British Archaeology, no 21, February 1997: Obituary


Martyn Jope

by Thomas McNeill

Martyn Jope had three overlapping careers in archaeology, as a medievalist, in the Iron Age, and as a campaigner for the deployment of laboratory disciplines in the subject. In all three he achieved great distinction, recognised by professorships at two universities and fellowships of the British and Royal Irish Academies.

His first achievements were as a medievalist, for he was one of two or three scholars who established the study of the period after 1066 as a core part of archaeology, with pioneering urban and rural excavations and a whole series of regional studies of pottery in the 1950s. He included the Middle Ages from the first in his courses at the Queen's University of Belfast, where he founded the department of which he was made professor in 1963. He worked to integrate science into archaeology, with the foundation of the Palaeoecology Centre at Belfast, and the Department of Archaeological Sciences at Bradford, where he was made visiting professor in 1974. He published a series of articles on the Iron Age, building towards a volume on the art of the British Isles. The archaeology of all periods in Ireland, and Ulster in particular, was changed totally by his standards, methods and breadth of vision.

He was never a household name, even within the world of archaeology. This was because he never wanted to be and because of how he worked. His genius was to see the significance of a site or an object in its context and use it to explain the whole social world of those who made it or who paid for it. With people, he would show them their opportunity and leave them to make of it what they could. He would not interfere with them and he expected them not to interfere with him, unless they had an idea worth discussing. He refused to waste time on publicising himself on the conference circuit or elsewhere - he left that to his writings.

He despised administration and empirebuilding for its pomp and its waste of time. He was above all spontaneous and refused to be tied by a timetable - the nearest thing to an appointment would often be `the latter part of the morning'. It might be difficult to catch him, but if you did and had something academically worth discussing, half an hour with Martyn Jope was worth a day with most other people.

Martyn Jope: born 28 December 1915; educated Whitgift School, Croyden, Kingswood School, Bath, and Oriel College, Oxford (chemistry); research biochemist, London Hospital 1940-1949; founder and head of the archaeology department, Queen's University, Belfast 1949-81; married 1941 Margaret Halliday; died 14 November 1996.

Dr Thomas McNeill is a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the Queen's University, Belfast


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