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The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  304 ratings  ·  33 reviews
Elaine Morgan gives a revolutionary hypothesis that explains our anatomic anomalies in The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis - why we walk on two legs, why we are covered in fat, why we can control our rate of breathing? The answers point to one conclusion: millions of years ago our ancestors were trapped in a semi-aquatic environment. In presenting her case, Elaine Morgan forces sci ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published September 9th 1999 by Souvenir Press (first published November 1st 1982)
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A clever and interesting book. Elaine Morgan worked in television professionally, at some point she became interested in a hypothesis called 'the Aquatic Ape Theory' and became involved in promoting it to a wider public. And indeed you get the sense of a gifted amateur throughout the book as she attacks on all fronts with any weapon, the big guns and handfuls of dried peas, there is no sense of discrimination or a hierarchy of evidence; that people like to sit on a beach and look out to sea seem ...more
Mari Biella
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
For a long time, the version of evolutionary theory I was exposed to was, (very) roughly, as follows: at some point, an ape came down from the trees and ventured out onto open grassland, where it learned to walk bipedally and gradually lost its fur and learned to speak. All well and good, but this left certain nagging questions: wouldn't such an ape need to keep its fur on the sun-scorched African savannah? Wouldn't the loss of speed caused by bipedalism far outweigh its possible advantages? Why ...more
Oct 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: library, 2013
This is a tough book to review. I first heard about the aquatic ape hypothesis from Sharon Moalem's Survival of the Sickest, and for years I intended to read more about it but never got around to it. A few months ago I read an NPR article in which the writer made a brief dismissive comment about the theory, which I recalled feeling positive about from its portrayal in Moalem's book. That dismissive comment finally motivated me to request the book through my university's interlibrary loan.

I read
Joel Nichols
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Morgan is my new hero and should be yours. Radical, simple, insightful and brilliant. One day they will find this proof and we will know her name like we know the Leakeys or Darwin.
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I HIGHLY recommend this book. I wish there was more literature on this subject. You can also check out a really good TED speech on YouTube with Elaine Morgan. She talks about Aquatic Ape Theory and receives a standing ovation for her speech.


•Why do we walk on two legs? Why should we have adopted a posture that slows us down and leaves us open to back problems?
•Why, unlike other primates, are we naked and well covered with fat? Whales, seals and pachyderms are the only other mammals with t
Nicholas Griffith
Mar 30, 2012 rated it liked it
An exploration of the raison d'etre for hairlessness among apes (that is, among human beings), this book delivers a swift kick to the collective nuts of evolutionary anthropologists. Sadly, after years of fighting scientific pedagogy her arguments come off as defensive in the extreme. We shouldn't hold this against her though. She is a rebellious thinker possessing the acerbic wit that leaves a scar. We likewise shouldn't be surprised if her theories are whole heartedly, even if posthumously, as ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
If you've ever wondered why humans have little hair, subcutaneous fat layer, and generally have sex facing front, this book is for you... ...more
Sep 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
AAT is right up there with holographic mind theory when it comes to speculative conjectures that are detested by the scientific community and adored by me. There is a lot to write about this topic and Elaine Morgan’s postulates. Let’s try just a quick summary.

In consideration of the driving forces that transformed simian to sapiens it is generally supposed that apes were driven out of their arboreal habitat to a savannah environment and the new conditions of savannah life drove the evolution of
May 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who like tangential thinking
If this is the first of Morgan's books that you read, you may find the defensive tone a bit off-putting. It's something that she's been forced to by the rabid attacks on her ideas mounted by people who claim to be serious scientists.
Morgan's previous books were much more readable, though less 'scientific', which she got slated for.
Essentially, she has expanded on the hypothesis that humans went through a semi-aquatic phase, which very neatly explains a host of features: hairlessness, upright st
Linda R. Thompson
A brilliant hypothesis of human evolution

I read Elaine Morgan's book 'The Descent of Woman' in the late 1970s, shortly after it's publication in 1976. I was drawn to her very different theory of human origins at the time and have thought about it from time to time since then. Recently I have again been drawn to the issues of our human origins and have returned to her writings for additional understanding of the more recent discoveries and hypotheses. This book contains even more information abo
Oct 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
What hypothesis? The conventional wisdom handed by the Fathers of science that we first started walking on the savannah is missing something fundamental, imo, and this book helps fill in the gap. Written by a WOMAN scientist, it brings a different perspective to thinking about our genetic roots. To me it's so basically obvious that we've been at home in lakes, rivers and coasts for probably millions of years.

