Vere Gordon Childe

Vere Gordon Childe

Vere Gordon Childe (14 April 1892, Sydney, New South Wales–19 October 1957, Mt. Victoria, New South Wales) was an Australian philologist by training who later specialised in archaeology. Usually known as just Gordon Childe, he was perhaps best known for his excavation of the unique Neolithic site of Skara Brae in Orkney and for his Marxist views which informed his thinking about prehistory. He is also credited with coining the terms "Neolithic Revolution" and "Urban Revolution". He was one of the great archaeological synthesizers attempting to place his discoveries inside a theory of prehistoric development on a wider European and world scale.


Childe was born in 1892 in Sydney, and came to Britain to attend the University of Oxford (Queen's College). He returned to Australia, where he became Private Secretary to John Storey, Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council for Balmain and shortly thereafter New South Wales Premier. His 1923 book "How Labour Governs" was based on his experience in this period of his life. On Storey's sudden death in 1921, Childe left politics and travelled in Europe.

His book, "The Dawn of European Civilisation" (1925) won him immediate recognition, and he followed it up with other books on archaeological theory. In that first book he laid out his ideas on the relation between European and Near Eastern development. He also explored the relation of archeology and Indo-European languages which he further developed in "The Aryans: a study of Indo-European origins", (1926). He posited a modified diffusionist theory of the spread of civilization, identifying South Russia as the homeland of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and studied this theory in the context of the archeological record. His basic ideas contributed to the Kurgan invasion theory later suggested by Marija Gimbutas. Childe’s original concept of the Aryans was inevitably influenced by the racist ideology of his time, but nevertheless it differed from the Nazis' crude Aryan supremacist ideas, which he attacked strongly throughout the thirties.

He was multi-talented, being an accomplished linguist, and by 1927 had been appointed Abercromby Professor of Archaeology at Edinburgh, a post which he held until 1946. His excavation of Skara Brae took place in 1928, when he was summoned to supervise work which had begun after a storm had uncovered previously undiscovered additional structures. For Childe, this was unusual, as he was not a great excavator; his main skill lay in interpreting of data discovered by others. That year also saw the publication of his book, "The Most Ancient East" (1928), which explored the rise of civilization in the Near East.

Childe was also an accomplished populiser: his two most widely read books, "What Happened in History" (1942) and "Man Makes Himself" (1951), were readable accounts that brought archaeology to a wider audience and helped make him well known. After leaving Edinburgh, Childe was appointed director of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London for the ten years until his retirement in 1956. He returned to Australia, but died in 1957 in the Blue Mountains. He fell to his death in circumstances which may have been accidental; however, in view of his personal circumstances, it is thought more likely that he committed suicide. Childe had been involved in left-wing politics in Australia, but his Marxism was more intellectual than activist.

Childe was the first to explore developments he called the "Neolithic Revolution" and "Urban Revolution" in the archeological record, and they are still vital concepts in prehistoric studies. Further developments in civilization (Childe did concentrate his attention on Europe and the Near East, despite the occasional excursus) could be explained with reference to the changes in technology that occurred, which were accessible from the archaeological record. To do this, Childe started to use terms like Bronze Age or Iron Age as a way of exploring shifts from one level of material development to another, rather than just for dating.

Childe was unusual in emphasising the Hellenistic period as the apex of Graeco-Roman civilisation, rather than the world of Athens in the 5th century BC, or that of the Roman Empire. In the Hellenized eastern Mediterranean, and particularly at Alexandria he saw the culmination of classical culture.

Childe is referenced in the 2008 Steven Spielberg-George Lucas blockbuster "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull".


* How Labour Governs (1923) - [ e-text]
* The Dawn of European Civilization (1925)
* The Aryans: A Study of Indo-European Origins (1926)
* The Danube in Prehistory (1929)
* The Bronze Age (1930)
* The Forest Cultures of Northern Europe: A Study in Evolution and Diffusion (1931)
* The Continental Affinities of British Neolithic Pottery (1932)
* Neolithic Settlement in the West of Scotland (1934)
* New Light on the Most Ancient East (1935)
* Prehistory of Scotland (1935)
* Man Makes Himself (1936, slightly revised 1941, 1951)
* Prehistoric communities of the British Isles (1940, 2nd edition 1947)
* What Happened in History (1942)
* The Story of Tools (1944)
* Progress and Archaeology (1944, 1945)
* History (1947)
* Social Worlds of Knowledge (1949)
* Social Evolution (1951)
* The Constitution of Archaeology as a Science (1953)
* Society and Knowledge (1956)
* Piecing Together the Past: The Interpretation of Archeological Data (1956)

