Betty Cable Baume Clark 


When ‘great’ men die and obituary writers review their lives, the women who married them often become a footnote, someone who survived or did not, the one who had the children.

So, though disappointing, it is perhaps not surprising that most mentions of Betty Baume Clark that one finds are citations for being the partner (for 64 years) and mother of the children of renowned prehistorian J. Desmond Clark. A notable exception is found in the journal Before Farming, which published an individual obituary for Betty herself, and in tributes from individuals who knew them. But she warrants more recognition, that we hope to provide here.

Without Betty’s skills as a project manager (typing, field camp-managing) and – most significant in archaeological terms – superb skills as a draftswoman, Desmond’s work might not be quite the pillar of African prehistory that it is today.

Betty was already a scholar, studying languages at Newnham College, Cambridge, when her archaeological adventures began by meeting Desmond, who became a museum curator. In 1938 they moved for his job to Livingstone, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Betty married him and was acting curator while he was away on service during World War II. When he returned, she took up a post as the museum’s secretary, having obviously shown her capacity in the role.

But it wasn’t only in museum contexts that Betty’s legacy is felt; as with so many 20th century trowelblazing marriages, she also worked in the field, one of the most famous sites being Kalambo Falls, a huge waterfall now on the Zambia-Tanzania border. Alongside managing the camp during the 1950s, it was Betty who produced the many, superb lithic illustrations that grace the publications of what is one of the most significant sites in African prehistory, covering over two hundred thousand years. Her “ability and dedication to technological presentation” are described in the acknowledgements to the enormous Volume III.

Desmond remained active in research for decades, in other African contexts (including collaborating with Mary Leakey) and abroad, and Betty often continued her effective role as a research assistant, including fieldwork manager in Ethiopia (where an actual toilet seat was provided!) and visits to India. She also made further contributions to publications including preparing data tables, illustrating artefacts and typing manuscripts, for example at Swartkrans in South Africa. In the 1960s Betty and Desmond moved to Berkeley, California, where they remained for many years, and hosted seminars for colleagues at their house, including Barbara and Glynn Isaac and Anna Behrensmeyer.

I have also worked at Kalambo Falls on much later field projects, and catered for the teams of archaeologists there. It is not a convenient place. It would have taken considerable organisation to ensure food was provided and other basic requirements met. Or not so basic, judging by her legendary comment about the lack of white Chianti!

That she produced such accomplished drawings while coping with a crew of archaeologists and children is, frankly, extraordinary. The world of African archaeology should be well and truly grateful, and Betty’s contribution to the archaeological reputation of her husband deserves to be more widely recognised.

Pool above the lip of Kalambo Falls. Photo by permission of Mary Earnshaw.

Pool above the lip of Kalambo Falls. Photo by permission of Mary Earnshaw.

Submitted by Mary Earnshaw

Editing and additional content by Becky


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