British prehistorian who was one of the principal exponents of the so‐called New Archaeology. Educated at Dulwich College, he had two years of obligatory National Service before going to university. These he spend with the Royal Signals Corps at Essen in Germany. He went up to Peterhouse, Cambridge, in October 1957, graduating in archaeology and anthropology with first‐class honours three years later. He was promptly accepted back as a Ph.D. student, his chosen subject being Beaker pottery in the British Isles.
In 1964 Clarke finished his dissertation and was appointed to a William Stone Research Fellowship. Two years later he was elected a Fellow of the college and Director of Studies in Archaeology and Anthropology. Part of his time was devoted to preparing his work on Beakers for publication as the Beaker pottery in Great Britain and Ireland (1970, Cambridge: CUP). Alongside this, however, he was also working on a study of what archaeology was and what it should be. Drawing on many diverse disciplines he began to formulate a new way of thinking about and exploring the past. The results of this were published as Analytical archaeology (1968, London: Methuen), in which he argued that archaeology should become a science by developing its own explicit methodologies and theory based on systems theory. This book was probably the single most important archaeological text published in Britain in the 1960s, and one that caused great controversy in ushering in the New Archaeology on the European side of the Atlantic. A number of colleagues and students quickly picked up on the ideas and their implications, as shown by the papers in Clarke's edited book Models in archaeology (1972, London: Methuen). This was followed up in 1973 with an article in Antiquity entitled ‘Archaeology—the loss of innocence’ which took the ideas to a far wider audience and drew heavy criticism from more traditionally minded archaeologists.
Although Clarke was hopeful of being given the Disney Chair of Archaeology in 1975, the electors chose Glyn Daniel instead. In 1976, Clarke was given an untenured assistant lectureship. That same year he spent some time in hospital; he died at home the day after being discharged when a blood clot, formed by weeks of inactivity, detached itself and lodged in his lung.
N. Hammond, 1979, David Clarke: a biographical sketch. In Analytical archaeologist: collected papers of David L. Clarke. London: Academic Press, 1–10