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Weekend bike trips to visit medieval churches of southern England with his father; an excavation digging in Roman Canterbury at age fourteen. And so Colin Renfrew’s lifelong fascination with the past began. Renfrew talks about his life and career of piecing together ancient fragments, how the field of archaeology has evolved, and what role governments play in this dynamic and political discipline. Renfrew is retired professor of archaeology at the University of Cambridge and fellow of the British Academy.

Lord Colin Renfrew Of Kaimsthorn at the Cambridge University, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Britain

Colin Renfrew. Photo: REX/Shutterstock

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JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

COLIN RENFREW: With prehistory, there is really no written narrative that you can use that means very much, so you have to put it together from what you find.

CUNO: In this episode, I speak with archaeology professor Colin Renfrew.

You know, it’s one of the great things about working at the Getty that I get to meet with a lot of interesting people, some of whom I’ve known for a long time, others I’m meeting for the first time. A few months ago, I met with Colin Renfrew, professor of archaeology at the University of Cambridge, England, and former director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Colin and I first met eight years ago. I had recently written a book critical of state ownership archaeological sites and artifacts. Colin reviewed it and didn’t spare any criticisms. But he was fair and thoughtful, and his remarks were free of the polemics that plagued the subject then and plague it still today. Colin and I have stayed in touch over the years and, when I learned that he was coming to Los Angeles to lecture at UCLA, I jumped at the chance to interview him for this podcast. I wanted to capture his memory and thoughts about his long career as an archaeologist. After all, he’s one of the leading archaeologists of our time—that rare intellectual who grounds high theory in hard science. We met one winter morning in the library of Mr. Getty’s former ranch house, now the curatorial center at the Getty Villa, home to the Center’s antiquities collections.

We’re sitting in the library of Mr. Getty’s ranch house near Malibu, California, and we’re overlooking a functioning replica of a Roman Villa commissioned by Mr. Getty as home to his museum and built to scale and modeled on the Villa dei Papiri in the ancient Roman coastal city of Herculaneum near Pompeii. By almost any measure, it’s a crazy idea to construct such a fantasy and then to dedicate it to the presentation and study of ancient Greek and Roman art, but that’s what Mr. Getty wanted and that’s what we’ve done. And today, almost half a million people come to the Getty Villa every year to visit its collections. Colin, what is it about the allure of the ancient past and why should we care about its fragmentary remains?

RENFREW: Well, first of all, it’s where we came from. And of course, in the case of the Greek and Roman world, it’s very much where our civilization came from. After all, there was a Renaissance in Italy, but that was the successor of the greats of the Classical world. And so, although I, too, am a great admirer of ancient Mesoamerica, for instance, and I think one shouldn’t overlook the comparison between civilizations, I think we are the inheritors of the Greek and Roman world. And so, it makes sense that Mr. Getty favored that, and the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum was one of the great excavations. So, I think he chose very well.

CUNO: So, how did you first become interested in antiquity?

RENFREW: Well, when I was a schoolboy, I was interested in ancient things. I became interested in medieval churches. And when I was very young, seven or eight, my father used to take me off on a bicycle on a Saturday morning, or indeed, a Sunday morning, and go and visit some of the very fine medieval churches of southern England. We lived in Hertfordshire, in southern England. And then I did become seriously interested in archeology when I was a schoolboy. At the age of about fourteen, I was able, through a schoolmaster, to get on an excavation, and so I went to excavate Roman Canterbury. And Canterbury, of course, is one of the great medieval cities of England, and it had rich, rich Roman occupation, so I actually learned to dig—you know, the mechanics of excavation—at quite an early age.

And then I thought—I was interested I that and I thought of doing that at university, and thought, no, that’s not a career. At school, I did sciences and I went up to read natural sciences, physics, chemistry, and so on, at Cambridge. And Cambridge has a very flexible system, so I was able to change halfway through. I did part one, did my exams in sciences part one; then I switched to archeology part two; and then I went on to do research and was an archeologist from then on.

CUNO: But your great contribution has been in the field of prehistory. When were you first introduced to that?

