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About the Author

Colin Renfrew is Disney Professor of Archaeology and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.


Obras de Colin Renfrew

Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (1991) 925 cópias, 7 resenhas
Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind (2007) 302 cópias, 9 resenhas
Before Civilization (1973) 200 cópias, 2 resenhas
Archaeology: The Key Concepts (2004) — Editor — 61 cópias
Figuring It Out (2003) 29 cópias
British Prehistory (1974) 22 cópias
Chronicle: Essays from Ten Years of Television Archaeology (1978) — Contribuinte — 15 cópias, 1 resenha
Virtual Archaeology (1997) 15 cópias
Problems in European Prehistory (1979) 10 cópias, 1 resenha
Investigations in Orkney (1979) 3 cópias
Arkeoloji Anahtar Kavramlar (2013) 1 exemplar(es)
The prehistory of Orkney 1 exemplar(es)
Past Worlds 1 exemplar(es)
Sculpture as landscape 1 exemplar(es)

Associated Works

The Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology (1996) — Prefácio — 132 cópias
The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (2010) — Contribuinte — 51 cópias, 1 resenha
Ancient Civilization and Trade (1975) — Contribuinte — 12 cópias


Conhecimento Comum



Yes, cognitive archaeology exists - and it's a fascinating field. Homo sapiens is a couple hundred thousand years old, but for much of that time there was little change. Then, about 12 thousand years ago, things began changing more rapidly, and often in ways we take completely for granted. When is the last time you thought about the origin of the notion of weighing things? Or the conceptual basis for coinage? Or the incredibly varied trajectories different human cultures have taken? This book discusses all these and made me think about our development in ways I never had before.… (mais)
qaphsiel | outras 8 resenhas | Feb 20, 2023 |
The ideal reader for this book would have been an undergraduate about to embark on graduate study in archaeology 45 years ago. But the reader today will still find a fascinating record of a moment when the study of prehistoric Europe moved away from a model that had dominated the field in the first half of the twentieth century. Renfrew repeatedly cites V. Gordon Childe’s Dawn of European Civilization as the classic statement of the moderate diffusionist model. That model held that all technological innovation originated in Egypt and the Middle East and spread from there, either through migration or at the very least by diffusion.
This model began to wobble with the advent of radiocarbon dating. When radiocarbon dates were supplemented by dendrochronology (analysis of tree-rings), dates of artifacts and monuments throughout Europe turned out to be much older than previously assumed. Renfrew’s book appeared at a time when this revolution in dating had come about, but when the question of which new model might take the place of the diffusion model was still open.
That’s why a student in the 1970s would have found this book a useful leg-up, not only in exam preparation but, more importantly, in being exposed to possible topics for his or her own graduate research. Any new model would continue to start with the remains in the field — and here, Renfrew certifies Childe’s continued value as a paragon of comprehensive knowledge of the sites and a careful documenter of their strata. Researchers coming along could aspire to emulate such careful excavation — in fact, through the use of improved methods, do an even better job. One danger Renfrew hopes they will avoid, however, is to simply collect and sort artifacts as if more data will somehow yield a coherent picture.
Instead, Renfrew sees the future of the study of prehistory drawing on studies of population density and growth, of pre-market exchange of goods, and of social organization. Theorizing about these matters can make cautious use of ethnographic parallels (pre-industrial cultures of the more recent past). The spread of ideas from neighboring or even distant cultures (diffusion) is not ruled out, but can no longer be invoked as a convenient explanation for every advance, especially in the absence of any material evidence. And even when diffusion might have occurred, one is still left with the question of why an innovation was adopted (neolithic cultures are conservative). Nor is a change in the mix of artifacts in a stratum automatically taken as evidence of migration.
Anyone looking to quickly get up to speed on the current state of research into prehistoric Europe can bypass this book. Someone like me, who enjoys watching changes in scientific thought take place, might, however, find it worthwhile reading. Keeping in mind that the ideal reader was a student of the field, that is, neither an expert nor a layperson, I found the writing clear and the presentation of ideas easy to follow.
… (mais)
HenrySt123 | 1 outra resenha | Jul 19, 2021 |
Colin Renfrew’s particular interest in this book is revealed by the subtitle: the making of the human mind. The first third of the book is a prelude that offers an overview of how humans became aware of the long stretches of time before history kicks in. Until the mid-nineteenth century, the dominant picture — at least in the west — had been centered on the Bible and dates extracted from its narrative. Everyone “knew” that the first humans came into existence in 4004 BC. All other evidence was subordinated to that framework.
