Neville Jones, missionary and archaeologist, was educated at Dulwich College, in the south of London. His first overseas appointment was to Madagascar as geologist and French interpreter for a gold mining syndicate. Upon his return to England he studied for the ministry at Yorkshire United College in Bradford and was ordained in June 1909. Subsequently he worked as assistant secretary of the London Missionary Society. In May 1911 he married Ruth Callard, with whom he had a son and two daughters.
Jones was sent to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by the London Missionary Society in 1912 as an itinerating district missionary. Later that year he was appointed superintendent of the mission station at Hope Fountain, just south of Bulawayo. His most important scientific work was to initiate the study of the Zimbabwean prehistoric sequence. His field work started in 1913, when he discovered an archaeological surface site in the grounds of his mission station. Missionary work often took him to the Matopo Hills, where he spent his spare time searching for caves and excavating their archaeological deposits. His most important finds were Bambata Cave (in 1917, excavated in 1918 with G. Arnold*, and in 1929 with A.L. Armstrong), and Nswatugi Cave (in 1922, excavated in 1932). Some of this work was described in "Notes on the Bushman cave at Bambata, Matopos" (Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1919, Vol. 17(1), pp. 5-19), "Excavations at Nswatugi and Madiliyangwa, and notes on new sites located and examined in the Matopo Hills, Southern Rhodesia, 1932" (Occasional Papers of the Rhodesian Museum, 1933, No. 2), and several other papers. He also did much exploratory work in the drainage area of the Gwai River, north-east of Bulawayo and, with A.L. Armstrong, made the first attempt to correlate prehistoric tool industries with climatic phases at the Victoria Falls. In 1926 he published his first archaeological book, The stone age in Rhodesia.
In 1932 Jones was appointed honorary keeper of prehistory at the National Museum of Southern Rhodesia in Bulawayo. In July 1936 he left the missionary field to become the full-time keeper of ethnology, prehistory and national history at the museum. This made him the country's first professional archaeologist and enabled him to conduct full-time research into the Stone Age sequence of the country until his retirement in March 1948. It led to the publication of many archaeological papers and of his book, The prehistory of Southern Rhodesia (1949). In South Africa he directed the first excavations at Mapungubwe and wrote an account of the work, "The 1934 expedition", for the book Mapungubwe (1937), edited by L. Fouche. Earlier he had written a paper "On the implement-bearing deposits of Taungs and Tiger Kloof in the Cape Province of South Africa" (Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1920) and sent his collection of stone implements from the Cape Province and Free State to the British Museum. In 1930 he presented the museum with stone artefacts from Hope Fountain.
Another of Jones's interests was in the butterflies of Zimbabwe. His first scientific publication was in fact a paper on the family of butterflies known popularly as "blues": "The Lycaenidae of Southern Rhodesia" (Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1918, Vol. 16(2), pp. 10-20). In this paper he named the species Lycaenesthes arnoldi, after his friend Dr George Arnold*.
Jones was a versatile man of many interests, and spoke Ndebele fluently. In addition to his scientific work he also published articles on education, ethnography, and local history. Between 1936 and 1942 he furthermore contributed four articles on various aspects of museum work to the Southern African Museums Association Bulletin. He played an active role in the creation of the Southern Rhodesian Monuments Commission, serving as secretary and later as chairman. By 1933 he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. His work was recognised in various other ways. Upon his retirement he was honoured as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The University of the Witwatersrand conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) degree in 1953. He was a member of the South African Archaeological Society and was elected its president for 1953/4. By 1918 he was a member of the Rhodesia Scientific Association. He was a member also of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science, served as joint secretary for Section E (which included archaeology) at its annual congress held in Bulawayo in 1920, was president of Section E at the association's congress in Salisbury (now Harare) in 1927, and later served on the council of the association for 1932/3, representing Southern Rhodesia. His presidential address (Section E) dealt with "Some remarks on the present state of prehistoric research in South Africa" (South African Journal of Science, 1927, Vol. 24, pp. 67-79). He published several other archaeological papers in the same journal from 1920 onwards.