Does the aquatic ape theory hold water?". Evol. Anthropol. 23 (2): 60–64. doi:10.1002/evan.21408. PMID 24753346. most practicing anthropologists are unbothered by the Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT) and its advocates, except perhaps when a student brings it up in a lecture
  23. ^ Vaneechoutte, M; Verhaegen, M (2011). Was Man More Aquatic in the Past?. [Bentham]. pp. [2]. ISBN 978-1-60805-355-1.
  24. ^ Dennett, Daniel C. (1995). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Penguin. pp. 6368 [3]. ISBN 9780140167344.
  25. ^ Mann, Moira (Producer) (November 1998). Aquatic Ape (Documentary). Bristol: BBC / Discovery Channel.
  26. ^ a b Kuliukas, Algis V. (2020). Elaine Morgan ~ 100 Years Towards Origins. [Amazon Kindle]. pp. [4].
  27. ^ Hitt, Carolyn (10 January 2019). "Hidden Heroines: Could Elaine Morgan win statue vote?". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
  28. ^ Leeworthy, Daryl (2020). Elaine Morgan A Life Behind the Screen. [Seren]. pp. 220 [5].