Who We Are
Researchers: Colin Renfrew and Paul Heggarty
The researchers for Languages & Origins in Europe are the archaeologist Colin Renfrew and the linguist Paul Heggarty, who from their respective disciplines both have particular interest and experience in work in the field of the ‘new synthesis’ of multidisciplinary research into the origins of human populations.
Professor Colin Renfrew (Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, FBA) has specific research interests in European prehistory, archaeological science (with particular interest in DNA and molecular genetics), and the origins of linguistic diversity. His book Archaeology and Language (Renfrew 1987), for example, did much to stoke the new synthesis debate on Indo-European origins, proposing agriculture as the mechanism by which this language family achieved its dominance over such a wide territory, originating from Anatolia. This scenario entails a considerably longer time-span for Indo-European than the traditional linguistic vision, however, as well as a different homeland and pattern of expansion, and has been much challenged by linguists. Also, it has been under Professor Renfrew’s directorship that the McDonald Institute has come to play as a leading and facilitating role in the new synthesis (see below).
Dr Paul Heggarty is a comparative and historical linguist who has developed computational methods for quantifying language similarity, designed during his Ph.D. and has since tested and refined in two further multidisciplinary new synthesis research projects which combine his methods with phylogenetic analysis techniques drawn from the biological sciences (see the Quantitative Methods and Sound Comparisons projects on our research links page). His particular language interests are in the languages of Europe (particularly Romance, Germanic and Slavic) and of the Andes (the Quechua and Aymara families).
Our personal CV websites and email addresses are:
Host Institution: Why the McDonald Institute?
Under the directorship of Colin Renfrew, the McDonald Institute has long played a leading and facilitating role in the new synthesis generally, not least the debate on Indo-European origins. It has organised and hosted a series of multidisciplinary symposia (to which this project intends to add another theme) and produces its own series of publications in the field, such as the following illustrative titles:
Archaeogenetics: DNA and the
population prehistory of Europe
Renfrew & Boyle (eds) 2000 www.oxbowbooks.com/bookinfo.cfm/ID/28819
Examining the farming/language dispersal
Bellwood & Renfrew (eds) 2003 www.oxbowbooks.com/bookinfo.cfm/ID/53919
Phylogenetic Methods and the Prehistory of
Renfrew, Forster & Clackson (eds) 2006 www.oxbowbooks.com/bookinfo.cfm/ID/45484
The McDonald Institute also hosts the Glyn Daniel Archaeogenetics Laboratory, the first dedicated genetics laboratory established within an archaeological research institute. Languages & Origins in Europe now complements the Institute’s existing research group of archaeologists and geneticists by bringing to it a comparative and historical linguist who has specialised in quantitative linguistic methods for the new synthesis.
Funding Body: Why the Leverhulme Trust?
Languages & Origins in Europe, then, is eminently multidisciplinary in both its methods and objectives, focusing as it does on the meeting-point of linguistics, archaeology and genetics. It is this defining characteristic of our research that determined our decision first of all to approach the Leverhulme Trust in the UK to seek funding for our proposal, given that the Trustees’ priorities include seeing their funding used to “surmount … boundaries between disciplines” in order to “advance … neighbouring or more distant subject areas”. Our proposal fell squarely in line with this and the Trust’s other principal criteria for the research it supports, clearly making it the most suitable source of funding to apply to. We are extremely grateful to the Trust for their decision to grant us their generous support which makes Languages & Origins in Europe a reality.