The Third Culture

The Three Dimensions of Human History
A Talk With Colin Renfrew [8.25.97]

Colin Renfrew Photo

Introduction by
John Brockman

Much of Colin Renfrew's early work was in the field of European prehistory, looking at processes of culture change, and he came to realize that many of the diffusionist ideas current in the fifties and sixties were based on assumptions which undervalued the originality and the creativity of the cultures of prehistoric Europe. Innovations were often seen as originating in the Near East and spreading to Europe by a process of diffusion.

But fortunately the radiocarbon revolution confirmed that many European innovations were of earlier date than their supposed Near Eastern prototypes. More recently he looked at comparable assumptions surrounding the question of the Indo-European languages and other aspects of the early cultures of Europe which were often ascribed to the effects of incoming Indo-European tribes supposedly arriving at the beginning of the bronze age. This has led to a wider interest in the prehistory of languages, and the implications which the distribution of language families in the world carry for our understanding of the prehistoric past.


Colin Renfrew talks with John Brockman...