References and further reading

* Braidwood, Robert J. "Vere Gordon Childe, 1892–1957: [Obituary] ", "American Anthropologist, New Series", Vol. 60, No. 4. (Aug., 1958), pp. 733–736.
* [Childe, V. Gordon] . "Foundations of Social Archaeology: Selected Writings of V. Gordon Childe", edited by Thomas C. Patterson and Charles E. Orser, Jr.. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2005 (hardback, ISBN 1-84520-272-4; paperback, ISBN 1-84520-273-2).
* Daniel, Glyn Edmund; Chippindale, Christopher. "The Pastmasters: Eleven Modern Pioneers of Archaeology: V. Gordon Childe, Stuart Piggott, Charles Phillips, Christopher Hawkes, Seton Lloyd, Robert J. Braidwood, Gordon R. Willey, C.J. Becker, Sigfried J. De Laet, J. Desmond Clark, D.J. Mulvaney". New York: Thames and Hudson, 1989 (hardcover, ISBN 0500050511).
* Gathercole, P. "'Patterns in Prehistory': An Examination of the Later Thinking of V. Gordon Childe", "World Archaeology", Vol. 3, No. 2. (Oct., 1971), pp. 225–232.
* Gathercole, P, Irving, T.H and Melleuish, G, "Childe and Australia: Archaeology, Politics and Ideas", (University of Queensland Press, 1995)
* Green, Sally. "Prehistorian: A Biography of V. Gordon Childe". Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, England: Moonraker Press, 1981 (hardcover, ISBN 0-239-00206-7).
* Harris, David R. (ed.) "The Archaeology of V. Gordon Childe: Contemporary Perspectives". Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1994 (hardcover, ISBN 0-522-84622-X).
* McNairn, Barbara. "The Method and Theory of V. Gordon Childe". Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1980 (paperback, ISBN 0-85224-389-8).
* Rouse, Irving. "Vere Gordon Childe, 1892–1957: [Obituary] ", "American Antiquity", Vol. 24, No. 1. (Jul., 1958), pp. 82–84.
* Sherratt, Andrew V. "Gordon Childe: Archaeology and Intellectual History", "Past and Present", No. 125. (Nov., 1989), pp. 151–185.
* Trigger, Bruce G. "Gordon Childe: Revolutions in Archaeology". London: Thames and Hudson, 1980 (hardcover, ISBN 0-500-05034-1); New York: Columbia University Press, 1980 (hardcover, ISBN 0-231-05038-0).
* Tringham, Ruth. "V. Gordon Childe 25 Years after: His Relevance for the Archaeology of the Eighties: A Review Article", "Journal of Field Archaeology", Vol. 10, No. 1. (Spring, 1983), pp. 85–100.
* Neil Faulkner, [ "Gordon Childe and Marxist Archaeology] , from International Socialism journal 116, autumn 2007.

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  • Vere Gordon Childe — (* 14. April 1892 in North Sydney, Australien; † 19. Oktober 1957 in den Blue Mountains, New South Wales) war ein australisch britischer marxistischer Archäologe und Archäologietheoretiker. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 Werke …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Vere Gordon Childe — (14 avril 1892 – 19 septembre 1957) était un archéologue australien. Il a dirigé la fouille du site néolithique de Skara Brae, en Écosse. Il est aussi connu pour avoir introduit les expressions « Révolution… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Vere Gordon Childe — fue un arqueólogo australiano. Nació en Sídney (Australia) el 14 de abril de 1892 y falleció el 19 de octubre de 1957 en Monte Victoria (Nueva Gales del Sur, Australia). Especialista en la prehistoria europea de los milenios segundo y tercero,… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Gordon Childe — Vere Gordon Childe (* 14. April 1892 in North Sydney, Australien; † 19. Oktober 1957 in den Blue Mountains, New South Wales) war ein australisch britischer marxistischer Archäologe und Archäologietheoretiker. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Childe, Vere Gordon — (1892 1957) Born in Australia, Childe became professor successively in the Universities of Edinburgh and London, and was a leading figure in mid twentieth century archaeology. Known for his Marxist emphasis on the importance of the economy,… …   Dictionary of sociology

  • V. Gordon Childe — Vere Gordon Childe Vere Gordon Childe circa 1930s. Born Vere Gordon Childe 14 April 1892(1892 04 14) Sydney, New South Wales, Australia …   Wikipedia

  • Childe — Vere Gordon Childe (* 14. April 1892 in North Sydney, Australien; † 19. Oktober 1957 in den Blue Mountains, New South Wales) war ein australisch britischer marxistischer Archäologe und Archäologietheoretiker. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben 2 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Vere — may refer to:People with the given name Vere:* Arthur Vere Harvey, Baron Harvey of Prestbury (1906 1994), British Conservative politician * Henry Vere Huntley (1795 1864), English naval officer and colonial administrator * Vere Beauclerk, 1st… …   Wikipedia

  • Childe (surname) — Childe can be a surname, and may refer to: Vere Gordon Childe, Australian philologist and archaeologist Wilfred Rowland Childe, British poet and critic As a given name it may refer to: Childe Hassam See also Childe Child (surname) Childe the… …   Wikipedia

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