Since then, archaeology, supplemented by radiocarbon and tree-ring dating, has made enormous strides in constructing a worldwide picture of the preliterate past. The story of how repeated disconfirmations led to the concept of prehistory is a fascinating one, competently recounted here. But knowing what happened when hasn’t yet explained how or why. These questions occupy the second part of the book.
Renfrew begins part two by addressing what he calls the sapient paradox. To compare the results of dating artifacts with DNA analysis reveals a surprising dissonance. On the one hand, “speciation,” the appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa, seems to have occurred as much as 150,000 years ago. On the other, characteristically “human” advances, such as the agricultural revolution, seem no older than 10,000 years. A model based solely on biological evolution can’t explain the lag. Clearly, new inherent genetic capacity doesn’t make itself immediately evident in technological progress.
So how did our species, which apparently dispersed out of Africa roughly 60,000 years ago, come to use symbols, develop writing, and introduce agriculture? Renfrew stresses that the earliest symbols have material referents. This is evident in cave paintings, but Renfrew argues that this is true of other notions as well. The discovery of a set of artifacts, of ascending size, all made from the same material and having the same shape, tells a story -- particularly since their relationship to each other is based on a standard unit. This demonstrates the notion of weight used not only to measure these objects but as a standard against which to measure quantities of other objects. The notion didn’t arise in the abstract but in physical experience.
Further, this type of development did not have to originate in one locality and spread from there; it could have arisen separately in various locations (and probably did). The notion of the alphabet is a case in point. The early Semitic alphabet, which became the basis for Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, and Latin scripts, arose roughly at the same time as the ideographic system developed in China and adapted in Japan and Korea. One concept, at least two origins.
Continuing in the search for how and why, Renfrew identifies sedentism, the practice of a group remaining for an extended time in one place, as “the decisive turn in prehistory” (p. 135). This preceded the invention of agriculture, which was just one way in which staying put led to generations of interaction with the material world. Pottery, as a particular application of the domestication of fire, was a related development. Metallurgy, in turn, grew out of that skill.
As I set these ideas down, I feel afresh how exciting investigations such as prehistoric cognition and archaeogenetics are — the same excitement I felt when I first opened this book. That no doubt explains my frustration as I read it. This book is simply not well-written. In structure, it resembles the same author’s earlier Before Civilization (1973). Whereas the earlier book seemed clearly aimed at an imagined reader (an undergraduate embarking on archaeology as a possible career field), this book can’t seem to make up its mind. It appears to be written for the interested layman. Still, in some passages, the speed of his overview is overwhelming (case in point, the section “Toward a comparative archaeology?”, which closes chapter four). At other times, Renfrew repeats himself. For example, he writes: “Chinese writing, which is mainly ideographic in character (although some signs have phonetic values). . . .” (Pp. 209-10), then “These Chinese texts were all, of course, written using the Chinese script with its thousands of signs. This was an ideographic script, with each sign representing an idea as well as a word, although, as with most ideographic scripts, some signs could also be used phonetically” (p. 213).
Renfrew not only assumes that his imagined reader doesn’t know that Chinese is an ideographic script, but is so inattentive that he or she forgets that in the course of three pages. Such a reader, I imagine, wouldn’t have made it this far in the book. Nor, I fear, some better informed, attentive readers.
Sadly, this is not an isolated lapse, but typical for the book, particularly in part two. Another indication of Renfrew’s difficulty marshaling his material is the frequent use of the phrases “as we shall see” and “as we have seen.” Comparing this book to Before Civilization could lead one to conclude that Renfrew has decayed as a writer. Of course, the fault may not be solely his. In 1973, publishers still employed book editors who worked closely with authors. Thirty-five years later, authors were on their own.
… (mais)
HenrySt123 | outras 8 resenhas | Jul 19, 2021 |
Renfrew believes that the Indo-European languages spread from Anatolia into Europe (into Greece and beyond). He says it spread with the expansion of farming. Interesting.
wickenden | outras 2 resenhas | Mar 8, 2021 |


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