RENFREW: It’s difficult to say exactly when, but my excavation experience was mainly with Roman things, but I wasn’t particularly interested in them because they were Roman. And I think I saw the fascination of the deep past, and then as I did reading before going up to university, and in the year I switched from sciences to archeology, I was reading widely. It’s really partly, I think, a product of the way the subject was structured and subdivided in the University of Cambridge. So, it was natural there to do prehistory, and then you had to choose even which phase of prehistory. And you could choose the Old Stone Age, the Paleolithic, the hunter-gatherer period, or you could choose the early farming period, the Neolithic, or you could choose later periods. And the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age seemed to me interesting, so that’s what I did. And that’s perhaps what guided me on towards my subject for research.

CUNO:  Was it especially interesting because there was so little known about the Neolithic and Bronze Ages? That is, unlike the Greek and Roman era, we have little or no literary evidence to turn to for those early subjects.

RENFREW: Yes, I think that’s right. I think parts of the fascination of archeology for me, then and now, is that with prehistory, there is really no written narrative that you can use that means very much. There are backward-looking narratives from more recent times. So you have to put it together from what you find. So the challenge is to make sense of the material remains of the past, and that has been the history of the development of prehistoric archeology, ever widening perspectives and more specific dimensions. And it’s true that when I was doing sciences, one of the subjects that I found very interesting was the history and philosophy of science. And actually, in the sense of the philosophy of science, how one is able to make anything, first of all, of natural phenomena—physics and so on—or how you can make sense in some way of the past through geology or the human past through prehistoric archeology. Those are the dimensions that really interested me.

CUNO: There’s a bit of a parallel there for you.

RENFREW: There really is.

CUNO: Intellectual parallel.

RENFREW: That’s right, yes. I was very impressed by the approach of Lewis Binford, who was the great anthropological archeologist in the mid- to late twentieth century. And he very much saw prehistoric archeology as a science and I very much liked that approach. So he was a great advocate of the approach that defines science as knowledge, which you can test. The notion of testability of hypotheses was one that he and others applied to the field of archeology, and I liked that robust approach—and still do, indeed—so-called processual archeology. And so, I found that very persuasive as a general approach. And that does allow you, indeed, to try and evaluate the validity of what you’re saying. And I think it makes one aware to look for the areas where one’s information is weak. And I’ve always found, indeed, that if you choose a good topic, a good subject, there are some things you really do have robust knowledge of, then there are other areas. For example, organic remains are often not preserved. So you find the stones, for instance, if you talk about the Paleolithic, but you don’t find much more than the stones and a few bones, so you’re working with a very biased starting point, and you have to make something out of that and put together a picture, piecing together the past.

CUNO:  You know, I was listening to the radio the other day and an astrophysicist was telling us about recent discoveries in his field and he said something that was astonishing—at least astonishing to me. He said that we now have evidence that there are billions of planets. Not a hundred planets, not a thousand planets, not even a million planets, but billions of planets. Has there been a correspondingly big development in the science of archaeology over the years of your career?

RENFREW:  Well, it has changed very significantly. I think really, the big difference was the application of the sciences to dating—chronometric techniques, if you want to call it that—of which the most famous is radiocarbon dating. And whereas until the mid-twentieth century, a lot of the work was, how old is this, how do you date it? Then with Willard Libby’s invention of radiocarbon dating, which was in 1949, that he first started that, it was possible, in favorable circumstances, to get a robust date. Not always a precise date, but a date within a century or two, for any archeological finds. Of course, you have to have carbon or the right samples, so there are problems sometimes. But in general, you can date the past with a fair degree of precision now. And before the time range of radiocarbon dating, you have other techniques, like potassium-argon dating. Now, that may not sound all that amazing, but it means that the focus of archeology is no longer not how to date things, ’cause you can date them, so you do that as a routine. You have to get it right, but you do it as a routine. And so we can ask more interesting questions now, try and say, why did things change? And that is always the most interesting question, is why did things change? And it was partly, of course, human activity, human agency, if one wants to use that way of putting it. But of course, there are climatic changes that are beyond—or were beyond, perhaps still beyond—our own competence to change.

And then of course, in particular, we can talk of human agency, intentionality. But large-scale change in society doesn’t always come about intentionally; there are so many unintended consequences of human action. And so the whole issue of why things change is a very interesting one in general, but it’s certainly a very lively one in the field of prehistory.

CUNO:  So, what other technologies besides radiocarbon dating have changed the course of archaeology over your career?

