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Vere Gordon Childe (14 April 1892 – 19 October 1957) 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 Braemarker in Orkneymarker and for his Marxist views which influenced 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 Sydneymarker, New South Walesmarker. He was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar Schoolmarker (Shore) and the University of Sydney. He obtained a B. A in 1914. He then went to Britain to attend the Queen's Collegemarker at the University of Oxfordmarker and was awarded a B. Litt. in 1916 and a B. A. in 1917. He returned to Australia, where he became Private Secretary to John Storey, Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council for Balmainmarker and shortly thereafter New South Walesmarker 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 Russiamarker 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 Edinburghmarker, a post which he held until 1946. His excavation of Skara Braemarker 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, and was killed while mountain climbing in 1957 in the Blue Mountainsmarker.

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 Athensmarker in the 5th century BC, or that of the Roman Empire. In the Hellenized eastern Mediterraneanmarker, and particularly at Alexandriamarker he saw the culmination of classical culture.

Childe's left-leaning politics attracted the attention of George Orwell, who placed Childe's name on his list of 135 writers unsuitable for employment with the Information Research Department.

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)
  • Illustrated Guide to Ancient Monuments: Vol. VI Scotland (1952)
  • The Constitution of Archaeology as a Science (1953)
  • Society and Knowledge (1956)
  • Piecing Together the Past: The Interpretation of Archeological Data (1956)


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).
  • Faulkner, Neil. "Gordon Childe and Marxist Archaeology", International Socialism, No. 116. (Autumn, 2007).
  • 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.
  • Smith, Michael E. "V. Gordon Childe and the Urban Revolution: An Historical Perspective on a Revolution in Urban Studies," Town Planning Review, No. 80. (2009) pp. 3-29.
  • 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.

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