Colin Renfrew (Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn) was born on 25 July 1937 in Stockton-on-Tees, United Kingdom. He is a British citizen.
Until his retirement in October 2004 he was Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge (UK) and the Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (Cambridge, UK).
He was educated at St. Albans School. After serving in the Royal Air Force (1956-1958), he received his B.A. in Archaeology and Anthropology at St. John's College, Cambridge, in 1962. During his undergraduate years in Cambridge he undertook vacation study at the University of Siena and followed the course in Etruscology at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia in 1960.
As a research student at St. John’s College, Cambridge, UK, and at the British School of Archaeology at Athens, he completed his doctoral thesis, “Neolithic and bronze age cultures of the Cyclades and their external relations” and received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in 1965. In 1976 he earned a Sc.D. from the same University.
In 1965 he was elected a Research Fellow at St. John’s College and appointed to the post of Assistant lecturer in the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology at the University of Sheffield.
In 1972 he moved to the University of Southampton as Professor of Archaeology and Head of Department.
In 1981 he was elected Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, a post he held until he retired in 2004. In the same year he became also Head of the Department of Archaeology (until 1992) and Fellow of St. John’s College (until 1986).
In 1986 he became a Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, where he served as Master from 1986 to 1997.
In 1990 he was appointed founding Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
In 1991 he was awarded a life peerage, and chose the title “Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn”.
He has directed archaeological excavations at Saliagos near Antiparos (with J.D. Evans, 1964-1965), at Sitagroi in East Macedonia (1968-1970), at Quanterness, Orkney (1972-1974) and at Phylakopi in Melos (1974-1977). From 1987 to 1991 he was co-director, with L. Marangou and C. Doumas, of excavations at Markiani in Amorgos and at Dhaskalio-Kavos on Keros in the Cycladic Islands.
- Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (1968), of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1970) and of the British Academy (1980).
- Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2001).
- Honorary member of the Society for Cycladic Studies (1985), of the Archaeological Society of Athens (1991) and The Prehistoric Society (1991).
- Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Science, USA (1996), Corresponding Member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (2000).
- Rivers Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1979).
- Huxley Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (1991).
- Prix International Fyssen of the Fondation Fyssen, Paris (1997).
- Language and Culture Prize of the University of Umeå (1998).
- Lucy Wharton Drexel Medal of the University of Pennsylvania Museum (2003).
- European Latsis Prize of the European Science Foundation, Strasbourg (2003).
Colin Renfrew has been awarded honorary degrees from the University of Sheffield (1990), the University of Athens (1991), the University of Southampton (1995), the University of Liverpool (2004) and the University of Edinburgh (2004).
He formerly served as a trustee of the British Museum (1991-2001), as Council member of the British Academy (1997-2000) and as Vice President of the Prehistoric Society (1979-1983), the Council of British Archaeology (1979-1982) and the Royal Archaeological Institute (1982-1984). He currently serves as a trustee of the Antiquity Trust (since 1974, Chairman from 1983 to 1991).
He has lectured on Archaeology in numerous British, European and American Universities.
He has served as a member of the editorial boards of important rewiews and journals, such as New Directions in Archaeology (Cambridge University Press), Advances in Archaeological Method and Theory (Academic Press), The Journal of Social and Biological Structures, The Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
He has made television programmes with the BBC and also various radio programmes.
The Emergence of Civilisation. The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium B.C. (1972).
Before Civilisation: The Radiocarbon Revolution and Prehistoric Europe (1973: translated into Japanese, French, Spanish and Italian).
Problems in European Prehistory (1979).
Approaches to Social Archaeology (1984).
Archaeology and Language. The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins (1987: translated into Italian, French, Spanish, Norwegian, Japanese).
Archaeology. Theories, Methods, and Practice (with P. Bahn: 1991: translated into Greek, Italian, Polish, Spanish).
The Roots of Ethnicity: Archaeology, Genetics and the Origins of Europe (1993).
Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership: The Ethical Crisis of Archaeology (2000).
Figuring it out: The Parallel Visions of Artists and Archaeologists (2003).