Grafton Elliot Smith bigraphy, stories - Anatomist

Grafton Elliot Smith : biography

15 August 1871 - 1 January 1937
Sir Grafton Elliot Smith

Professional career

Smith was born in Grafton, New South Wales. He attended Sydney Boys High School, he was awarded a degree in medicine at the University of Sydney (Doctor of Medicine in 1895, with a dissertation on the fore-brain of the monotremes) and developed an interest in the anatomy of the human brain. He held a travelling scholarship at Cambridge in 1896, then he catalogued the human brain-collection of the British Museum. From 1900-1909 he was the first chairholder of anatomy at the Cairo School of Medicine and investigated the brains of Egyptian mummies. He was the first scholar to x-ray a mummy.

In 1907 he became archaeological advisor to the archaeological survey of Nubia. From 1909-1919 he was Professor for anatomy in Manchester, 1919-1937 he held the chair of Anatomy at the University College London. He was elected President of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland for 1924 to 1927. During World War I he attended military hospitals for shell shock and served on the British General Medical Council.

Smith was the leading specialist on the evolution of the brain of his day. Many of his ideas on the evolution of the primate brain still form the core of present scholarship. He proposed the following stages of development:

  1. a smell-dominated insectivore of the jumping shrew-type
  2. vision-dominated animals with an expanded cortex of tree-shrew-type
  3. acutely visioned, manually dexterous mammals of tarsius-type
  4. monkeys
  5. anthropoids using their hands to use and produce tools

Honours and awards

He was decorated by the Khedive of Egypt, Abbas Hilmy in 1909. He became Fellow of the Royal Society in 1907, FRCP, cross of the French Legion of Honour, and was knighted in 1934. In 1912 he received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society, in 1930 the Honorary Gold Medal of the Royal College of Surgeons, in 1936 the Huxley Memorial Medal from the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

European hypothesis

British anthropologists Arthur Keith and Grafton Elliot Smith both supported the European origin of humankind as opposed to models of Asian and African origin.Handbook of paleoanthropology, volume 1, Winfriend Henke, Thorolf Hardt, p. 31 In several of his works, Smith argued that Europe was the cradle of humanity, identifying a European Mediterranean race as the occupants of the original home of modern humans. His cradle was large, as he claimed the Mediterranean race had occupied the Levant, Egypt and western Europe, including the British isles. He especially linked the Mediterranean race to the civilization of Egypt. Smith's arguments later became known as his theory of diffusionism.Archeological theory, who sets the agenda? Norman Yoffee, Andrew Sherratt, p. 47 According to Smith and William James Perry Egypt was the source of all cultural innovations and the ultimate source of human civilization.Ian Shaw A Dictionary of Archaeology 2002, p. 200

According to Smith “Man did not become truly erect until his brain had developed in a very particular way to make it possible for him to use his hands”, this line of reasoning reinforced the European origin of human which both Smith and Arthur Keith supported as the mostly large brained specimens such as the Cro-magnon had been found in Europe.Studying human origins, disciplinary history and epistemology, Raymond Corbey, Wil Roebroeks, p. 51


The term 'hyperdiffusionism' seems to have been coined by the British archaeologist Glyn Daniel in his book The Idea of Prehistory (1962) with a somewhat derogatory intention. It was intended to represent extremes of diffusionism, a theme popular in early 20th century archaeology that itself has been subject to criticism. Smith believed that all megalithic phenomena, be it in Northwestern Europe, India, Japan or Mesoamerica, originated in ancient Egypt. "Small groups of people, moving mainly by sea, settled at certain places and there made rude imitations of the Egyptian monuments of the Pyramid Age." (Smith 1911, ix). Smith believed in a direct diffusion to Syria, Crete, East Africa, Southern Arabia and Sumer, while other areas were influenced by secondary diffusion. The neolithic culture of Europe was derived from Egypt as well, according to Smith. The concept of hyperdiffusionism is now referred to by more neutral terms (when referring to the Americas) such as Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact.

Living octopus

Living octopus

In countries which are located near sea coasts, sea food is an important part of national cuisine