Professor Lord Colin Renfrew

Emeritus Fellow
University Positions
Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Specialising in

Professor Lord Renfrew is an Emeritus Fellow at Jesus and a former Master of the College.

Academic interests

Colin Renfrew's academic interests include:

  • Theory of archaeology
  • European prehistory, especially the Aegean
  • Archaeological science, with particular interest in DNA and molecular genetics
  • Origins of linguistic diversity.

Degrees obtained

  • MA, PhD, ScD.

Awards and prizes

  • Balzan Prize, 2004.
  • European Science Foundation Latsis Prize, 2003.


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 to 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 to 2008 he directed new excavations on the Cycladic Island of Keros and is currently co director of the Keros Island Survey.

Other interests

Contemporary art.

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