Elaine Morgan dies

Elaine MorganElaine Morgan

The writer Elaine Morgan, known for her advocacy of the "aquatic ape" hypothesis of human evolution, died on July 12, 2013, at the age of 92, according to the BBC (July 12, 2013). Morgan wrote a series of books advancing and defending her idiosyncratic views on human evolution, including The Descent of Woman (Souvenir Press, 1972), The Aquatic Ape (Stein & Day, 1982), The Scars of Evolution (Souvenir Press, 1990), The Descent of the Child (Oxford University Press, 1995), The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (Souvenir Press, 1997), and The Naked Darwinist (Eildon Press, 2008).

The aquatic ape hypothesis, originally due to the marine biologist Alister Hardy, holds that human evolution included a phase in which humans were adapted to a marine environment, citing as evidence such distinctive human features as the reduction of body hair, the unusual amount of subcutaneous fat, and the diving reflex. Morgan contrasted the hypothesis with what she called "the savannah theory," as exemplified in popular books such as Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape, which she faulted as not only empirically lacking but also relying on sexist assumptions. Despite their high profile among the general public, Morgan's ideas attracted little sustained attention from the scientific community, the main exceptions being a 1987 symposium, the proceedings of which were published as Aquatic Ape: Fact or Fiction? (Souvenir Press, 1987), and a paper by John H. Langdon in the Journal of Human Evolution (1997; 33[4]:479-494). Langdon described (subscription required) the aquatic ape hypothesis as "troubled by inconsistencies" and unlikely to be reconcilable with the fossil record, adding, with respect to Morgan's proclivity to argue from uncertainty or disagreement among paleoanthropologists, "This aspect of the argument for the aquatic hypothesis greatly resembles the approach that 'creation science' takes to evolutionary biology. In comparing a single model to an entire academic field, there is an illusion of contrasting order with chaos."

Morgan was born as Elaine Floyd on November 7, 1920, in Pontypridd, Wales, and received a B.A. from Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University in 1942 and her M.A. in 1948. She began a professional writing career in the 1950s, writing plays for the stage and television scripts for the BBC, and winning a number of prizes for her writing for television. She received an honorary D.Litt. from Glamorgan University in 2006; in 2009 she was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature and to education and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.