S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Stapleton, Father Philip (archaeology)

Born: 28 January 1874, Souldern, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.
Died: 22 April 1938, Harrismith, South Africa.

Philip Stapleton, Jesuit priest, teacher and archaeologist, was the son of Bryan John Stapleton and his wife Mary Helen Alice Dolman. From 1890 to 1898 he studied at the Stonyhurst Jesuit seminary in Lancashire. After teaching for some time at Wimbledon College, London, he continued his training at Jesuit seminaries in Wales and Spain before being ordained in September 1908. During 1910 to 1914 he taught at Mount St Mary's College in Derbyshire. He developed an interest in archaeology and local history while a student at Stonyhurst and during his stay in Wales wrote a paper on 'Exploration of Moel-y-Gaer, Bodfari' in the journal Archaeologia Cambrensis (1909).

In 1914 Stapleton was sent to South Africa to teach at St Aidan's College, Grahamstown, where he served as rector of the college from 1922 to February 1929. By that time he was in poor health and was appointed as assistant master and administrator of St George's College, Salisbury (now Harare, Zimbabwe). He had many friends and correspondents, was a good administrator and an excellent teacher who encouraged his pupils to think for themselves and not merely memorise their study material. He died at Harrismith during a visit to South Africa.

In Grahamstown Stapleton conducted archaeological investigations in his spare time, becoming an expert in the area and involving some of his pupils. His first publication was 'Note of a find of strandlooper pottery at Dunbrody, on the Sunday's River' (South African Journal of Science, 1919, Vol. 16, pp. 229-232). He collaborated with John Hewitt* of the Albany Museum on excavations between 1914 and 1920, and again at Howieson's Poort in 1927. With Hewitt he published an important paper, 'On some remarkable stone implements in the Albany Museum' (South African Journal of Natural History, 1925, Vol. 5, pp. 23-38) in which they discussed the antiquity and nomenclature of South African stone artefacts and stressed the importance of distribution in the study of prehistory. The results of their work at Howieson's Poort were reported in 'Stone implements from a rock-shelter at Howieson's Poort, near Grahamstown' (South African Journal of Science, 1927, Vol. 24, pp. 574-587 and 1928, Vol. 25, pp. 399-409). Their finds, and similar artefacts found at other sites, became known as the Howieson's Poort cultural phase, intermediate between the Middle and Later Stone Ages. They collaborated again in 1930, excavating five caves in the Cala district of the Transkei.

In Zimbabwe, in collaboration with Father T.I. Gardner*, Stapleton explored Gwelo Kopje (now Gweru) and a site at the Gokomere Mission near Fort Victoria (now Masvingo). He published several papers on his finds: 'Gwelo Kopje, S. Rhodesia' (as co-author with T.I. Gardner; Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1934, Vol. 33, pp. 4-14), 'Notes on certain ground (or polished) artefacts from Rhodesia' (Queen Victoria Memorial Library, Salisbury, Annual Report, 1935/6, pp. 11-16), 'Palaeoliths from Salisbury commonage, Southern Rhodesia' (Proceedings and Transactions of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1936, Vol. 34(2), pp. 6-9), 'Report on the stone material from Nyazongo Cave' (Occasional Papers of the Queen Victoria Memorial Library, 1938, Vol. 1, pp;. 4-14) and 'Pottery from the Salisbury District, Southern Rhodesia' (Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1938, Vol. 26, pp. 319-321). He was an enthusiastic and active member of the Rhodesia Scientific Association.

List of sources:

Binneman, J.N.F. History of archaeology in Eastern Cape, Part I: The spade brigade. The Phoenix, 1990, Vol. 3(1), pp. 12-15.

Cohen, A.B. Notes on Southern African stone tool collectors represented in the British Museum (NH), 21 March 1900 [unpublished; copy received from author].

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 4, 1981.

Father Philip Stapleton, S.J. Proceedings and Transactions of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1938, Vol. 35(2), pp. 65-66.

Google Scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za Publications by P. Stapleton.

Hubbard, P. A bibliography of Zimbabwean archaeology to 2005. Version 1.0, January 2007. Digital copy received from author.

Proceedings of the Rhodesia Scientific Association, 1930-1931, Vol. 30, pp. 59-61, list of members.

Records of the Albany Museum, 1927, Vol. 3(5), note by P. Stapleton.

South African Journal of Science, 1919-1928, Vol. 16, 27 and 28: Papers by P. Stapleton.

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1938, Vol. 26, paper by P. Stapleton.

Compiled by: C. Plug