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Lewis Binford and practical classes at Southampton


Attending the Society of American Archaeologists meetings
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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The - there weren't many British people taking much interest in the Society for American Archaeology then, but I found it very attractive and started, when I started going to America after my first visit to UCLA, sometimes got invited to give a lecture or something, and would generally try to do that and I was also got interested, as a result of some conferences in Santa Barbara, in mathematical applications in archaeology and got to know very well a professor of mathematics, Kenneth Cooke, and we decided we would try and put together a book on mathematical applications in archaeology which was published under the title, "Transformations, Mathematical Approaches to Culture Change", and we tried to introduce non-linear mathematics including catastrophe theory and simulation studies and so we had really quite a lot of interesting ideas being put together there which - some of which were also presented at SAA meetings and I still think there were a lot of interesting ideas there. Some of them got criticised precisely by the - the so-called post-processual persuasion, or interpretive archaeologists as they sometimes call themselves, because they set their faces against law-like generalisations but although they had quite a number of interesting new points to contribute, the post-processual archaeologists, interpretative archaeologists, were very keen to develop gender archaeology which I think was useful. They were interested in the archaeology of identity and they developed some - a number of other interesting ideas. They had a new take on - on landscape archaeology or the archaeology of landscape and so on, but I think something was lost by the rejection of comparison and the rejection of - of quantitative approaches which had been one of the great things to emerge from the early processual archaeology. But later on, we organised some meetings at the SAA, where you have sessions, so if you want to organise a session, you work out who you'd like to invite to join you and you then write to the organisers. Each year there's a different organiser. I'd like to propose this session and with any luck you'll be accepted so we had one very good meeting which I think was in Philadelphia, and that was the first time that we had a lot of people going out from the UK. It was British - around 1980, I forget exactly what year but it was the year that the Brits came to the SAA meetings and Lewis Binford was invited to make some comments which were not terribly flattering but anyway he spoke with great vigour, as he usually does, and it was - it was a good meeting with some good papers which, again, all had a theoretical interest. You wouldn't go and talk about British archaeology or European archaeology, archaeology, at the Society for American Archaeology, unless you had something to say that was of more general interest and that is where, I think, the theoretical approach was really positive. That volume was finally published under the title, "Ranking Resource and Exchange", Steven Shennan and I co-organised the session and co-edited the volume. It also, we also entered into the party spirit. The SAA usually has some very good parties so we gave the British party at the SAA and we each of us had agreed to buy a bottle of malt whiskey on the flight at duty free prices so all the people coming to this party were given a shot of malt whiskey before the party really got underway and it did get underway well and it's still remembered in SAA circles. And so that was useful, I think, in developing some of the exchange between British and American archaeology, which has continued in many ways since then. In a way, the Sheffield meeting that I mentioned, the explanation of culture change meeting in 1971, perhaps began that but then it certainly got underway, as you say, with people going to the SAA meetings in quite a systematic way and sometimes people from America coming off to the theoretical archaeology group meetings in the UK.

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, 55 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009