I'm an aqautic ape, and feel proud to say that. My Mom swam for the national team in bu
Sep 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I read this back in 2009 and was struck by the beautiful logic of it. While I was not 100% convinced, being well educated in The Savannah Theory of human evolution like most of my generation, I found it compelling enough to follow the developments which have been made in the years since Morgan's death.
Today I listened to Sir David Attenborough talking about the influence of a marine/fresh water habitat in the descent of our species and how it has now become accepted as a fact, although there is
Samantha Cira
Sep 14, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Even though Elaine's facts/data may be widely criticized by the scientific community, I enjoyed it and it brings up some interesting ideas about the evolution of man.

This book is an UPDATE to her 1960's book the Aquatic Ape Theory which is now sorely out-of-date, so if you're going to read it, read the 1990's version called Aquatic Ape Hypothesis.

In a nutshell, it's a book written for the non-academic masses, so don't expect it to be written in a scholarly manner. It's short, you could get throu
May 27, 2014 rated it liked it
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading "The Descent of Woman" by Morgan, "The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis" was more of an overview of the progress of the hypothesis since the seminal book written so many years ago. It was concise, but not meant to be entertaining. It was certainly interesting, suffice it to say, but it was also a bit too rambling, as if the author was trying to make an academic treatise more readable for the general public. Nonetheless, I certainly found it fascinating and worth the read ...more
Helena Eflerova
Jul 10, 2016 rated it liked it
A good book to read for someone who is interested in a revolutionary ideas around aquatic stage and minority of anthropologists thoughts on human evolution subjects of bipedalism, nakedness, body fat in aquatic mammals, menstruation lunar cycle, babies are born as swimmers. Sport and professional Apnea divers would benefit from reading about diving reflex, breath hold, heartbeat, buoyancy and body heat, inventions around water lifestyle at the end of this book. You have to be comfortable reading ...more
Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Perhaps not as scientifically written as, well, a scientist, Elaine Morgan manages to concisely argue alternatives to other evolutionary theories that still intrigue me years later. This is the foundation hypothesis, but her other books on the subject are equally worthwhile.
rose kala
Jul 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
A very popular suggestion as to explain the key differences from fellow apes like Gorilla and Chimpanzees by asserting that homosapien had become an aquatic dweller..
She writes it in such simple and easy terms that its enjoyable to read, wether you want to belief or not

E.j. Kay
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely life-changing read for me! Whilst I'm not completely convinced that we had a totally aquatic past at any stage, the questions this hypothesis raises and the intelligence and bravery of Elaine Morgan's work make this a seminal read. Wonderful! ...more
Of all her books that I've read, this one has the best and most updated arguments. You should read it even if you think AAH is bollocks, there's some funny stuff too. She always makes me chuckle :) ...more
Sep 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
I don't care if it is true or not, its a great story. ...more
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
As beautiful a theory of evolution as i've ever read. Makes for great dreams. ...more
Samantha Rizzo
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: faves, science
As with all of Morgan’s work, I am impressed.

This book builds on and corrects on many of the theories outlined in the 1982 Aquatic Ape. This one is much better.

Although Morgan has no formal science education, she should not be written off. In her writing it is evidence that she has done her research: she is reasonable, intelligent, and has a curiosity that shines.

