Colin Renfrew

University of Cambridge


Election Year: 1996
Primary Section: 51, Anthropology
Membership Type: Foreign Associate

Research Interests

As a prehistoric archaeologist specializing in Europe, my doctoral research centered on the prehistory of the Cycladic Islands of Greece and their alleged connections with other parts of Europe. Consideration of trading connections led me to focus on the trade in obsidian (volcanic glass used for the manufacture of chipped stone tools), which was investigated by means of trace-element analysis. The alleged relations of the Cycladic cultures with those of southeast and southwest Europe, which they were supposed to have influenced, led me to a general skepticism about the widely held view of the "diffusion" of culture from the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia via the Aegean to Europe, and this skepticism was confirmed by the new chronologies which came with the tree-ring calibration of radiocarbon dating. The largely independent origins of early Aegean civilization and of much of European prehistory could be asserted. Recently, skepticism concerning the widely accepted views on the origins of Indo-European languages has led me to an interest in the use of archaeology to elucidate the origins of language families, with molecular genetics now contributing to the emerging synthesis. Also, the theoretical and methodological problems underlying cognitive archaeology-the study of early modes of thought using the evidence of the archaeological record -- are a current preoccupation.

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