Francis Clark Howell, better known as Clark Howell, is one of the most influential and respected physical anthropologists in North America today. Howell pioneered an integrative multidisciplinary approach to the study of human origins that combines vertebrate paleontology, evolutionary biology, geology, ecology, and prehistoric archeology. This comprehensive Howellian approach is now the standard against which all early hominid excavations are measured. Howell is distinguished by his five decades of continuous work and contributions to the field of paleoanthropology. He has published prolifically, organized and participated in important conferences, and has mentored numerous students such as Leslie Freeman, Geoffrey Pope, and Don Johanson. He is genial, personally warm, and renowned for his encyclopedic mind. He was one of the first physical anthropologists to adopt gender neutral terms, something he attributes to his wife’s (Betty’s) influence.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Howell was raised on a farm where he developed an interest in natural history that influenced him throughout the rest of his life. After serving as a signalman in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he studied anthropology and related geological and biological sciences at the University of Chicago, where he completed his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in a record 6 years under the direction of Sherwood Washburn. In 1955, after teaching in the department of anatomy, School of Medicine, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Howell joined the faculty at the University of Chicago, where he became chairperson of the anthropology department in 1966. In 1970 he moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where he is currently professor emeritus, directing the Laboratory for Human Studies.
In 1957-1958 Howell conducted excavations in Isimilia, Tanzania. His most notable accomplishments include initiating and directing the Torralba (1961-1963) and Ambrona (1980-1983) research projects in Spain, where he brought his integrated approach to bear on excavations of Acheulian sites. Howell’s leadership of the U.S. contingent of the International Omo Research Expedition to southern Ethiopia between 1966 and 1973 was another important achievement. He organized and directed the multidisciplinary studies conducted by the group. Besides providing an exemplary record of excavation and data collection, this expedition documented that australopithecines existed 4 million years ago, instead of the 2 million years that had been previously thought. In addition, Howell brought back two mandibles, including a massive one that validated Phillip Tobias’s and Ron Clarke’s reconstruction of such a massive mandible for the OHS (Zinjanthropus) cranium. More recently in 1988-1989, Howell was codirector of the Yarimburgaz Research Project of cave excavations in Turkey.
Howell has been active in professional organizations, serving as vice president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and as a member of the executive board of the American Anthropological Association, among others. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 and to the French Academy of Science in 1990. In 1975 Howell led the first paleoanthropological delegation from the United States to the People’s Republic of China. This was followed in 1987-1988 by a study tour of Miocene, Pliocene-Pleistocene fossiliferous localities and fossil vertebrates in Yunman, China. In addition to his numerous scientific publications, Howell published a popular book, Early Man, which was widely read and influential and was also involved in a television special, “Man-Hunters.” Howell’s influence continues through his cochairing the science and grants committee of the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation.
- Howell, F. C. (Ed.). (1963). African ecology and human evolution. Chicago: Aldine.
- Howell, F. C. (1965). Early man. New York: Time.