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Why I chose the Cyclades as a research subject


Choosing a research topic
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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I had already begun to wonder what research topic I would choose. Clearly, it was a very big decision if you're going to spend three years - your first three years as an independent researcher, what you're going to spend your life on for three years researching into, and I wasn't very sure but one thing I'd noticed in - on my first visit to Greece, was how little was known about the archaeology of the Cycladic Islands, yet how they seemed to crop up with supposed links in all kinds of places. I'd gone on an excavation at an early Neolithic site of Nea Nikomedeia In 1961 while I was studying archaeology as an undergraduate and Graham Clarke was one of the organisers of that excavation. It was actually organised by a research student, Bob Rodden, but Graham Clarke had to be nominally in charge although it was really Bob's dig and so Graham Clarke had a party, a meeting at his house, and so all those who might be interested were invited and one was rather encouraged to go on this project which was a very nice thing to do so it was my first visit to Greece and went on the train through to Salonica and then Athens and then up to Nea Nikomedeia which is North Greece and we sort of half camped in the museum which was under construction - or part of the museum was under construction at that time, and that was perfectly comfortable in the - in the summer. It was a very enthusiastic group of people. Bob Rodden was a wonderfully encouraging site director and so everybody was having a great time. We had a lot of Greek workmen and he was terrific with the Greek workmen so we all got on well with them and it was a fascinating site. It was at the time about the earliest Neolithic, the earliest first farming site known in Europe. The radiocarbon dates didn't come through until a bit later but, indeed, that's what it was and it was very hot. The temperature got up into the 100s in Fahrenheit, but it was - it was an open site, very difficult to see the ground plans of the houses but Bob dug it very well really, I think, and so that was a very good start in Greek archaeology, and then I went in Athens in the National Museum where they have a large room filled with Socratic antiquities from the different islands which, some of which had been published in the 1920s by - by Gordon Childe, and so I could see that they kept on cropping up. There were supposed to be links with Iberia, links with the Balkans and so on, and it seemed a bit of a sitting duck really because very little work had been done in those islands in the past 30 or 40 years, so it seemed like a good research topic. So I asked the – he, he had suggested doing a topic on rock cut tombs but that didn't seem to well centred and so I wrote to one or two people and asked them their advice. A lot of them very politely replied, John Evans, the professor in London, whom I didn't know but I wrote to him and he wrote back encouragingly and said it would be a very good subject for research so that's what I did choose to do, and, indeed, it was an under- researched area and so - and also the links, the supposed links, one was led to call them into question, and so it was a rather good place to start off with, really.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 4 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009