Obituary: Professor Martyn Jope

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The Independent Online
The formal list of Martyn Jope's distinctions and positions hides the complexity of both the man and his career. He covered the work which would have taken up the lives and training of four normal academics. He started his career as a biochemist, then turned to archaeology, first as a medievalist and later as a prehistorian, but he never lost his contacts with the physical sciences. His father's background was Cornish and he always kept a house in Oxford, but much of his life was devoted to Ulster, after his appointment to the Queen's University of Belfast in 1949.

Jope was born in 1915, and went to school at Whitgift School, Croydon, and Kingswood College, Bath, before going up with a scholarship to Oriel College, Oxford, in 1935. While studying for his first degree in Chemistry he became much involved with archaeology, in particular the archaeology of the city of Oxford. His first appointment was to the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales in 1938 but as the Second World War developed he moved to undertake fundamental research on the chemistry of blood at the London Hospital from 1940.

Jope joined the staff of the Queen's University of Belfast as a lecturer in Archaeology in 1949. He transformed archaeological research in the province by his own research and in his capacity as the Director of the Archaeological Survey set up jointly between the Government and the university. As the first staff of this new venture he made the inspired choices of Dudley Waterman and Pat Collins, whose skills of excavation and recording complemented his own. He recruited staff to the fledgling Department of Archaeology in Queen's University as well, which culminated in his appointment first as Reader and then as Professor in 1963; he retired in 1981.

No part of the archaeology of the province escaped his attention, with seminal papers on subjects as diverse as the Neolithic axe trade, the metalwork of the Iron Age, the raths of the early Christian period, medieval castles or the houses of the Plantation and 18th century. The result was the publication, under his editorship, of the magisterial Archaeological Survey of Co Down in 1966; this was not only the first systematic survey of the whole archaeology of an Irish county (still unsurpassed) but was also an important series of statements on the results and interpretation of the record; uniquely in the British Isles, it included houses down to the end of the 18th century. In 1946 Jope was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1963 Fellow of the British Academy.

Until the early 1960s he was one of the key movers in the establishment of medieval archaeology, whether as a surveyor of buildings, a pioneer of the study of pottery, or as one of the first excavators of a medieval town. His attention then turned more towards the study of the Iron Age, in particular to the completion of a book on the art of the period in the British Isles, a companion to the equivalent volume on the Continental material by P. Jacobstahl. He published preliminary studies on the material, but sadly did not quite live to see the final publication of the whole work.

At the same time he combined his archaeological and scientific knowledge both to inspire the foundation of the Department of Archaeological Science at Bradford University, and to be the joint Director of the Palaeoecology Centre at Queen's University where he encouraged the staff in their work combining dendrochronology (the study of chronology by means of annual growth rings in timber) and the study of radio-carbon dating, culminating in the high precision calibration of the radio-carbon timescale.

His work always started with precise observation of individual sites or artefacts. This was only part of the story, for his genius lay in the choice of what he studied and then in the insights he made, based on his observations. He demanded that any statement be based on evidence, whether he was concerned with someone else's publication, a student's essay, or widely held beliefs. He was totally prepared to put his own works to the same rigour; few people took criticism as well as Jope.

His other hallmark was his concern that the social and economic reasons why men made or used an artefact or building were vital parts of the study; he had no time for the compilation of lists or abstract schemes of development. Alongside his scientific precision, he was always aware of the aesthetics of a bronze scabbard of the Iron Age, or the display of a castle.

This account of his academic achievements would be one-sided without an appreciation of Martyn Jope the man. He had far more charm than can normally be accommodated in a personality. He was utterly opposed to any form of time- serving administration, pomposity or narrow-mindedness. A student with an idea was sure of the same welcome and courtesy as a fellow professor. Power and the outward trappings of fame left him cold, and he was ill- equipped for the empire-building of academic politics; it was very rare to hear him say anything malicious about anyone.

He married Margaret Halliday in 1941; they were devoted to each other and shared all aspects of life together from biology to music.

Edward Martyn Jope, archaeologist: born 28 December 1915; Lecturer in Archaeology, Queen's FSA 1946; University of Belfast 1949-54, Reader 1954- 63, Professor 1963-81 (Emeritus); FBA 1963; Member, Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments (Wales) 1963-86; MRIA 1973; Visiting Professor in Archaeological Sciences, Bradford University 1974-81, Honorary Visiting Professor 1982- 96; Member, Ancient Monuments Board (England) 1980-84; married 1941 Margaret Halliday; died Oxford 14 November 1996.