With the death of Grahame Clark, archaeology has lost one of its most influential figures of the present century.
A product of Marlborough College, Clark went on to be a research student in the Department of Archaeology at Cambridge in 1930, and subsequently was both Disney Professor of Archaeology in the University (1952-74) and Master of Peterhouse (1973-80). He was knighted for his contributions to archaeology in 1992.
Clark's contributions to archaeology were characterised by a remarkable range and breadth of vision. He came to the subject at a time when it was in the grip of heavily typologically dominated studies - more concerned with putting artefacts into their correct taxonomic pigeon-holes than understanding the human cultures that lay behind them.
Partly through his contacts with new developments in palaeoenvironmental studies (pioneered in Britain by Sir Harry Godwin) and partly through his involvement with the group of economic historians in his own college, Clark became committed to the vision of human development largely as an exercise in economic innovation and adaptation, closely interwoven with changes in the natural environment. In collaboration with Godwin and others, he initiated the influential Fenland Research Committee in 1932, and went on to conduct a series of field investigations designed to put the prehistoric occupation of the fenland area into its local environmental context.
After a period of war service (in aerial photographic interpretation) he returned to the same theme in his monumental survey Prehistoric Europe: the Economic Basis (1952), which effectively established the study of economic prehistory as a new field of inquiry in its own right.
Closely related to Clark's interests in economic and environmental studies was his pioneering research into the long-neglected field of Mesolithic archaeology. For too long, he maintained, the Mesolithic period had been regarded as a kind of cultural "fag end" - poised between the artistic splendours of the preceding Upper Palaeolithic period, and the economic innovations of the first farmers.
His two earliest books - The Mesolithic Age in Britain (1932) and The Mesolithic Settlement of Northern Europe (1936) - effectively laid the foundations of Mesolithic studies in northern Europe, while his subsequent post-war excavations at the waterlogged Mesolithic settlement of Star Carr (near Scarborough, in the Vale of Pickering) revealed what is still perhaps the most graphic illustration of the ways of life of these early postglacial hunting communities in Europe.
From the 1960s onwards Clark's interests shifted progressively away from Europe towards the wider scene of World Prehistory. Stimulated largely by the new developments in Australian and African archaeology (many of them products of his own students from Cambridge) he came to see the study of world prehistory as one of the great unifying themes of mankind - ultimately perhaps holding the key to at least some of the problematic relationships between "aboriginal" and "colonial" populations at the present day. …