Elaine Morgan

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Elaine Morgan in 1998

Elaine Morgan OBE, FRSL (7 November 1920 – 12 July 2013),[1] 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.[2]

Personal life[edit]

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.[3]


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.[4] Morgan's works included popular dramas, newspaper columns, and a series of publications on biological anthropology.[5]

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 of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth (1979).[6]

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.[7][8]

She was awarded an honorary D.Litt. by Glamorgan University in December 2006,[9] an honorary fellow of the University of Cardiff in 2007, and awarded the Letten F. Saugstad Prize for her "contribution to scientific knowledge".[10]

Morgan was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to literature and to education.[11] She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature the same year.[12] She was made an honorary freeman of Rhondda Cynon Taf in April 2013.[13]

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.[citation needed]

Aquatic ape hypothesis[edit]

The Delegates of the Aquatic Ape Symposium 1987
Elaine 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, in which she proposes that human evolution had an "aquatic phase" in the Miocene or Pliocene period.[14]

Morgan's first publication was mentioned by E. O. Wilson in 1975, comparing it to other "advocacy approaches" such as The Imperial Animal[15] as an "inevitable feminist" counter, but describing the method as less scientific than other contemporary hypotheses.[16]

Morgan's version of the AAH has achieved popular appeal,[17][18] but is generally ignored by anthropologists and has been criticized in the scientific community.[19][20][21]

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."[3]

In 2019, Morgan was one of five women on a shortlist for a Cardiff statue.[22]


Morgan's earlier works as a playwright include:[4]

  • 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 palaeontology include:[4]

  • 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

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


  1. ^ "Leading writer and feminist Elaine Morgan dies aged 92", BBC News, 12 July 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2013
  2. ^ "The 50 Greatest Welsh Men and Women of All Time". Wales Online.
  3. ^ a b "A writer who brought out the flavour of Wales". Retrieved 7 November 2016.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ News Are we all Aquatic apes?[permanent dead link]Cardiff University
  6. ^ Citation for her honorary degree at Cardiff University in 2007 – accessed 7 August 2008[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 March 2013. Retrieved 3 July 2012.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Glamorgan Honours Wales' Finest
  10. ^ "My Cardiff", Cardiff University Elaine Morgan: Writer Elaine Morgan recalls the day she became an Honorary Fellow of the University
  11. ^ "No. 59090". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 2009. p. 12.
  12. ^ "Royal Society of Literature All Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. Archived from the original on 5 March 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
  13. ^ "BBC News South East Wales". BBC. Retrieved 29 May 2014.
  14. ^ 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. 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 archeological record has filled many of the gaps that made Hardy's original idea seem plausible.
  15. ^ Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox The Imperial Animal (1972)
  16. ^ Wilson, Edward O. (2000) [1975]. "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.
  17. ^ "Columnist Elaine Morgan dies at the age of 92". Western Mail. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
  18. ^ 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. most practicing anthropologists are unbothered by the Aquatic Ape Theory (AAT) and its advocates, except perhaps when a student brings it up in lecture
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ McNeill, D (2000). The Face: A Natural History. Back Bay. pp. 36–37. ISBN 0-316-58812-1.
  21. ^ Graham, JM; Scadding GK; Bull PD (2008). Pediatric ENT. Springer. pp. 27. ISBN 3-540-69930-9.
  22. ^ Hitt, Carolyn (10 January 2019). "Hidden Heroines: Could Elaine Morgan win statue vote?". BBC News. Retrieved 10 January 2019.