RENFREW:  I can mention two more. One which I’ve been involved with is so-called characterization studies. That is to say, if you find something, a piece of stone, in an archeological site, a characteristic piece of stone—say, a stone axe—where did the stone come from that that axe is made of? And I had the good fortune, really, my first serious bit of work, with a colleague, a friend, Joe Cann. And we focused on obsidian, which is a volcanic glass. And that was very much used in the Aegean where I did my research. There are obsidian sources in the Aegean, which we were able to collect examples from. And it turned out that really, if you do trace element analysis—one is so-called fingerprinting—one source is quite different from another, so that you—if you were finding obsidian in an archeological site, you could analyze that and determine which source it had come from. And so that allowed one to build up entire trade routes in prehistoric times, way back to, well, the early farming period, say 9–10,000 years ago, or indeed, even earlier in the Paleolithic period.

CUNO:  Did that radically change your view of those early civilizations? Has it changed the “Out of Africa” thesis much?

RENFREW:  Well, the “Out of Africa” thesis really came about mainly on the basis of the DNA, and then it’s been fully supported by further DNA studies, including now, ancient DNA. And so we really do know now, I think, that our species, Homo sapiens, first moved out of Africa 60 or 70,000 years ago. And we know more about our—the relationship between our species and Neanderthal—the Neanderthal hominids who were active around 40–50,000 years ago. And then we know about their relationships, although not so much from DNA yet, from their earlier predecessors Homo erectus, or indeed, Australopithecus. So, I think the whole story of human development, of the development of our species and our predecessor species like the Neanderthals or Australopithecus, that has become very secure, largely on the basis of DNA studies, coupled of course, with traditional excavations. You find the flints in the ground, you date them by radiocarbon. And so the whole thing is becoming a very strong and internally consistent body of knowledge.

CUNO:  From your earliest university years, you have been concerned, Colin, with social structures and migration and the development of the human species, the human mind and the acquisition of language. Tell us about that and about the development of your so-called “Anatolian Hypothesis.”

RENFREW:  Right. Well, first of all, the general question, so-called cognitive archeology of how people thought. And that was the last part of the field of archeological study that really came into its own in the late twentieth century. For instance, Lewis Binford himself was very interested in subsistence, and took the lead in reconstructing prehistoric diets and so on. And he was also interested in social relations. But the evidence of how people thought wasn’t focused on so much at that time. And yet there really is hard evidence. For instance, the example I always like to use is in the Indus Valley, you find little cubes of stone, colored stone. And they’re clearly different sizes, and indeed, they are different weights. And if we weigh them together, you can see there are multiples of weights, and so they’re indicating that they did have a weight system. And so they were clearly weighing things. So, by using, in a very hard scientific way, there isn’t really speculation involved, you can say, yes, they had a weight system.

Then you can ask what they used it for. So that’s the broader framework of cognitive archeology. With relation to your question about the Indo-European languages, that’s a very specific field of historical linguistics. And certainly, when I was a student, I became a little skeptical of the then-popular view that the Indo-European languages were the result of expansion from a homeland in the steppe lands of east of the Black—northeast of the Black Sea. And I thought there really wasn’t much evidence for that, and I thought about what could be a better explanation. And I thought a better explanation would be that the Indo-European language family, or the proto-Indo-European language, may be expanded out of Anatolia, out of Turkey, with the first farmers. And archeology was already revealing that the first farmers in Europe were a result of an expansion from Anatolia, from Turkey. The wheat, the barley, the sheep and the goats, those were available in Anatolia, and then they came to Europe by a process of expansion of the population.

And so I came to prefer that model, which I still do. But actually, just recently, the past year, there is strong ancient DNA evidence showing that there really was an expansion around 3,000 B.C. from northeast of the Black Sea, from the steppe lands into Germany, which definitely supports the prior—the steppe hypothesis, which was the one I was criticizing, so I’m having to modify my views a little. Although I still think that probably the original Indo-European language or proto-language spread out of Turkey to Europe with the spread of farming. And then this later movement, which I think is well documented now by ancient DNA, I think that was a later state; that’s sort of a later part of the Indo-European story. But that’s very controversial and still hotly disputed by angry linguists and angry archeologists.

CUNO:  Beware of angry linguists. [chuckles]

But how has the map of archaeology changed over the course of your career? How much has it broadened its field of interest beyond the Mediterranean basin and among archaeologists from countries other than those of Europe and North America?

