John Desmond Clark— 1988 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement
John Desmond Clark is most succinctly, if incompletely, described as one of the world's foremost interpreters of early cultural development as well as one of the most prolific writers on the subject. His research on Paleolithic and later Stone Age cultures has taken him to such diverse areas as Central Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Sahara, India, and the Near East. His contagious enthusiasm for archaeology has given encouragement to younger colleagues and students, numbers of whom are now established scholars in their own right. A superb fieldworker, he has also always been able to envision the more complete fabric of ancient lifeways as represented by the jigsaw puzzle composed of fragmentary bits of evidence surviving from the Pleistocene and early Holocene: the ''bones and stones" that many less astute observers might regard as all but mute testimony to the past. He was one of the first archaeologists to emphasize the importance of ecological factors in structuring or tempering the behavioral responses of evolving human societies to their respective settings, and routinely one-of the first to appreciate the significance of new techniques and methods, and of interdisciplinary approaches, designed to aid interpretation of the archaeological record.
Desmond Clark graduated from Cambridge in 1937, on the eve of World War II, and soon thereafter accepted a post at the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum in what was then Northern Rhodesia. After a brief period, during which he initiated a research program that included describing the geological and cultural stratigraphy of the nearby Victoria Falls area, he left to serve as an officer with British forces in East and Northeast Africa. For most individuals this would have been a largely unproductive interlude, but he made the most of an extended opportunity to carry out archaeological fieldwork in Ethiopia and Somalia during such free time as was at his disposal. The results of his survey provided the basis for a postwar doctoral dissertation at Cambridge, which was subsequently published as, not his first, but second book. Returning to Livingstone after the war, he resumed his position at the Museum where, as Director, he built it into one of the leading research institutions in Africa. His own single most important research effort was at Kalambo Falls, excavating deposits that incorporated a 200,000-year succession of prehistoric remains, from Acheulian through Iron Age. He also found time to work on other projects, including a fairly extensive archaeological survey in northeastern Angola. In 1961 he left the Museum, with understandable feelings of regret, to become Professor of Anthropology at Berkeley. His absence, however, was only temporary since he went back to Africa frequently, and on occasion worked in Asia, in order to pursue his Old World interests. It has been at Berkeley that he has influenced so many young people to follow in his footsteps. This was a new role for him, and one of inestimable value to the field of archaeology because of his direct involvement in the training process, a function largely denied him as a museum director.
Perhaps of greater importance than the more tangible, which is to say published, results of an unusually active and productive life is the person himself: an indefatigable fieldworker, a dedicated and demanding scholar, a gentleman of the first magnitude, and an individual invariably displaying a keen interest in the work of others. His professional career has spanned a half-century during which has emerged most of our knowledge concerning Africa's contribution to human evolution. It is with the greatest respect and admiration that the Archaeological Institute of America presents its Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement to Desmond Clark.