J. Desmond Clark
Obituary to appear in Journal
of Anthropological Research, vol.58,no.1, 2002.
JOHN DESMOND CLARK, PALEOANTHROPOLOGIST
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 passed
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 extraordinary
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
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