Elaine Morgan OBE, FRSL (7 November 1920 – 12 July 2013), was a Welsh writer for television and the author of several books on evolutionary anthropology, especially the aquatic ape hypothesis. The Descent of Woman, The Aquatic Ape, The Scars of Evolution, The Descent of the Child, The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis and The Naked Darwinist (2008) discuss the reception of aquatic scenarios in academic literature. She also published Falling Apart and Pinker's List. In 2016, she was named one of "the 50 greatest Welsh men and women of all time" in a press survey.
Elaine Floyd was born and brought up in Hopkinstown, near Pontypridd, in Wales. She lived for many years, up until her death, in Mountain Ash, near Aberdare. She graduated from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, with a degree in English. She married Morien Morgan (d. 1997) and had three sons. Her eldest son was Dylan Morgan.
Elaine Morgan began writing in the 1950s after winning a competition in the New Statesman, successfully publishing, then joining the BBC when they began to produce her plays for television. Morgan's works included popular dramas, newspaper columns, and a series of publications on biological anthropology.
Morgan wrote for many television series including the adaptations of How Green Was My Valley (1975) 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 Joey Deacon, the disabled fund-raiser. This won the Prix Italia in 1975. She was honoured with the Writer of the Year Award from the Royal Television Society for her serialisation Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth (1979).
In 2003 she started to write a weekly column for the Welsh national daily newspaper The Western Mail, and in this role was awarded Columnist of the Year for 2011 in the Society of Editors' Regional Press Awards.
She was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by Glamorgan University in December 2006, an honorary fellow of the University of Cardiff in 2007, and awarded the Letten F. Saugstad Prize for her "contribution to scientific knowledge".
Morgan was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to literature and to education. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature the same year. She was made an honorary freeman of Rhondda Cynon Taf in April 2013.
Her book Pinker's List was a response to Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate, in which she rejected his claim to objectivity and argued that the "blank-slate" beliefs he caricatured have long been extinct.
Aquatic ape hypothesis
Morgan first became drawn into scientific writing when reading popularizers of the savannah hypothesis of human evolution such as Desmond Morris. She described her reaction as one of irritation because the explanations were largely male-centred. For instance, she thought that if humans lost their hair because they needed to sweat while chasing game on the savannah that failed to explain why women should also lose their hair, as according to the savannah hypothesis, they would be looking after the children. On re-reading Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape she encountered a reference to a hypothesis that humans had for a time gone through a water phase, the so-called aquatic ape hypothesis. She contacted Morris on this and he directed her to Alister Hardy. Her first book The Descent of Woman (1972) was originally planned to pave the way for a more academic book by Hardy, but no such book was ever published.
Morgan's first publication was mentioned by E. O. Wilson in 1975, comparing it to other "advocacy approaches" such as The Imperial Animal as an "inevitable feminist" counter, but describing the method as less scientific than other contemporary hypotheses. Morgan accepted this criticism and her later books were written in a more scientific tone, or more "po-faced" as she herself described it. As an outsider and a non-scientist she claims to have encountered hostility from academics. Consequently many of her books seem to be written as much to counter the many arguments put forth against the aquatic ape theory as to advance its merits. The story of Morgan's quest to have the aquatic ape hypothesis taken seriously was chronicled in the 1998 BBC documentary The Aquatic Ape.
Morgan's version of the AAH has achieved much popular appeal, but was until about 2000 much criticized in the scientific community. The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis was subjected to a full academic symposium in Valkenburg, South Holland in 1987, but the papers were mostly critical of the hypothesis. Despite this, Morgan continued to promote the hypothesis, with invitations to speak at universities and symposia including a TED talk in 2009.
However, since about 2000 it has achieved a measure of acceptance and serious scrutiny, as shown by David Attenborough in a 2016 pair of radio programmes entitled The Waterside Ape, which included recent discovery of growths in the ear in hominid fossils today found in diving cultures or surfers.
Death and legacy
In 2019, Morgan was one of five women on a shortlist for a Cardiff statue.
Morgan's earlier works as a playwright include:
- 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 palæontology include:
- The Descent of Woman, 1972, Souvenir Press, ISBN 0-285-62063-0
- The Aquatic Ape, 1982, Stein & Day Pub, 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
- L'origine della donna, 2012, Castelvecchi editore, ISBN 9788876157967
- 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
- "Leading writer and feminist Elaine Morgan dies aged 92", BBC News, 12 July 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013
- "The 50 Greatest Welsh Men and Women of All Time". Wales Online.
- "Elaine Morgan". List of Writers (in Welsh and English). The Academi. 2009. Archived from the original on 15 May 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2009.
- News Are we all Aquatic apes?[permanent dead link]Cardiff University
- Citation for her honorary degree at Cardiff University in 2007 – accessed 7 August 2008[permanent dead link]
- Glamorgan Honours Wales' Finest
- "My Cardiff", Cardiff University Elaine Morgan: Writer Elaine Morgan recalls the day she became an Honorary Fellow of the University
- "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 12.
- "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
- "BBC News South East Wales". BBC. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
- Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox The Imperial Animal (1972)
- Wilson, Edward O. (2000) . "2. Elementary concepts of Sociobiology". Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Part 1 (25 ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. Reasoning in Sociobiology, p.27–30. ISBN 0-674-00089-7.
- "Columnist Elaine Morgan dies at the age of 92". Western Mail. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
- name = Langdon>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.
- McNeill, D (2000). The Face: A Natural History. Back Bay. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-316-58812-1.
- Graham, JM; Scadding GK; Bull PD (2008). Pediatric ENT. Springer. pp. 27. ISBN 3-540-69930-9.
- See details of Aquatic Ape Symposium 1987 and subsequent book. Archived 24 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine (Accessed 26.09.2015)
- "Interview: The natural optimist". New Scientist. 25 April 2005. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
- Human Evolution, publisher: Springer, ISSN 0393-9375 Volume 15, Numbers 3–4 / July 2000
- "Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes". TED. 1 July 2009. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
- BBC Radio 4 The Waterside Ape 14 and 15 September 2016.
- "A writer who brought out the flavour of Wales". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
- Hitt, Carolyn (10 January 2019). "Hidden Heroines: Could Elaine Morgan win statue vote?". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2019.
- "Scars of Evolution", a BBC Radio 4 programme featuring Morgan. David Attenborough hosts the series that chronicles the rising evidence in support of an aquatic environment in human evolution.
- Elaine Morgan on IMDb
- Biography at h2g2
- Elaine Morgan at TED
- Details of Aquatic Ape Symposium 1987 and subsequent book. (Accessed 26.09.2015)
- Obituary by Trevor Fishlock