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My wife Jane


My first excavation and how I met my wife
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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One other thing I think I probably ought to mention is my first excavation which was in the Cycladic Islands while I was doing my research there and I'd been visiting all these known sites and as many as I could come to hear of, and so I went down to Antiparos and I'd been told that some cores of obsidian, sort of roughly shaped, the raw material roughly shaped into blade cores, had been found on a very small island called Saliagos which you had to get somebody to take you in a small boat, in a caique, to visit. So I visited Saliagos in 1963 and started to find pottery of white painted pottery of unknown kind and also obsidian arrow heads, as they seemed to be, rather beautifully pressure flaked, and that clearly must be Neolithic now. Up to that time there were no Neolithic sites known in the Cyclades, only early Bronze Age and later, so that was really quite an interesting discovery. It wasn't clear what depth of soil there would be. This was just a very eroded little island. The island was only about 100 metres long but I thought it would be well worth excavating so I contacted people at the British School and their reaction was that you're- it would be nice to have an excavation there, but you're just a research student, you're not going to get a permit, an official permit, from the Greek Ministry to dig, so what you should do is get a more senior archaeologist and try and do it together. So I took that advice and I wrote to John Evans whom I knew only very slightly. He was then director of the Institute of Archaeology and I'd probably met him briefly perhaps through Glyn Daniel, but we'd already been in correspondence with the obsidian trade, he'd provided me with obsidian from Neolithic Knossos where he had excavated. So I wrote to him saying would he be interested in this project and he said, yes, he would. So we arranged to do it the following year, 1964, and that worked very well. He's a delightful man and we just took sort of equal responsibility for different aspects of the dig. We were both on site most of the time digging and he said he would like to study the pottery. He'd been doing very good pottery studies at Knossos, doing - one of the pioneers of the quantitative study of pottery weighing the amount of material, counting the shards, dividing them into categories and in this way getting an approximate quantitative description of the pottery assemblage and I made myself busy with the other materials, the obsidian and the other artefacts and so that was really a very interesting and successful excavation in 1964. And then we finished it off in 1965 and Jane, my wife, she came out on the 1964 excavations. I met her in - I met her in the Haddon Library which is a very appropriate place to meet a distinguished archaeologist as she became, and so she went out to the Nea Nikomedia excavations, the second year in 1963 and I also, I was already researching by then, but I went and did a couple of weeks there and so we got to know each other better, and then she came down in 1963 to see this site, Saliagos, where I was hoping to dig, and so she came out in 1964, and we went to Apeiranthos on Naxos where I asked her to marry me, and so by 1965 we were - we were married. And so the first thing we had to do really as to write up the report which - which we - we started to do once we'd got our first job, or my first job, in Sheffield, which was after finishing the PhD in 1965, went up to the Department of Archaeology there, so we moved up there and then worked on the Saliagos report. And so that was an interesting - it was nice to have one's own excavation in Greece, one's own, with John Evans, it was very happy, we're very happy working together, and we actually did get the publication out quite quickly within a couple of years and we had all kinds of experts helping us with different aspects so it's - it's an excavation report that I think we both still feel quite good about. And Jane not only did the report on the plant remains, because Jane went on to do her research on prehistoric food plant remains, so she did the expertise on that, but we also found a lot of fish bones and so we needed an expert for fish bones and she volunteered to study that and so we found a specialist, Dr Alwyne Wheeler, in the Natural History Museum, and Jane would go up for several days to the Natural History Museum with samples of these fish bones and was locked up in the vaults of the Natural History Museum with a decaying coelacanth which had been discovered in the depths of the ocean that year or something and so she and Alwyne Wheeler, between them, did a very good report on the fish bones which were important because the site may have been an important site for tunny fishing.

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: 5 minutes, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009