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Visiting Turkmenistan


Travelling the world thanks to archaeology
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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I think one thing that turns out to be very important if one wants to know something about world archaeology is travelling around the world and in that respect I think I've been very fortunate. Quite early on, I was asked to become one of the lecturers on the Swan's Hellenic Cruises, which at that time were mainly in the Mediterranean and Sir Mortimer Wheeler was the great guru figure who appointed the lecturers, just as he did many things in the British Academy and he asked me to take part. Initially I wasn't able to because I was excavating in Orkney at the time that must have been about 1974. But I did go on the SS Minerva which was a, no the SS Ankara was the first boat and that was terrific fun, the deal is that one simply had a cruise, one wasn't paid for it, but one had a very interesting cruise, and at that time, there were very eminent people among the lecturers, that's how I got to know Henry Chadwick and his wife Peggy, whom I got to know and admire very much, and quite a lot of other very interesting people, so that when one had given one's own lecture, one was very much inclined to go and hear the other lectures, because they were really very informative and the passengers at, at that time, I think it's changed a little now, the passengers at that time were really very interested in the subject matter. They were on that cruise because they wanted to go to those sites and hear about them from people that knew about them. And so, that took one around to a lot of Mediterranean sites that one might not otherwise have been to, visited quite a lot of sites in Cyprus for instance, was regularly going to Constantinople. I knew many of the Greek locations before but one very agreeable cruise, we went through the Suez Canal and so we were able to go to the Mount Sinai monastery, St Catherine's Monastery in Mount Sinai, which is an amazing place, a wonderful experience and to Petra which I hadn't otherwise been to. And on that cruise also, we went across, by bus, to the Nile and went to Luxor and Karnak, which I hadn't seen before. Jane, my wife, was invited to do some paleo-ethno botanical works on, botanical work on the finds from Tel El Amarna one year, by Barry Kemp and she enjoyed that very much and found that interesting and so he invited me to go with her the following year, I hadn't been to Amarna before and he suggested quite a small but interesting project involving some site survey, localised site survey, for me to do, to do something useful, though I think he was probably more interested in the cereal remains than in my site survey findings, but that was a great experience, to be working in Egypt and gave on a little bit more feeling for Ancient Egypt and of course, allowed us to spend time in Cairo and then the Swans Cruises took us to Luxor and Karnak, as well as over the years to quite a lot of other places. And, and I should have mentioned that also the invitation we had in quite early days to go to Iran. Frank Hale was excavating the site of Ali Kosh which was one of the earliest villages settlements in Iran and he was finding a lot of obsidian so he wanted a study made on his obsidian. The obsidian analysis work was published by then, so we went out and I worked on the obsidian, saw all the obsidian fragments and selected quite a few for analysis and they were subsequently analysed, and Jane was doing work again on the cereal remains so that gave us the experience. My only visit so far to Tehran and then down a wonderful train journey down to towards the Gulf, to, to the town of Dizful and then by road it seemed very remote indeed. Dizful seemed a very sort of 19th or 18th century place, as we arrived there and went out to the village of Ali Kosh, where we were staying in mud huts. Our daughter, Helena, our oldest child, was just a couple of months old then, but we decided it was safer to take her while she was still drinking her mother's milk than it would be from all kinds of baby foods, which I think is, is basically the case, so she was with us and, but coming back from Deh Luran it seems as if we were coming to the very centre of civilisation when we got to Dizful, whereas the bright lights of Tehran were completely overwhelming when we got back to Tehran. But that allowed us to see some of the great sights, like Susa and so on and then, as I think I mentioned earlier, when we were filming at Hatra in Iraq, that gave the opportunity of seeing some of the great Sumerian sites and over the years we've seen some of the Chinese sites and been to Mexico a few times. It's still my ambition to go to Peru, I haven't been to Peru and I'd like to see something of the early civilisations of Peru. But these travel opportunities, they sometimes seem just like fun and indeed they are fun, but I think they're seriously useful and indeed the discipline on the Swan's Cruises of having to really do the reading and know about sites. Some of the sites I already knew about, if we were in Crete or the Cyclades, and or Troy or Mycenae, I could speak about that, really knowing the background anyway but when we did a Black Sea cruise for instance, I, I'd been to Vana, which I was able to talk about and Constantinople, but the other Black Sea locations, I had to read about first, so it was quite demanding. Of course, when one knows how to find the right classical authors it's not very difficult to, to read it up and one has some background to give to it perhaps. And of course not all the lecturers on such cruises are actually, here we are at such and such a place, this is what happened here. They're more background lecturers like radiocarbon dating. Or one very favourite place on the cruises was Santorini, where the great eruption was, and since the early days I've been in touch with that excavation project, Spyridon Marinatos was excavating there in the 1960s when Jane and I visited him and then Christos Doumas took over from him when he died and we've been in touch with that site and so easy to talk about that. But also very nice to have the opportunity of visiting such places quite regularly and all the sites on the Anatolian Coast, so those I think are important opportunities. And it's very difficult to see how one can really form a view of the importance of different sites or their significance in developmental processes unless you've seen some of them and can actually compare one with another.

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: 7 minutes, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009