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Colin Renfrew

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The Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
Professor Renfrew in 2018
Master of Jesus College, Cambridge
In office
Preceded bySir Alan Cottrell
Succeeded byDavid Crighton
Disney Professor of Archaeology
University of Cambridge
In office
Preceded byGlyn Daniel
Succeeded byGraeme Barker
Personal details
Andrew Colin Renfrew

(1937-07-25) 25 July 1937 (age 86)
Stockton-on-Tees, England
Political partyConservative
EducationSt Albans School, Hertfordshire
Alma materSt John's College, Cambridge
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/service Royal Air Force
Years of service1956–1958

Andrew Colin Renfrew, Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, FBA, FSA, Hon FSA Scot (born 25 July 1937) is a British archaeologist, paleolinguist and Conservative peer noted for his work on radiocarbon dating, the prehistory of languages, archaeogenetics, neuroarchaeology, and the prevention of looting at archaeological sites.

Renfrew was formerly the Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and is now a Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Early life and education[edit]

Renfrew was educated at St Albans School, Hertfordshire (where one of the houses is named after him) and from 1956 to 1958 did National Service in the Royal Air Force. He then went up to St John's College, Cambridge, where he read Natural Sciences then Archaeology and Anthropology, graduating in 1962. He was elected president of Cambridge Union in 1961 and was a member of the University of Cambridge Archaeological Field Club (AFC).[1] He had run against and lost an election to Barry Cunliffe to become president of the AFC. In 1965, he completed his PhD thesis Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of the Cyclades and their external relations; in the same year he married Jane M. Ewbank.


Renfrew looking at artefacts including Roman gold coins

In 1965, Renfrew was appointed to the post of lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. Between 1968 and 1970, he directed excavations at Sitagroi, Greece. In the 1968 Sheffield Brightside by-election he unsuccessfully contested this parliamentary constituency on behalf of the Conservative Party. In that year he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, in 1970 was elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and in 2000 elected an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

In 1972, Renfrew became Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton, succeeding Barry Cunliffe. During his time at Southampton he directed excavations at Quanterness in Orkney and Phylakopi on the island of Milos, Greece. In 1973, Renfrew published Before Civilisation: The Radiocarbon Revolution and Prehistoric Europe in which he challenged the assumption that prehistoric cultural innovation originated in the Near East and then spread to Europe. He also excavated with Marija Gimbutas at Sitagroi.

In 1980, Renfrew was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. In 1981 he was elected to the Disney Professorship of Archaeology in the University of Cambridge, a post he held until his retirement. In 1990 Renfrew was appointed as the founding Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

In 1987, he published Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of the Indo-European Origins, a book on the Proto-Indo-Europeans. His "Anatolian hypothesis" posited that this group lived 2,000 years before the Kurgans, in Anatolia, later diffusing to Greece, then Italy, Sicily, Corsica, the Mediterranean coast of France, Spain, and Portugal. Another branch migrated along the fertile river valleys of the Danube and Rhine into central and northern Europe.

He developed the Anatolian hypothesis, which argues that Proto-Indo-European, the reconstructed ancestor of the Indo-European languages, originated approximately 9,000 years ago in Anatolia and moved with the spread of farming throughout the Mediterranean and into central and northern Europe. This hypothesis contradicted Marija Gimbutas's Kurgan hypothesis, which states that Proto-Indo-European was spread by a migration of peoples from the Pontic–Caspian steppe approximately 6,000 years ago.

From 1987 to 1991, he co-directed excavations at Markiani on Amorgos and at Dhaskalio Kavos, Keros, Greece.

Renfrew's work in using the archaeological record as the basis for understanding the ancient mind was foundational to the field of evolutionary cognitive archaeology.[2][3] Renfrew and his student, Lambros Malafouris, coined the phrase neuroarchaeology to describe an archaeology of mind.[4][5]

In 1996, Renfrew formulated a sapient paradox, that can be formulated as ""why there was such a long gap between emergence of genetically and anatomically modern humans and the development of complex behaviors?"[6][7]

Renfrew served as Master of Jesus College, Cambridge from 1986 until 1997. In 2004, he retired from the Disney Professorship and is now a Senior Fellow at the McDonald Institute. From 2006 to 2008 he directed new excavations on the Cycladic Island of Keros, and is currently co-director of the Keros Island Survey.

