Open main menu

John Desmond Clark FSA (more commonly J. Desmond Clark, April 10, 1916 – February 14, 2002) was a British archaeologist noted particularly for his work on prehistoric Africa.

J. Desmond Clark
J. Desmond Clark (left).
J. Desmond Clark (left).
Born(1916-04-10)April 10, 1916
DiedFebruary 14, 2002(2002-02-14) (aged 85)
Alma materChrist's College, Cambridge
AwardsGold Medal of the Archaeological Institute of America (1988)
Scientific career
Fieldsprehistoric Africa
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley

Early lifeEdit

Clark was born in London, but his childhood was spent in a hamlet in the Chiltern Hills of Buckinghamshire. Clark went to a preparatory boarding school in Buckinghamshire at age 6 1/2, from where he moved on to Monkton Combe School near Bath. Clark graduated with a B.A. from Christ's College, Cambridge, under Miles Burkitt and Grahame Clark.[1]

Archeological and anthropological careerEdit

In 1937 Clark became the curator of Northern Rhodesia's Rhodes-Livingstone Museum (now known as the Livingstone Memorial Museum). A year later he married Betty Cable née Baume, who would accompany him on a number of expeditions throughout his life. Clark served in the military during World War II with the East Africa Command forces in Somalia and Ethiopia, being subsequently attached to the British Military Administration,[2] when he managed to find time to carry out archaeological fieldwork in the Horn of Africa. Following the war, he returned to Cambridge, completing his Ph.D. in 1947. In 1948 he founded the Northern Rhodesian National Monuments Commission.[2]

Clark then returned to Northern Rhodesia to serve once more as the Museum's director. In 1953, Clark ordered an excavation at Kalambo Falls, a 235m high, single-drop waterfall at the southeast end of Lake Tanganyika, on what is now the border between Zambia and Tanzania. The site would eventually emerge as one of the most important archaeological finds of the twentieth century, providing a record of more than two hundred and fifty thousand years of human history. To date, artifacts of Acheulean, Sangoan, Lupemban, Magosian, Wilton, and Bantu cultures have all been found at the falls. Clark also undertook significant fieldwork in Ethiopia, Somalia, Malawi, Angola, and Niger, some of which led him to collaborate with Louis and Mary Leakey.

In 1961, Clark resigned from his post as Director of the Museum (being succeeded by Gervas C.R. Clay[3]), and became Professor of Anthropology (subsequently Emeritus) at the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught until his retirement in 1986. Under his guidance, the programme became one of the world's foremost in paleoanthropology. In 1965, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[4] He received the Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement in 1988 from the Archaeological Institute of America. Clark continued working until his death, including a 1991 dig in China that was the first to be led in that country by foreign archaeologists in more than 40 years. Clark died of pneumonia in Oakland in 2002, having published more than twenty books and over 300 scholarly papers on paleoanthropology and African prehistory in the course of his career. His wife survived him by only two months. He is survived by his children, Elizabeth and John.


Clark was appointed OBE in 1956 and CBE in 1960. He was elected FSA in 1952 and FBA in 1961. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the National Academy of Science (USA). His Cambridge ScD was awarded in 1975 and honorary doctorates at Witwatersrand and Cape Town universities in 1985, along with the Gold Medals of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1985) and the Archaeological Institute of America (1989). The British Academy awarded him the Grahame Clark Medal for Prehistory in 1997. He became an American citizen in 1993.

Selected worksEdit

  • The Prehistoric Cultures of the Horn of Africa. University Press. 1954.
  • The prehistory of Southern Africa. Penguin Books. 1959.
  • Prehistoric Cultures of Northeast Angola and Their Significance in Tropical Africa (1963)[1]
  • Background to Evolution in Africa: Systematic Investigation of the African Later Tertiary and Quaternary. University of Chicago Press. 1967. with Walter W. Bishop
  • Background to Evolution in Africa (1967) (Joint Editor)[1]
  • Atlas of African Prehistory (1967)[1]
  • Further Palaeo-Anthropological Studies in Northern Lunda (1968)[1]
  • Kalambo Falls Prehistoric Site (Vol.1, 1969; Vol.2, 1974; Vol. 3, 2001)[2]
  • The Prehistory of Africa (1970)[2]
  • J Desmond Clark, ed. (1977). "From the Earliest Times to c. 500 B.C.". The Cambridge History of Africa. Vol 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-20701-0.
  • The Acheulean and the Plio-Pleistocene Deposits of the Middle Awash Valley, Ethiopia (2000)
  • See also African Archaeological Review 5, 1987; and the Journal of Human Evolution 15(8) and 16(7/8), 1987[1]


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit