20 February 2002 |

J. Desmond Clark
John Desmond Clark, a founder of African archaeology and a professor emeritus of anthropology, died Feb. 14 from pneumonia in Oakland, Calif.

Clark, 85, had been in generally good health and had just returned to his home in Oakland after a trip to England.

“Clark was legendary,” said paleontologist Tim White, professor of integrative biology and a longtime colleague. “He towered above anybody else in African archaeology with his breadth and depth of knowledge about the rise and development of prehistoric culture. His death leaves an enormous void.”

“He’s a monument to the field of archaeology,” added another colleague, Clark Howell, also a Berkeley professor emeritus of anthropology. He said of Clark, whom he first met in 1954, “There is hardly anywhere that he didn’t touch us with his archaeological capability and interest.”

Clark specialized in the study of stone tools and brought archaeology to many sites in Africa, as well as in India and China. More than any other scholar of his generation, he developed African archaeology from the examination of ancient artifacts into the study of how our ancestors lived and thought.

When he began his career in 1938 after graduating from Cambridge College, there were only a few archaeologists on the entire African continent. Clark began interacting with all of them, eventually getting involved in organizing the yearly Pan-African Congress on Prehistory.

He explored sites around the continent, including the Congo Basin, the Central African Rift Valley, the Sahara, the Nile Valley, Angola, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, and he wrote extensively on new finds. He returned to Cambridge to earn a master’s degree in 1940, Ph.D. in 1950, and doctorate of science in 1974.

He conducted much of his fieldwork during the 24 years he served as director of the National Museum in Zambia. He joined the Berkeley faculty in 1961, but continued his fieldwork in Africa. He retired from the department in 1986, but continued working until his death.

“His lifelong quest was to elucidate the very beginnings of human culture and technology and its development through time in Africa, and he was not only an expert in the oldest stone tools, but he knew the Iron Age and the Late Stone Age and which colleague was digging at what cave, and where it was and how old it was,” White said. “The knowledge and understanding this one man had of African archaeology will never be surpassed.”


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