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Robert Ardrey (b. October 16, 1908 in Chicago, Illinois; d. January 14, 1980 in South Africa) was an anthropologist, playwright and screenwriter.


Relying upon both anthropology and paleontology, Robert Ardrey was among the most articulate proponents of the hunting hypothesis and the killer ape theory.

According to the hunting hypothesis, hunting activity and the eating of meat had strong effects on human evolution. Ardrey believed that early African humans survived long dry periods through heavy hunting activity which distinguished them from other primates.

The killer ape theory posits that aggression was the primary characteristic that distinguished human ancestors from other primates and that the urge to do violence is retained in modern humans.

In the academic setting, this theory of aggression was proposed by Washburn and Lancaster. Ardrey's African Genesis (1961), along with another book, On Aggression by ethologist Konrad Lorenz, were popularizations of the ideas put forth by Washburn and Lancaster.

Scientists whose work informed Ardrey's investigations, and/or with whom he consulted at length in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s while developing his four books, include W.C. Allee, C.K. Brain, Robert Broom, C.R. Carpenter, Raymond Dart, Eliot Howard, L.S.B. Leakey, Eugene Marais, and Kenneth P. Oakley.

Ardrey's first two books, African Genesis and The Territorial Imperative, and Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape, had considerable impact when they were first published in the 1960s.


Ardrey attended the University of Chicago and was married to Helene Johnson from 1938 until they divorced in 1960. He married Berdine Grunewald, who later illustrated his books, in 1960.


  • African Genesis: A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man (1961)
  • The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations (1966)
  • The Social Contract: A Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder (1970)
  • The Hunting Hypothesis: A Personal Conclusion Concerning the Evolutionary Nature of Man (1976)

Plays and screenplays

Ardrey was also a successful playwright and screenwriter, and was nominated for an Academy Award for Khartoum in 1966.


  • Star Spangled (1936)
  • Casey Jones (1938)
  • God and Texas (1938)
  • How To Get Tough About It (1938)
  • Thunder Rock (1939) (filmed in 1943)
  • Jeb (1946)
  • Sing Me No Lullaby (1954)
  • Shadow Of Heroes (1958) (also known as Stone and Star)


  • They Knew What They Wanted (1940)
  • A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
  • The Green Years (1946)
  • Song of Love (1947)
  • The Three Musketeers (1948)
  • Madame Bovary (1949 film)|Madame Bovary (1949)
  • The Secret Garden (1949)
  • The Schumann Story (1950)
  • Quentin Durward (1955)
  • The Power and the Prize (1956)
  • The Wonderful Country (1959)
  • Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962)
  • Khartoum (1966)

Prizes and awards

  • Sergel Drama prize, 1935
  • Guggenheim fellowship, 1937
  • Sidney Howard Memorial prize, 1940
  • Theresa Helburn memorial award, 1961
  • Willkie Brothers grant, for anthropology, 1963
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

External links

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