Positions, awards and accolades[edit]


  • Renfrew, A.C., 1972, The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in The Third Millennium BC, London.
  • Renfrew, A.C., 1973, Before Civilisation, the Radiocarbon Revolution and Prehistoric Europe, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6593-5
  • Renfrew, A.C. and Kenneth L. Cooke, eds. 1979 Transformations: Mathematical Approaches to Culture Change. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-586050-5
  • Renfrew, A.C. and Malcolm Wagstaff, eds., 1982, An Island Polity, the Archaeology of Exploitation in Melos, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Renfrew, Colin, 1984, Approaches to Social Archeology, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-85224-481-9
  • Renfrew, A.C., ed. 1985, The Archaeology of Cult, the Sanctuary at Phylakopi, London: British School at Athens / Thames & Hudson.
  • Colin Renfrew, Marija Gimbutas and Ernestine S. Elster, eds. 1986. Excavations at Sitagroi, a prehistoric village in northeast Greece. Vol. 1. Los Angeles : Institute of Archaeology, University of California.
  • Renfrew, A.C., 1987, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6612-5
  • Renfrew, A.C. and Ezra B. W. Zubrow, eds. 1994, The ancient mind: elements of cognitive archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45620-3
  • Renfrew, A.C. and Paul Bahn, 1991, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice, London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28147-5. (Sixth edition 2012)[12]
  • Renfrew, A.C., 2000, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis in Archaeology, London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-3034-2
  • Renfrew, A.C., 2003, Figuring It Out: The Parallel Visions of Artists and Archaeologists, London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05114-3
  • Ernestine S. Elster and Colin Renfrew, eds., 2003. Prehistoric Sitagroi: Excavations in Northeast Greece, 1968–1970. Vol. 2: The Final Report. Los Angeles, CA: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. Monumenta archaeologica 20.
  • Renfrew, A.C., and Paul Bahn, eds. Archaeology: The Key Concepts. London: Routledge, 2005.
  • Renfrew, A.C., and Paul Bahn, Archaeology Essentials: Theories, Methods and Practice, London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-84138-9. (Fourth edition 2018).
  • Renfrew, A.C., 2008, Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind, Modern Library. ISBN 0-679-64097-5
  • Matsumura S., Forster P. and Renfrew C., eds., 2008, Simulations, Genetics and Human Prehistory, Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archeological Research. ISBN 978-1-902937-45-8


  • "Models of change in language and archaeology", Transactions of the Philological Society 87 (1989): 103–55.
  • "Archaeology, genetics and linguistic diversity", Man 27 (1992): 445–78.
  • "Time depth, convergence theory, and innovation in Proto-Indo-European: 'Old Europe' as a PIE linguistic area", Journal of Indo-European Studies 27 (1999): 257–93.
  • "'Indo-European' designates languages: not pots and not institutions", Antiquity 79 (2005): 692–5.
  • "Archaeogenetics", in Archaeology: The Key Concepts, eds. Colin Renfrew & Paul Bahn. London: Routledge, 2005, pp. 16–20.
  • "Phylogenetic network analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, April 8, 2020[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Archaeological Field Club. "Alumni". archaeology.uk.com.
  2. ^ Renfrew, Colin (1982). Towards an Archaeology of Mind: An Inaugural Lecture Delivered before the University of Cambridge on 30th November 1982. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1080/00665983.1984.11077826.
  3. ^ Renfrew, Colin (1994). "Towards a Cognitive Archaeology". In Renfrew, Colin; Zubrow, Ezra B W (eds.). In The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 3–12. ISBN 9780521456203.
  4. ^ Malafouris, Lambros; Renfrew, Colin (2008). "Introduction". Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 18 (3): 381–385. doi:10.1017/s0959774308000425. ISSN 0959-7743. S2CID 231810895.
  5. ^ Malafouris, Lambros; Renfrew, Colin, eds. (2010). The Cognitive Life of Things: Recasting the Boundaries of the Mind. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. ISBN 9781902937519.
  6. ^ Donald, Merlin (21 January 2009). "The sapient paradox: can cognitive neuroscience solve it?". Brain. 132 (3): 820–824. doi:10.1093/brain/awn290. Retrieved 19 June 2022. The paradox is that there was a gap of well over 50 000 years between the speciation and tectonic phases.
  7. ^ Renfrew, Colin (1 February 2008). "Solving the "Sapient Paradox"". BioScience. 58 (2): 171–172. doi:10.1641/B580212. called the "sapient paradox," that some of the complex behaviors now associated with humans took a long time to develop even after the emergence in Africa of humans who were fully modern in the anatomical and genetic senses.
  8. ^ "Professor Lord Colin Renfrew of Kaimsthorn FBA". British AQcademy. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  9. ^ "State Intelligence". The London Gazette. No. 52584. 27 June 1991. p. 9849.
  10. ^ "British Archaeologist To Speak At CU March 20". University of Colorado. Boulder. 11 March 1999. Retrieved 21 December 2019.
  11. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 24 May 2021.
  12. ^ Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn (2000). Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (Third ed.). Internet Archive: Thames & Hudson, LTD. ISBN 0-500-28147-5.
  13. ^ Forster, Peter; Forster, Lucy; Renfrew, Colin; Forster, Michael (8 April 2020). "Phylogenetic network analysis of SARS-CoV-2 genomes". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 117 (17): 9241–9243. Bibcode:2020PNAS..117.9241F. doi:10.1073/pnas.2004999117. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 7196762. PMID 32269081.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by Disney Professor of Archaeology, Cambridge University
Succeeded by
Preceded by Master of Jesus College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Orders of precedence in the United Kingdom
Preceded by Gentlemen
Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
Followed by