You are here: Past Lectures > J. Desmond Clark > Lecture > Introductory Remarks by Laura Nader
October 21, 1996
It is my pleasure to say a few words about Desmond Clark before we move to the 6th emeriti lecture which is being presented in his honor.
Desmond Clark was born in London in 1916. He grew up in the English countryside amidst the animals, and the plants, the forts and the castles--a preview of coming attractions. He describes himself as an intractable lad who at 6 1/2 was sent off [to] boarding school. Today he might have been put on Ritalin. Before college and while he attended Cambridge Univ. and even while he was in Zambia rowing was an important sport for him--as he notes it taught one good team work. While at Cambridge Desmond focused on prehistoric arch. and studies with Miles Burkitt and Grahame Clark--it is clear that Grahame Clark's focus on palaeo-ecology had a profound impact on Desmond--the realization that "without an understanding of the habitat of any prehistoric group, it is impossible to begin to understand their behavior--why particular resources were being used, why they chose to do so in the way they did, and how the changes in climate and environment brought about the particular adaptations that resulted." Desmond tells us that for Grahame Clark the interest was in the people, for Burkitt in the artifacts, for Sir Mortimer Wheeler with whom he had his first fieldwork experience--good on site training.
By the late 1930s Desmond was ready for employment, but employment possibilities for a prehistoric archaeologist were few and far between in England, especially if you did not know Gr. and Latin. There was however, an opening in 1937 as Secretary at the Institute for Social Anthropology--the Rhodes Livingston Institute, and the David Livingston Memorial Museum where Desmond was to be curator. That first job was evidently what sparked his interest in south central Africa.
Godfrey Wilson was the first director of the joint Rhodes Livingston Institute and Museum and Desmond credits Godfrey and his wife Monica with teaching him a deeper appreciation of what archaeologists could gain from ethnography. The beginnings were interrupted however by WWII when Desmond became part of a field ambulance team in east Africa-Somaliland and Ethiopia--the Horn of Africa..a good place for one whose views on wa[r] were "one generally opposed to the taking of life." In quiet times he worked on the archaeological record as he did when opportunities took him to Madagascar and Kenya, where he came to know Louis and Mary Leakey. In 1951 Desmond Clark completed his PhD degree at Cambridge.
After WWII there was a mood change in archaeology--there was an abandonment of the taxonomic approach to archaeology & paradigm[s] were constru[c]ted to answer questions about the social economic and political meanings of archaeological data. Radiocarbon dating and Potasium argon gave the impetus to new work and made it possible as Desmond said to now "have a chronological framework in which we can have confidence and to see how long it took for one biological hominid stage to evolve into another." Another window of opportunity opened in 1947 when Louis Leakey opened the Pan African congress in prehistory and related studies for mutual exchange of information.
When Desmond Clark was about 45 he made the mo[v]e to Berkeley to join ou[r] faculty. It was an intellectually sociable period in our department & it was reflected at the parties which always mixed socio/cult/arch. At one such party I came to respect Desmond's other talents. LIMB[O]. This was in 1961. Glyn Isac came to Berkeley in 1966 launched a program in African archaeology. The research of Desmond, Sherry Washburn, Clark Howell and Glyn Isac was encompassed in the Early man in Africa Program--Berkeley became a major center of early man research covering a period of more than 5 million year[s]. The team approach was important to understand how human culture evolved and Desmond stresses teamwork for a reason. He recently put it--"If we start to fall back into little watertight compartments as there has been a tendency to do then we can expect fragmentation and stagnation." Holism was his marks[?] synthesis.
The scope of Desmond's work is staggering--in addition to Africa he worked in Asia, Syria, India and China--this allowed him richer assessment of Africa's contrib. [t]o the historical record. He also visited most of the African continent thus again gaining a broader perspective on african archaeology for comparative purposes. The questions were everywhere the same--where did we all come from, why, when? By 1984 molecular biologists were in the picture..the first modern humans were dated some one hundred to 2 hundred thousand years ago. Desmond Clark was always focused towards the work. He ends his Annual rev article not on memories but on future prospects.
Desmond Clark has published well over a dozen books and hundreds of papers. Always with an eye [ ] synthesis he presents new data and simultaneously an overview of the current state of knowledge of a particular region. His honors are many. He is a Fellow of the British Academy, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Society of South Africa and most recently he received the LSB Leakey prize for Multidisciplinary Research on Ape and Human Evolution to name a few. His contributions to the study of the origin and development of human technology are recognized as unrivaled. His multidisciplinary approach to an understanding of the relationship between culture and the environment are recognized by researchers around the world. So too is the role that his wife Betty Clark has played in all this work on early human studies. During WWII while Desmond was away Betty Clark was Acting Curator of the Museum in Livingston while Max Gluckman was Director of the Institute. In every way the work has been a family affair.
It gives your colleagues special pleasure to salute both of you--Desmond and Betty Clark.
Laura Nader's remarks on the occasion of Desmond Clark's emeritus lecture, Oct. 1996
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