Too many lingering questions not answered by the savannah theory are answered neatly by the AAT. Maybe not all, maybe not thoroughly
Simon Dobson
May 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: bonanza
Discussions of human origins invariably rest on rather shaky foundations. The fossil record – such as it is – has huge gaps, isn't a random sample of the fauna, and only preserves the gross features of anatomy evident in bones. So it's hardly surprising that a range of theories have been proposed to explain the division between apes and humans.

The aquatic ape hypothesis is one such. It has some supporting evidence – or, rather, it isn't definitively contradicted by the evidence that there is. In
Mar 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
disclaimer: I am not a biologist and I don't want to act like I am an expert

but I found the reasoning in this book quite persuasive. I also found the historical and theoretical battle behind the whole aquatic ape hypothesis fascinating (and quite typical in fields of natural scienses). For me, (a psychologist, who had a short adventure in evolutionary psychology and seen some highs and lows) it was ridiculous to see the resistance to even think about and consider the validity of AAT.

As an inter
Francesca Roffe
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
The aquatic ape hypothesis is the idea that our ancestors went through an aquatic mammal evolutionary stage.

Morgan’s study considers characteristics of the human development and form that lend themselves to the water; the placement and size of body fat in Homo sapiens compared to that of primates, the lay of our body hair following the flow of water, the breasts of women being for buoyancy and rather than to attract a mate/ the pleasure of men.

Hooray for buoyant breasts!
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book twenty years ago and it still resonates. Although it isn't categorized as main stream science the individual pieces of logic that are the foundation of her argument still stand up to the buffeting of the naysayers. The thesis is that humans were once primarily aquatic, which goes against the current orthodoxy. The one argument that swung it for me was the concept of fur. All terrestrial mammals have a covering of fur. When I was in school the professors said that humans lost our ...more
Friedrich Mencken
Jun 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to Friedrich by: No Remorse
Shelves: socio-biology
I found a very convincing explanation for the loss of body hair and acquirement of subcutaneous fat on land that is also unique to humans in Ernst Mayrs book What evolution is.

"This shift to exclusively terrestrial life must have been a very difficult period in human history. What happened during the transition period involved both infant and mother, for both had to become adapted to the new situation, to the new selection pressures. If the infant had too big a head (brain), it would die owing t
Entertaining hypothesis but possible? No, not at all. One thing that bothers me about this book is that the author isn't a scientist (like a lot of people assume she is). She's not an anthropologist. She received her degree in literature. So right off the bat Morgan is writing about a subject, in a field that she doesn't understand. Sure she's done a lot of research in it. But she only references the papers that helps support her claim. And most of these papers are from the early 1900s.

Most of
Nathan Nifong
Jun 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
Its nice to have an alternative theory of our evolution to consider, it helps me maintain a neutral perspective.

with that said though i do really like the aquatic ape hypothesis. On top of the many good points she makes for the theory, (which you should read it to find out) you can get two other wonderful things from this book.

One, her perspective on evolution is of the most productive and accurate kind one can have. we are certainly not perfect, as no animal would be that has gone though drasti
May 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
We all have been taught in school that according to Darwin humans are related to apes ( actually, we share 98% of dna with chimpanzee ) but why are we so different? The regular evolution theory does try to answer this question but there's not a full explanation as of yet.

This book is an alternative theory which in a nutshell a proposition that what changed our predecessors was a different habiat - a marine habitat.Do you know for example that the only mammals with as much fat as humans are mari
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Welsh feminist and proponent of the aquatic ape evolution theory, which claims that mankind evolved from sea-based apes.

Morgan was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2009 Birthday Honours for services to literature and to education.

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18 likes · 5 comments
“It would make it that much harder to delude ourselves that humanity's ancestors, alone in the animal kingdom, lost their hair by wandering out into the sunshine.” 5 likes
“In short, the fossil record is perfectly compatible with the supposition that at some time between eight and six million years ago, at the north end of the Rift Valley where the most ancient hominid remains have been found, one section of the l. c. a. population found itself living in a watery environment and—whether by choice or under duress—began to adapt to a semi-aquatic existence.” 3 likes
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