Friday, December 6, 2013

The 2014 Bob Chapple Archaeological Essay Prize in association with Wordwell Books

Had my dad (Robert F ‘Bob’ Chapple) still been with us, he’d have been 72 today (6th of December 2013). I think he'd have had quite a bit of fun ... and cake ... and probably Jameson whiskey. Unfortunately, December holds another, sadder anniversary for my family. A mere two days’ time - the 8th of this month - will mark three years since his sudden passing. I still miss him and not a day goes by without my thinking of him, and wishing that I still had the benefit of his insight, mentoring, company, and (occasionally) his sense of humour.

Hadleigh excavation 1958. excavation of furnace by James Perkins + ?
When my dad left school he followed a number of career paths (cook, office junior, and RAF aerial photography applicant), before eventually finding that he had an interest in, and vast aptitude for, accountancy. By the time of his death, he had established himself as an immensely talented, respected and trusted accountant in the west of Ireland. Along the way he worked for General Monitors, Crown Controls, and EMI [1], before branching out to run his own business for nearly four decades. A world away from archaeology it would appear.

As a boy, he had attended Woolverstone Hall Schoolnear Ipswich, in Suffolk. During the 1958 school year (he’d have been 16 at the time) my dad worked as one of the excavation team on ‘Doc.’ Richardson’s archaeological excavations at the 1st century AD Roman Villa at Hadleigh. Richardson was the school’s Latin Master and had co-opted a number of interested, willing, and available students to shovel earth and push barrows for part of the summer. There was no actual pay for the labour, merely all the windfall apples the young students could carry [2]. As far as I’m aware, pretty much the only possession of my dad’s to survive from that early time in his life was a small photo album. Among the shots of the school’s boats, the cricket pavilion, and the nissen huts (survivors from WWII), there are three photos from that excavation [The collection was featured on the Retronaut site]. They were all taken in the period from May to July 1958 on a borrowed Voightlander Vito B 35mm camera and developed and printed in the Darkroom in Orwell House at the school (named for the adjacent river, not the novelist). My father was one of the founders of the school’s Photographic Club and was heavily involved in the school branch of the Sea Cadets, the latter explaining the maritime theme of many of the images. Of the archaeological photographs, two are general ‘working shots’ of the excavation in progress and the other (previously unpublished) is a view of the furnace that generated heat for the villa’s hypocaust system [3]. The excavation of this important site (there is only one other known Roman Villa in Suffolk, at Castle Hill, Ipswich) was never published and these images take on a special resonance and become not merely family mementoes of a long-ago summer, but valuable clues to our greater, shared past. As a child, I have distinct memories of pouring over these photographs and feeling a fascination and wonderment for the past. I have no doubt in my mind that their presence in my family home played a crucial role in my making archaeology my full-time profession for two decades.

Hadleigh excavation 1958. James Perkins, ? & Doc Richardson (beret)
When I published a monograph on the excavation of a Middle Bronze Age cemetery at Oakgrove, Co. Derry~Londonderry, I dedicated the work to my father as ‘the first archaeologist in the family’. I had hesitated before publication in letting him know about it – having initially thought it should be a surprise. However, just to be on the safe side, I wanted to clear it with him and ensure that I had his blessing. He was quite overcome and told me that he would be honoured to accept the accolade. In retrospect, I am very glad I chose to talk to him about it in advance as I never had the opportunity afterwards – as I said, he died on the 8th of December 2010 and my author’s copies arrived from the publishers on Christmas Eve. It was heart-breaking for me to open that parcel so soon after his death and see his name hovering before me on the dedication page.

Hadleigh excavation 1958. Portion of hypocaust
Time is a wonderful healer. Three years later, I still miss him – I always will – but the keenness and pain in my mourning of him has receded. Now I miss him less for myself and more for his grandchildren. I’ve often repeated his quip that if he’d known how much fun grandchildren were – over actual children – he’d have had those first. I think he would have been so proud of all of them, and marvelled at the fine boys and girls they are turning into with every passing week. This time has given me the opportunity to ponder on some ‘what ifs’. Aside from wondering if his condition had been diagnosed in time would he still be with us, I’m drawn to the fact that he was a prodigiously talented accountant, much beloved by his clients for finding all available (legal) means of saving their money from the tax man. He had a great mind for detail and loved to read, analyse, research, and debate. I’ve thought that, had circumstances been slightly different, he could easily have pursued a career in archaeology. I believe that he would have made as remarkably fine a practitioner in this discipline as he did in accountancy. He certainly had a keen interest in many aspects of archaeology and history throughout his adult life, so it’s not too far-fetched to imagine him as a professional in this field.

He may be gone, but this rumination has given me an idea. In memory of my father, I would like to introduce an Archaeological Essay Prize for undergraduate and postgraduate students. The competition will open to any registered student at any third level institution, conducting original research on any aspect of Irish archaeology as part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree/diploma of any kind. The entry is to be in the form of an essay/paper (max 5000 words) outlining the research being conducted and its importance, relevance etc., along with results (expected, actual, emerging etc.) to be published on this blog.

