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Work as a peer in the House of Lords


Dr McDonald
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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Dr McDonald was a very remarkable man. He was brusque in manner but he certainly knew what he wanted and he'd made his money by, he was an engineer as well as a medical doctor, and he was making record changers back in the days still of 78 rpm records and of juke boxes and for a while he was the main world supplier of record changers, which made him a very wealthy man, and he was fascinated by early metrology, early measurement systems. I think in his earlier day he must have had an absolutely formidable capacity to deal with numbers in his mind. You know, to how many pounds make a kilo and how many kilos make whatever and Egyptian units of length, Egyptian yard against the Sumerian Cubit, this sort of thing. And I think he could probably do those calculations in his mind very readily and he became a real expert on early measurement systems, so he was interested in Egypt and the near East and so on and I think the reason he had his lawyer write to us in Cambridge, write to me in Cambridge originally was that he'd read my book, the - "Archaeology and Language" because he had very wide interests, which was published in 1987, and I think that was what led him to us. I learnt later that he had in fact looked at Edinburgh, which was closer to home for him. He was a Scotsman, but he hadn't found quite what he wanted in the Edinburgh department and he, as I say, had very wide-ranging interests. He was fascinated in the origins of humankind and human fossils and had very good discussions with Paul Mellars. Then he was very pleased to meet Joan Oates and David Oates and Barry Kemp and Nicholas Postgate, who were really at home in the ancient world, and Anthony Snodgrass, the professor of classical archaeology, and so I think he found what he was looking for in Cambridge because of the, the diversity and he really found people that did know about the Egyptian cubit or whatever, not specialist in that, so I think that's what brought him to us. He also had a very remarkable collection of paintings, and when Jane and I and Chris Scarre went to call on him, he had a great house in the Isle of Man, he had a lot of very fine paintings there and many of which he later on gave to the Fitzwilliam Museum. He had a wonderful Stubbs paining and quite a few others which ended up here in the Fitzwilliam Museum so he was a very generous benefactor, and it was sad that he died before the institute fully got underway and so he never got any recognition, a knighthood or something which he might have done for having given £11 million to a university department, but his widow did come. She was given an honorary MA in a ceremony in the Senate House, which the Duke Edinburgh as chancellor awarded her, so I think that was a nice occasion. Then Prince Charles came and opened the McDonald Institute, which was another nice occasion and as I was saying, I think a lot of good things happened because obviously if you have a fund for field work, which we do, that allows mainly Cambridge based field work - we've limited it to that - to go ahead very effectively and one other very important development was our illicit Antiquities Research Centre, which we established to go into the problem of the looting of antiquities and how one might put a stop to that.

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, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009