RENFREW:  Well, I think it’s really possible now to speak of a world archeology. And every nation in the world now is interested in archeology. It’s true, I think, that it was in Europe, with the French archeologists for the Paleolithic and the Scandinavian archeologists—they were the ones that developed the three-age system of Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age. So all of that was taking place in the nineteenth century. And then archeology now has become a worldwide persuasion. And of course, as we look at it, the archeology of Mesoamerica is fascinating. The— the great civilizations of Mesoamerica are just stupefying. The site of Teotihuacan, for instance, or indeed, Mexico City before the Spaniards took it, the time of the Aztecs, was spectacular. And Chinese archeology is developing very strongly now.

And there wasn’t really a discipline of archeology, in the sense of excavating and studying, as the French were doing in the mid-nineteenth century in China until the 1920s. But Chinese archeology is going very strongly now. I was in Shanghai just a month ago for the Shanghai Archeology Forum, which is just about the leading international conference in the world now on the theme of world archeology. And so, I think in a way, that’s the most exciting development.

But over the past two or three decades, partly because you can date things, talking about radiocarbon, you can now know that something in China is about the same time as something in Europe, and about the same time in something in Mesoamerica. So, you can compare the three chronologically, so you have a framework. And that makes world archeology possible. And I think that’s the most interesting development, to compare how did civilization, urban life, begin in China, in Europe, in the Near East, Mesopotamia, in Mesoamerica, in Peru? These are really interesting questions. They’re very difficult to handle because it’s difficult to know all that you should about all these different places at once. That’s challenging, actually.

CUNO:  What role have national governments played in encouraging or discouraging objective, scientific archaeology over the years? I mean, they have played a role, haven’t they? And it’s not always been a positive role.

RENFREW:  Well, you’re quite right. That’s always been a matter of where the government support comes from. Archeology has to be supported by the state if it’s going to be effective, I think. And nearly every nation does have regulation for the protection of its monuments, and therefore authorizes excavations at great national sites. And I’m sure that is appropriate. I think in the countries that have had really established government for several centuries, maybe the archeology is slightly less political. In Europe, I think it’s not so political. But in nations whose emergence came about in colonial times and under colonial influence, there, I think, often there is more politics involved. And sometimes the politics isn’t altogether evident to the casual eye. Indeed, of course, there are analysts who say that in our own time and in our own cities—I mean, if we’re talking North America or talking about England—there are archeologists who say that the practice of archeology, even now, is very political. But I’m not sure I go along with that. Sometimes they can point to some things that are. And certainly, if you look at a museum display—I mean, anywhere—if you look at what happens in Washington or what happens at the British Museum in London, how they treat different aspects of archeology, that of course, is how the presentation of archeology to the public, I think that is always very political. But that’s, I think, a little different from the accumulation of knowledge by the researcher. That, I think, is less politically motivated. Although, when I say that, we remember that it’s only sixty, seventy years ago since the end of the Second World War. And of course, the archeology of the National Socialists in Germany, the Nazis, was hugely political. And of course, under the communist regimes in Soviet Russia or in China, obviously, Marxist doctrines have been exemplified by the use of archeology. But I don’t think that’s so prevalent now, either in Russia or in China. I was just, as I say, in Shanghai, and one didn’t feel one was being swamped by Marxist doctrine when we were in—or Maoist doctrine, indeed—when we were in Shanghai. So, I think the serious archeological research is not so politically governed. But, my word, the presentation is. And you can’t go to a museum and look at the presentation without saying, “Hmm, isn’t that a bit odd, the—”

CUNO:  —telling a national story.

Let’s change the topic a bit. Let’s get right to the point of looting and the destruction of archaeological sites by illicit excavations. Now, you’ve written powerfully, Colin, on the topic and we’ve differed as to ways of inhibiting such activity and what to do with the finds that have resulted from illicit excavations. It’s been almost fifty years since UNESCO’s convention against illicit excavations and yet they go on and the illicit trade continues. It may have moved away from European and North American museums and may have diminished among European and North American private collectors but still it continues. How frustrated are you by this and are you hopeful that the protocols currently in place will eventually prevent the illicit trade in antiquities?

