Tributes to
J. Desmond Clark
1916-2002

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I first met Desmond Clark in 1960 outside the town now called Mbala, Zambia, when he came to show my field party around the site at Kalambo and suggest possible coring targets. Our first site, Lake Chila at Mbala, was the most refractory I have ever attempted. Frustration dissolved in the pleasure of Desmond's company and the work was eased by his vigorous physical participation there and at Kalambo. The week was an intellectual experience, as he instructed us in the prehistory of Central Africa, a tactile experience, as he taught us indirect anvil technique to make scrapers and choppers of Kisele Quartzite, and a social experience, as he regaled us with stories of expatriate life in Africa and introduced us to Brian Fagan and to the local people who had dug Kalambo with him.
Before returning to his duties as Director of the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum he wrote me letters of introduction to half a dozen people strategically located along the route of our coring safari. These notes were effectively one-page signatures, because no one except Betty could read his inimitable hand. When presented, each note elicited the same response: "Well, I can see it is from Desmond. What does he say?" and led to immediate enthusiastic acceptance by each addressee. Boats, guest houses, petrol dumps, Boma messengers and warm hospitality were immediately laid on. Desmond friends like Sir Stewart Gore-Brown, Desmond Vesey-Fitzgerald and Ian MacKeigan are among the most vividly memorable characters of my experience.

Later Desmond moved to Berkeley and established with Clark Howell and Glynn Isaac their uniquely productive program in African prehistory. Now, whenever I meet someone in Africa who understands Quaternary paleoecology he turns out to be a product of the Berkeley school inspired by Desmond.

Before I met Desmond prehistory had seemed fascinating, but so mired in detailed descriptive work that many practitioners had little time for speculative thinking, and sometimes lost their way before publishing the results of their meticulous excavations. Desmond was always thinking about matters of general cultural significance, and he wrote up his results so fast, with the able artistic assistance of Betty, that I sometimes wonder if they penned the rough draft on the flight home. His ecumenical zeal in enlisting other naturalists to attack archeological problems was legendary, as was the unfailing courtesy with which he treated all sorts and conditions of people, even graduate students trying to trick him by salting a few exotic pieces in a collection of artefacts.

I have no brothers. A colleague or two, a teacher or two, a cousin or two, and Desmond Clark have filled the brotherly niche in my life. I shall miss him terribly.

 

-Dan Livingstone, Professor of Biology, Duke University