Published: March 10, 1999

Professor Lord Colin Renfrew of Cambridge University, considered by many experts to be the premier archaeologist in the world, will give a lecture at the University of Colorado at Boulder on March 20.

Renfrew will present the 1999 Distinguished Archaeology lecture titled "The Origins of Linguistic Diversity -- Towards a World View." Sponsored by the CU-Boulder anthropology department and funded by a department alumnus, the free public talk will be held at 7:30 p.m. in room 270 of the Hale Science Building.

He will speak on a worldwide effort to synthesize historical linguistics, prehistoric archaeology and molecular genetics. Participants in the massive research effort are attempting to account for the distribution of the 6,000 to 7,000 languages spoken in the world today.

Renfrew will address the geographical patterning of language families, including the possibility that some patterning may be the product of the original dispersal of Homo sapiens, and also the result of agricultural dispersals from regions of the world that first practiced plant domestication. Only a few language patterns seem to be the product of later migrations and conquests up until about 1500 A.D., when a large number of colonizations occurred worldwide.

One of the keys to understanding the distribution of languages is the use of molecular genetics to analyze the DNA of living humans in order to learn more about population history, Renfrew believes. He predicts that by the end of the next decade, the anthropological community may have some solid answers.

Renfrew was educated at St. Albans School and St. Johns College in Cambridge. He was a lecturer and reader in prehistory and archaeology at the University of Sheffield from 1965 to 1972, and head of the archaeology department at the University of Southampton from 1972 to 1981.

His doctorate encompassed fieldwork in the Cycladic Islands of Greece, excavating the first Stone Age settlement discovered on the island of Cyclades in collaboration with Professor J.D. Evans. In 1969 and 1970 he was field director of the Anglo-American excavations at the prehistoric settlement mound at Sitagroi in northern Greece.

He subsequently directed excavations at the Bronze Age town of Phylakopi on the Cycladic island of Melos and excavated early megalithic monuments in Orkney Islands off the coast of Scotland.

In 1991, Renfrew became the Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge, and in 1990 became the director of the McDonald Institute. He served as master of Jesus College in Cambridge from 1986 to 1997. He is a fellow of the British Academy, a trustee of the British Museum and holds honorary doctorates from the universities of Sheffield, Southampton and the University of Athens.

In 1996 Renfrew was named a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious science academy in the United States. He has authored several books and has a keen interest in contemporary sculpture and painting.