RENFREW:  Well, I’m hopeful, but I’m very far from complacent. I think it was very helpful when museums began to subscribe to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Preventing Illicit Trade, when they adopted the view that private collectors and museums should not buy antiquities—and not even accept them as gifts, if you’re a museum—which had appeared on the market after 1970. And if you follow that closely, then you’re not going to get any looted antiquities in mus—it’s different if the nation authorizes systematic excavation, authorizes partage, I know something that you’re enthusiastic about. Partage being if there’s an official excavation, you agree to divide the products of the excavation, the artifacts, between the host country and the participating museums and so on. And I think there’s a lot of virtue in that argument. But although many museums—and I know the Association of Art Museum Directors in the United States have now developed a firm policy of not acquiring antiquities that you can’t trace back before 1970—it isn’t deflating the market. I mean, I think it’s very important indeed that the Getty, after a difficult period—I know you’ve had to send things back—The Morgantina Aphrodite and so on—sent back to Italy because it was demonstrated that [it] left Italy illegally. The Metropolitan Museum had a lot of difficult times with the Euphronios Krater, the so-called hot pot, which was bought by the Met for a million dollars in the 1970s. Well, I think it’s been understood now that things went wrong in those days. And I think it was 2006—was it?—that the Getty formulated your very rigorous acquisition policy now, which I very much respect and admire. I think that’s great. So, I think that’s a major first step. And I think if other museums follow that rigorously—and I think the AAMD, the Association of Art Museum Directors, have some website where you can buy something that emerged after 1970, and put it on the website and pretend that everything’s alright. Well, I think that’s a loophole that I deplore. So, I think there’s work to be done. But I would be more optimistic if I didn’t note that the prices keep going up in the auctions.

And I’m very interested in Socratic antiquities from the Socratic islands of Greece, from the early Bronze Age there. And there was a Socratic sculpture that was sold in Christie’s, I think, in New York a few years ago for $10 million. Well, the price keeps going up. And until the price starts going down, we’re not winning the battle. But I do think that if other museums followed the Getty, turned over a new leaf—because things hadn’t been quite right at the Getty in previous times—turn over a new leaf, had a really transparent acquisition policy, which I much respect. I think [if] other museums follow that policy, and no nonsense about websites of the Association of Art Museum Directors, then I think the prices might come down. And as you say, we’ll never bring it all to an end, but if the prices come down on the open market, then we’re winning the battle.

CUNO:  But what do you think about all of the knowledge that’s lost when we don’t allow un- or under-provenanced antiquities to enter the collections of the world’s public museums, where they can be properly cared for, researched, and published? Isn’t that compounding the problem?

RENFREW:  Well, I think the knowledge that really counts is already lost, when they’re excavated from the ground without any understanding of the context. And I think if you have a properly conducted excavation, where it’s recorded, you find what is discovered with what, where you have the full information, then those objects can tell you something new, and so you can really construct more evidence about the past. But I think individual object taken out of the ground, where you don’t know where it came from, you don’t know its history, it doesn’t tell you so much. And so I think those unfortunate orphans, as it were, they’re orphans that cannot be cured—you can’t find a cure for them. There’s no point in trying to give them a new home, ’cause they’ll always be orphans that lack the information that they should have given to the world.

CUNO:  But don’t they still contain information that would be valuable for our better understanding of the development of human intelligence? Wouldn’t an investigation of the material properties of these objects, maybe the iconography of their decoration or the character or refinement of the way they were made, the technology with which they were made, wouldn’t this help us understand the development of human intelligence? Answer some of the questions and contain some information that we want to have?

RENFREW:  Well, there isn’t very much information. I mean, if you take a Greek vase, I mean, the people that [are] really very enthusiastic about Greek vases—I mean, Dietrich von Bothmer, who is the man at the Metropolitan Museum that encouraged them to acquire the hot pot—and we now know something about where that came from in Etruria, but we didn’t then. Now, you can’t do DNA on a Greek vase, you can’t do radiocarbon dating on a Greek vase. You can look at the painting and say that’s very beautiful. And if you’re a specialist, you can say, oh, that’s the hand of Euphronios or something. So it does contain some information.

CUNO:  Well, iconographic information.

RENFREW:  Yeah, iconographic information, exactly. So it does contain a little information. But the information that it could offer is sadly lacking. And I think those orphans, really, one shouldn’t be so concerned about them. I think the main thing is to try and stop the looting, so that you really can, as you say, do the radiocarbon dating, which you have to do on organic remains, do the ancient DNA, which you have to do on human remains, or sometimes on animal remains. You have to have the focus together that context can bring. So, I think it’s a mistake to make too much fuss about the individual beautiful and very special objects which have been looted and which are crying out for a safe home. The best thing is to send them back where they came from.

