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J. Desmond Clark (left).

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

Educated at Monkton Combe School near Bath, J. Desmond Clark graduated with a B.A. from Christ's College at the University of Cambridge and became the curator of Northern Rhodesia's Livingstone Memorial Museum in 1937. A year later Clark married Betty Behaume, who would accompany him on a number of expeditions throughout his life. Clark served in the military during World War II as well as carrying out archaeological fieldwork in the Horn of Africa. Following the war, he returned to Cambridge, completing his Ph.D. in 1947.

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 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. 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.

Selected works

  • The Prehistoric Cultures of the Horn of Africa, 1954
  • Background to Evolution in Africa (with W. W. Bishop), 1967
  • The Prehistory of Africa, 1970
  • The Cambridge History of Africa: From the Earliest Times to c. 500 BC, 1982

Further reading

  • Daniel, Glyn Edmund; Chippindale, Christopher. The Pastmasters: Eleven Modern Pioneers of Archaeology: V. Gordon Childe, Stuart Piggott, Charles Phillips, Christopher Hawkes, Seton Lloyd, Robert J. Braidwood, Gordon R. Willey, C.J. Becker, Sigfried J. De Laet, J. Desmond Clark, D.J. Mulvaney. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989 (hardcover, ISBN 0500050511).

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