Tributes to
J. Desmond Clark


Obituary to appear in Journal of Anthropological Research, vol.58,no.1, 2002.


Resquiescat in pace.

There will not likely again ever be a prehistoric archeologist and gentleman like Desmond Clark. Desmond Clark was the towering figure who in the 1960s, together with Clark Howell, co-founded the holistic, interdisciplinary field of paleoanthropology and was one of its premier practitioners for over 60 years, with indefatigable and seminal field research not only throughout Africa, but also in Syria, India and China. He inspired students and researchers the world over during the entire second half of the 20th century, treating one and all with courtesy, respect, professionalism and human warmth--characteristics all too often lacking in a field filled with rancor and unbridled ego.

It was of course in Africa that he made his greatest mark. It was Desmond Clark who, by his works, answered his own question: "Africa in Prehistory: Peripheral or Paramount?" (Man 1975). As I always tell my class in African prehistory, there are few countries in the continent where Desmond Clark had not done at least some work, and in many countries his investigations remain among the only archeological research to have been systematically conducted and published. In no other case can the prehistoric archeology of a whole continent be truthfully said to have been so overwhelmingly influenced by the lifelong work of one man. In a field dominated by a few giants (e.g., Raymond Dart, John Goodwin, Clarence Van Riet Lowe, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Louis Leakey, Mary Leakey, Neville Jones, Camille Arambourg, Lionel Balout, Pierre Biberson, Charles McBurney, and later Glynn Isaac), Desmond Clark stood out early and continued to do so long after those pioneer generations had p
assed from the scene. The list of Clark's publications is non-pareil; they cover Africa from Tropic to Tropic (and beyond), ranging in subject matter from ethnoarcheological to paleontological, from lithic to ceramic, from Oldowan to Iron Age. His copious field reports remain almost as important sources of information on whole vast regions as his major monographs (the fact that he completed The Kalambo Falls Prehistoric Site volume series and--despite near-blindness--saw the last one published before his death, is one of the most extraordinary feats in archeological publication ever). His commitment to the ethics of archeological publication will forever present a model to be emulated and strived for (but rarely matched) by all prehistorians. In addition to the staggering personal empirical record he created--especially in the Acheulean and Middle Stone Age, but also in the Neolithic--Desmond Clark's synthetic and edited works remain definitive today. Just imagine, this !is the scientist who gave us The Prehistoric Cultures of the Horn of Africa in 1954, Background to Evolution in Africa (with W.W.Bishop) in 1967, The Prehistory of Africa in 1970, The Cambridge History of Africa: From the Earliest Times to c. 500 BC in 1982, etc., etc. Where would paleoanthropology and African prehistory have been today without him?

Educated at Christ's College of Cambridge University under Miles Burkitt (yes, he was that close to the very beginnings of professional prehistoric archeology!), as well as with Dorothy Garrod (both disciples of the AbbÈ Breuil) and especially Grahame Clark, Desmond Clark got field experience with Mortimer Wheeler at the famous fortified Iron Age hill camp of Maiden Castle. With his B.A. in hand, he obtained a position as Curator at the Livingstone Memorial Museum in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1937. Mobilized during World War II, he did military service and archeological fieldwork in the Horn of Africa. Returning to Cambridge after the war, Clark finished his Ph.D. dissertation in 1947. He then became Director of the much-expanded Rhodes-Livingstone Museum. Besides extensive research in Zambia, over the course of his career, Clark did significant fieldwork in Ethiopia, Somalia, Malawi, Angola, Niger, etc. In 1953, he began his epochal excavations at the extraord
inary site of Kalambo Falls (Acheulean through Iron Age) above Lake Tanganyika. In 1955, he organized the III Pan-African Congress on Prehistory (a series that had been started by Louis Leakey) in Livingstone. In 1961, Clark became Professor in the Anthropology Department of the University of California at Berkeley, which would become one of the world's leading programs in paleoanthropology and African prehistory.

Desmond Clark, though eventually and for many years a Professor Emeritus, did not know the meaning of the term "retirement". Dedicated to fieldwork, he heroically continued going to China and Ethiopia at a very advanced age. He was a fixture at U.S. and international meetings and congresses, making staggeringly well-informed, perceptive presentations and comments even as his eyes and health failed him, but generally accompanied and supported by his dear wife and main "assistant", Betty, whom he married in Livingstone in 1938. He was surrounded by an exceptional and devoted group of student-colleagues. His lucidity and memory of archeological facts that he had observed or uncovered decades before, were amazing. Desmond Clark's productivity and contributions to our discipline ceased only with his last breath.

On a personal note, I will cherish forever the many reprints (always signed and accompanied by encouraging notes that he [or Betty?] typed) that he generously sent me over the years. Although I was not a student of his, he often commented on my work--even when I was a very "green" newcomer to his field! His jaunty manor and cheery greetings at meetings always "made my day". My ability to pretend to "teach" African prehistory I in large part owe to Desmond Clark's work and to his reprints and advise. I will sorely miss this great man, this gentle-man and scholar. I am sure that we in the study of early humans will all miss Desmond Clark for the rest of our days. The best that we can do as prehistoric archeologists is to try to imitate his example.

-Dr. Lawrence Guy Straus, Editor, Journal of Anthropological Research