CUNO: Of course the 1970 UNESCO convention applies only to portable objects, artifacts that might be subject to illicit trading, that can be moved across state borders. But what about the built heritage, large sculptures and buildings, and the risks of damage to them from climate change, urban development, terrorism, [and] warfare? How can we prevent the kind of destruction that we’re seeing in Syria or Iraq? It seems to me all we’ve able to do is watch the destruction happen, and then we wring our hands about it afterwards—what can we do to prevent it?

RENFREW:  I think it’s very difficult. Of course, there are different kinds of destruction. Fortunately, I think this flamboyant destruction on supposedly ideological and religious grounds, that’s often, I think, for show. And probably the best thing we can do is not to highlight it too much, so that they stop having these episodes that get so much publicity. But ultimately, you’re right. I think it’s erosion through climate change, or indeed, through urban development, where cities grow and so the ground beneath is dug up and so on.

CUNO:  What about the responsibility of nation states for the protection of the world’s built heritage under their sovereign control and within their sovereign national borders. I mean, effectively the international community has outsourced the protection of the world’s built heritage to the nation-state even when certain states, and Syria is only the most recent example, and Iraq, too, for that matter, are in control of only a fraction of their sovereign territory. Is there some way that we can designate a supranational authority to take on this responsibility and to intervene in these situations for the benefit of the world? After all, don’t we, through the good offices of UNESCO, designate such heritage, like Palmyra, officially as World Heritage, not National Heritage?

RENFREW:  Well, there might be, if one could imagine what would take over instead. But you sort of used the word supranational or something, but we don’t have a supranational organization. Perhaps mercifully, the United Nations is not all-powerful across the world in every way. I mean, that would be a world hegemony of a new kind. And of course, there are local things that work very well. In the American Southwest, they have conservancy exercises where indeed, they purchase land. These private organizations purchase land in order to conserve them. We have something rather similar in Britain in the National Trust, which is not state-owned, but is an organization, a large organization, which buys actually more historic houses, but it does own some sites, archeological sites. But as you say, it’s very difficult because there are nations which vary—value some of their antiquities, but not others of particular periods and so on, with which they identify. But I don’t really see any viable scheme, other than a national. So long as we have nations, and we are taxed as nations and we have borders as nations—military defended borders—I think that at, the moment, is the way the world is organized. So, I myself feel that we have to encourage nations to do their duty. And indeed, most nations do try to do their duty. Most nations do have a historical conservancy organization, although some certainly are less good than others.

CUNO:  Okay, one final question, Colin. How optimistic are you about the future, with regard to the greater understanding and protection of the ancient past? If you could look out a hundred years from now, what would you see?

RENFREW:  Well, I’m broadly optimistic, because first of all I see increasing interest in these matters. And museums do a great job in interesting the public and making the public feel that they’re interested in the human past. And clearly if the human past is to survive well, it has to be benefit from public interest. So that’s the first point. But secondly, I think fortunately the archeological record is surprisingly flexible. Although, it’s scandalous the way cemeteries are being looted, and there are some kinds of archeological remains that are really being robbed out in some countries, and that is a loss which can’t be replaced, yet there go on being things found. And there are sites in every country which we don’t yet know of, some of which have been lost through natural processes—by mudslides or material being—burying them. And some of them underneath meters of soil. Well, some of these will be discovered again. So there will always be new sites to discover. And for the earlier periods, where you’re talking about stone flints and sort of stone axes and so on, flint tools, those sites are not particularly interesting to the looter, because the objects they provide are not financially valuable. So there will go on being Paleolithic sites discovered for centuries. So, I think if the human race survives—that’s another question. We’re talking about world politics there. But if we all survive the nuclear threats that surround us, then I think archeology will continue to grow from strength to strength.

CUNO:  Great. Let’s assume we will survive, and let’s assume we’ll come back together ten or fifteen years from now and talk about this again.

RENFREW:  I think we will.

CUNO:  Colin, thank you very much.

RENFREW:  Thank you very much, Jim.

CUNO:  Our theme music comes from “The Dharma at Big Sur,” composed by John Adams for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles in 2003. Look for new episodes of Art and Ideas every other Wednesday. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, and SoundCloud or visit for more resources. Thanks for listening.

JIM CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.

COLIN RENFREW: With prehistory, there is really no written narrative that you can use that means ver...

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