Robert F ‘Bob’ Chapple. December 6 1941 – December 8 2010
What am I getting out of this?
Firstly, I get the opportunity to provide a positive memorial for my dad. More importantly, I get the opportunity to help present the work of the next generation of archaeology scholars to the world. Simple as that!

What’s in it for you?
There will be one prize of a voucher to the value of €60, generously sponsored by Wordwell Books Ltd., for redemption against their stock, and the title of ‘2014 Bob Chapple Archaeological Essay Prize Winner’ (should you wish to use it). Beyond this, it is an opportunity to reach out to a broader constituency to share your research and begin the process of creating a profile for both yourself and your topic of study. This blog may not be the biggest or most important in the world, but it does get in the region of 5000 views per month, with new papers regularly getting several hundred reads on their initial publication – some of the more controversial ones generate views in the thousands. This could represent a valuable avenue for researchers to present the significance of their research and act as outreach to a wide, international audience. In a time when conducting good and innovative research is no longer enough, that research must be promoted, communicated, and delivered to a mass audience of both professional and ‘amateur’ interests. I’d like to be part of that process. I’d like to be seen as assisting the new generation of archaeological scholars make their mark in the profession. In the same way as my dad’s photos inspired me and filled me with the wonder, I’m hoping that this Essay Prize will inspire current students to take up the challenge and communicate their work to the world. Beyond that, I’m hoping that people out there  young and not so young alike  reading the entries will themselves be inspired to take an interest in heritage matters, and possibly even consider studying archaeology themselves. I’m totally honest about this – I want to provide inspiration. Submitting an entry to this competition will give you the opportunity to not only show your intellectual muscle, it may just provide the chance to inspire a further generation of researchers. I‘d like to gain the epithet ‘inspirational’, but I don’t see it as a position where I could or should pull the ladder up after me – tell the world about your research and why it’s important and you could be inspirational too!

I have jotted down some preliminary rules and clarifications below (they may be changed and emended as required). If you are interested in entering, please feel free to either contact me in advance to discuss an entry, or simply send along a finished text for publication. I would also be grateful if you could consider circulating this to any appropriate university departments or students that may be interested.

I’ve no idea if this will be a success, or if it will just quietly wither, but I’m willing to give it a go – to bring the latest archaeological research to the world, to help the next generation of scholars make their mark, and (just maybe) honour the memory of ‘the first archaeologist in my family’.

Provisional Rules:

1) At time of submission: any registered student (full time/part time/mature student etc.) at any third level institution (University, Institute, etc.).
2) Carrying out original research on any aspect of archaeology of any period.
3) Research is part of an undergraduate or postgraduate degree/diploma (BA, BSc, MA, MSc, MPhil, PhD etc.).
Clarification: there is no restriction on nationality (i.e. the competition is not just open to Irish students), nor is there any restriction on where the individual is studying, or on the subject matter that they study. For example: a Belgian student studying Irish archaeology in Canada = eligible. An Irish student studying Bulgarian archaeology in Dublin = eligible.

Format of entry
1) Essay in English of not more than 5000 words describing the research being undertaken, highlighting its importance and (where applicable) outlining results etc.
2) To be published on this blog.
3) Reading level to be directed towards a professional archaeologist/interested non-professional level, but non-specialist in the specific research area.
Clarification: The entrant may choose their preferred method of communicating their research - either as a formal 'paper'/'journal article' style with bibliography, or a less formal 'blog post' style - or anything in between - the choice is yours.
4) Accompanied by at least one photograph/appropriate image.
5) Entry to be accompanied by brief resume about the entrant for publication, including third level institution and course being attended.
6) Only one entry per student will be accepted for publication.
7) Submissions may have been published previously, but this must be clearly stated and the editor's permission (if applicable) granted.

1) By email to rmchapple[at]
2) Text in MSWord (or compatible format), single spaced with ‘don’t add space between paragraphs’ box checked. Images in .jpg format, preferably in ‘web-friendly’ sizes.

1) 2014 competition open from December 6th 2013 to November 31st 2014.
2) Winner to be decided & announced by January 2015. Winner will be notified by email.

1) One prize of a €60 voucher from Wordwell Books Ltd. (there will be no cash alternative)  for redemption against their stock along with the title ‘2014 Bob Chapple Archaeological Essay Prize Winner’.

1) Winner will be determined by a panel of judges, convened by myself.
2)  In the event of a tied decision, I will hold a casting vote.
3) All decisions final.
4) No additional correspondence entered into & no purchase necessary etc.

[1] This is, of course, vastly different from the current practice of field archaeology, where no apples are involved.

[2] While at EMI he worked on the optical linescan unit (albeit in the accounts section) for the BAC TSR-2. The TSR-2 was a Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft, most famous for being dogged by political and technical difficulties.

[3] That's what my dad always claimed that Doc Richardson thought it was ... but I realise I'm no Roman expert and would welcome confirmation, clarification, or contradiction from anyone with expert knowledge in this area.

December 7 2013: A rather excellent post has just appeared on the These Bones of Mine blog, supporting and publicising the Essay Prize. For anyone with an interest in osteology, but not aware of this marvellous blog, I cannot urge you strongly enough to get over there and read some of the amazing posts.

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