Talk:Colin Renfrew

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We need a paragraph that refutes Lord Renfrew's very wrong understanding of historical linguistics. Lord Renfrew accepts the findings of historical linguists, but ignores their methodology; he basically tries to have his cake and eat it too. Historical linguistics is a real science, while Lord Renfrew can be accused of pseudoscience.

Your agenda is distasteful and likely will not find many adherents here. Please feel
free to suggest *specific* ways in which the article can be improved rather than
try to argue a specific (and unsupportable) viewpoint on the scholar who is dealt
with in this article. If you feel that the current wording of the article does not
deal fairly with criticism of Baron Renfrew's published theories and ideas, then
you are quite welcome to add to the article. That is the nature of Wikipedia- it
is open to nearly anyone for editing, but it is also self-correcting, and errors
generally do not remain for a long period of time.
In sum- please contribute to the article rather than complain and do nothing
to help. An accusation of 'pseudoscience' is a very serious one when describing
a scholar who has the respect of his peers as well as the obvious credentials
that Baron Renfrew possesses. P.MacUidhir 05:53, 25 September 2005 (UTC)
I may be walking into a hornet's nest here, but I used to be really frustrated with Renfrew because of his Wave of Advance theory (Out of Anatolia, 11500 BP) for the Indo-Europeans. Part of what made it so frustrating is that he was otherwise such a brilliant scholar (and one of my favorite authors), only PIE has a lot of words related to Late Neolithic technologies. However, a decade or two later I read somewhere that he retracted the theory, or at least the part connecting it to the Indo-Europeans. However, being wrong is not the same as pseudoscience. All scholars make mistakes from time to time. Zyxwv99 (talk) 18:12, 3 December 2011 (UTC)

November 2005[edit]

Lord Renfrew is still defending his position, but it's a failed position.


19 November 2005

The entire field of linguistics, especially as it relates to Indo-European studies and origins, is rife with contention and acrimony. As with the late Marija Gimbutas (whose bio is also in wikipedia), savage attacks are made on the reputation and work of scholars who don't tow the line. These attackers are in turn attacked, and the fighting is bloody. (Of course, many academic fields are no better or often worse.)

There are many competing viewpoints and agendas. I personally believe that, as with religion, no one person or group knows or can know the whole truth. Not only is the amount of information vast, but the amount we have yet to learn is even more vast! New sciences and advances in old ones appear regularly, (such as DNA and radio-carbon and other dating methods). These frequently put the entire field topsy-turvy, and old ideas are found invalid as new (or sometimes even older) theories seem to be validated. I doubt that the entire picture will ever be fully known, short of the invention and deployment of some sort of time traveling device - and even then, one would need to know where to look and how.

As I understand the situation, Renfrew's version of events is viewed by many linguists with skepticism, because of the dates. (Linguists have generally placed Proto-Indo-European at c. 6000 years ago until recently.) Renfrew places it several thousand years further back to match the known dates for the spread of farming.

However, some recent research in several fields seems to support some of his dates and ideas of the dispersion and spread of both languages and cultures. A new study may revise the dates and other aspects of the Indo-Europeans and one of their descendant sub-groups, the Celts.

Peter Forster, a DNA researcher from Cambridge University, and Alfred Toth, a linguist at the University of Zurich, have used DNA sequencing and phylogenetic network methods to study Celtic languages.

They focused on Gaulish using bilingual Gaulish–Latin inscriptions, which revealed what appears to be a very early split of Celtic within Indo-European. They then separated Gaulish (Continental Celtic) from Insular Celtic languages, with Insular Celtic subsequently splitting into Brythonic and Goidelic.

The study suggests that the Celts arrived in Britain as single wave, then differentiated locally, rather than traditional two-wave scenario ("P-Celtic" to Britain and "Q-Celtic" to Ireland).

The new tentative dates for the rise of the Indo-Europeans is 8100 BC (± 1,900 years), and for the arrival of the Celts in Britain, 3200 BC (± 1,500 years).

