Colin Renfrew, Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

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

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.

He is a fellow of the British Academy and a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences.


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. In 1965 he completed his PhD thesis "Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures of the Cyclades and their external relations" and in the same year married Jane M. Ewbank.

In 1965 he was appointed to the post of lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. Between 1968 and 1970, Renfrew directed excavations at Sitagroi, Greece. In 1968 he unsuccessfully contested the Sheffield Brightside 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 Greece.

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

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

Positions, awards and accolades


  • 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., 1979. Cooke, Kenneth L. ed. Transformations: Mathematical Approaches to Culture Change. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-586050-5
  • Renfrew, A.C. and Wagstaff, Malcolm (editors), 1982, An Island Polity, the Archaeology of Exploitation in Melos, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Renfrew, A.C., (editor), 1985, The Archaeology of Cult, the Sanctuary at Phylakopi, London: British School at Athens and Thames & Hudson.
  • Renfrew, A.C., 1987, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins, London: Pimlico. ISBN 0-7126-6612-5
  • Renfrew, A.C., Zubrow, Ezra B. W. (editors), 1994, The ancient mind: elements of cognitive archaeology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-45620-3
  • Renfrew, A.C. and Bahn, P., 1991, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice, London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28147-5. (Sixth edition 2012)
  • 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 and Hudson. ISBN 0-500-05114-3
  • Renfrew, A.C., 2008, Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind, Modern Library. ISBN 0-679-64097-5
  • Ernestine S. Elster and Colin Renfrew (eds), Prehistoric Sitagroi : excavations in northeast Greece, 1968–1970. Vol. 2, The final report. Los Angeles, CA : Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, 2003. Monumenta archaeologica 20.
  • Colin Renfrew, Marija Gimbutas and Ernestine S. Elster (eds.), Excavations at Sitagroi, a prehistoric village in northeast Greece. Vol. 1. Los Angeles : Institute of Archaeology, University of California, 1986.

See also


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Glyn Daniel
Disney Professor of Archaeology, Cambridge University
Succeeded by
Graeme Barker
Preceded by
Sir Alan Cottrell
Master of Jesus College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
David Crighton