Some new genetic DNA research from Trinity College also is interesting in that it seems to show that the people of Ireland from the West who bear Gaelic surnames are of much older stock than previously supposed, perhaps dating from the Neolithic or earlier.

We have also found archaeological traces of peoples far away from the previously supposed "limits" of their range, who may have been Indo-European speaking people. These include the mummies of the Tarim Basin. While we cannot know the language they spoke, the fact that their appearance and clothing tallies closely with pictorial depictions of the Tocharians, (a later known I-E speaking people from nearby) seems to invite a comparison.

(For more on this subject, see "The Tarim Mummies" by J. P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair, and; "The Mummies of Urumchi" by E. J. W. Barber and Elizabeth Wayland Barber. For more information on Xinjiang, see Wikipedia's massive and comprehensive article.)

Renfrew's concept has also been attacked for an apparent ignorance of the Afro-Asiatic language family. In an article ("World Linguistic Diversity", C. Renfrew, 1994, Scientific American, January, pp. 104-110), he gives migration arrows which leave out the vast majority of Afro-Asiatic languages, potentially invalidating his claim for the "original" homeland of Afro-Asiatic speakers.

Here are two historical linguistics texts that contain brief discussions of Renfrew's ideas:

"Historical Linguistics", R. L. Trask (1996), Arnold (pp. 360-361, 399-400).

"Language History, Language Change and Language Relationship", H. H. Hock and B. D. Joseph (1996), Mouton de Gruyter (p. 526).

J. P. Mallory (see above) is another noted authority on Indo-European language and possible origins. His work, ("In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth", J. P. Mallory, Thames & Hudson, 1989) does not specifically rebut Renfrew. He only addresses Renfrew in some footnotes. However, he presents evidence for a more "orthodox" position.

Mallory (unlike Renfrew) reads Russian, and thus can directly access the site reports of the Soviet archeologists who investigated the steppes of the Ukraine. His work on the Indo-Europeans is interesting and highly readable, as is his work on the Tarim Basin mummies (above).

I don't know if this really solves anything, but at least it may give the readers some other resources and viewpoints. - FJT


He is categorised as a Conservative MEP, but the article doesn't state that he was. Does anyone know if he is or was a MEP? --Mdebets (talk) 15:24, 5 April 2008 (UTC)

External Links[edit]

I notice that there are a number of external links on this page, e.g. Autobiographical interview (film)

Please consider adding this link to an in depth video interview with Colin Renfrew that is freely available on the Web of Stories website (

Fitzrovia calling (talk) 09:16, 16 June 2010 (UTC)

Done, thanks. A Macedonian (talk) 09:31, 16 June 2010 (UTC)

The mentioned external link to the Web of Stories hasn't been applied to Colin Renfrew's page. Please, consider re-uploading.

Fitzrovia calling (talk) 15:40, 19 November 2010 (UTC)

That link is broken. —Joseph RoeTkCb, 11:54, 20 November 2010 (UTC)

Could you explain why you consider this link broken? It works for us and directs to the correct webpage. Fitzrovia calling (talk) 17:06, 26 November 2010 (UTC) leads to a 404. I assume you meant, which works - I've added that to the article.
Also, please be careful about changing/moving around existing comments, it can make talk pages quite hard to read. This guide to using talk pages might be useful. —Joseph RoeTkCb, 20:03, 26 November 2010 (UTC)

In the Macfarlane interview, part 2, around 23 - 30 minutes in, Renfrew discusses his Wikipedia article at length, and speculates about who may have written it. His prime suspect: J P Mallory. Zyxwv99 (talk) 16:17, 21 December 2011 (UTC)

I noticed that too. If only we had Mallory to whip our PIE-related articles into shape! joe•roetc 22:55, 22 December 2011 (UTC)

Move discussion[edit]

See proposal to move Talk:Baron of Renfrew (ship) to main subject on twodab Baron of Renfrew. In ictu oculi (talk) 09:44, 6 October 2012 (UTC)