Vere Gordon Childe was an Australian archaeologist who helped take archeology seriously as an independent science instead of being seen as just an auxiliary science.
His work has made it possible to understand the cultural evolution of prehistoric human beings, as well as to contribute to the idea that it is in contact with different peoples, breaking their isolationism, that progress is generated.
Below, we will discover the life of this researcher through a biography of Vere Gordon Childe.
Brief biography of Vere Gordon Childe
Gordon Vere Childe was born in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on April 14, 1892.. He was the son of middle-class English immigrants. He spent his childhood living in the land of the ocean, studying there and graduating from university in his hometown.
He then moved to Oxford, England, where he became interested in classical philology. However, Gordon Childe chose to change fields under the influence of Professors Arthur Evans and J. Myres, eventually opting for prehistoric archeology.
As a student he took an active part in the Fabian Society of Oxford and openly opposed the First World War.
Round trip from Australia
After completing his studies in England, he returned to his native Australia. He joined the Australian Democratic Control Union, which successfully refused compulsory military service. He became personal secretary to the Labor Governor of New South Wales but left in 1921, deeply disenchanted with politics, returning to Europe. Of his raw experience with the Governor, he would write a book “How Labor Governs”.
Vere Gordon Childe took a trip to Central and Eastern Europe to see firsthand the archaeological remains found there. He returned to Britain, where he worked as a librarian for the Royal Anthropological Institute until 1925, when he published The Dawn of European Civilization.
Thanks to the success he obtained with this work the University of Edinburgh offered Childe the newly created Chair of Archeologywhich allowed him to be one of the first professional archaeologists of his time.
years of popularity
During the following years, he published other works, both specialized and for the general public, all of which gave him an international reputation.
His most notable publications are The Dawn of European Civilization, The Danube in Prehistory, 1929 and The Bronze Age (1930).
His books for laymen, marked by his interest in cultural evolution, include “What Happened in History” (1942), in which he sums up his vision of history and culture.
These works made the figure of Vere Gordon Childe a well-known person before he reached the age of 40.. His extensive fieldwork and literary production earned him the reputation of being one of the most renowned archaeologists of his time.
End of life
After a stay in Edinburgh in 1945, he moved to London to teach at the University, where he directed the Institute of Archaeology. During his last years, his literary production focused on the study of working methods in archeologyclaiming to renew this discipline.
His ideas regarding this task were collected in his posthumous work “The Prehistory of European Society” (1958). In 1956 he returned to his native Australia and died the following year.
The circumstances of his death are considered extremely strange. Childe would have believed that the best time for life to end is when you are happy and strong. .
On October 19, 1957, Childe moved to an area of Govett’s Leap in Australia’s Blue Mountains where she had grown up. He scaled a mountain, dropped his hat, glasses, compass, pipe and raincoat, and fell to his death from a height of 300 meters. He was 65 years old.
The official report at the time stated that his death was accidental, although acquaintances reveal that, judging from the contents of some letters left by Childe himself before the tragic event, this incident had been entirely his decision.
The Thought of Vere G. Childe
Gordon Childe’s thinking can be approached from two angles. One is based on his ideas about archaeology, which changed the mindset of this discipline, and the other is based on his conception of history and its evolution. These points are intertwined in Childe’s literary output. Nor can his work be detached from the Marxist ideology he defended and which shines through in his theses on the progress of human beings. and the importance given to social and economic aspects.
Childe tried to stop seeing archeology as just an auxiliary science, a widely accepted idea in his time. For him, the information revealed by archeology was a historical document of great importance, far superior to that of the written texts of treatises, books and other documents of ancient times. The method of extracting archaeological remains, as well as the interpretation of their use and what they say about the people who used them, is the fundamental pillar of archaeology, a science of pure law.
Gordon Childe is considered a broadcaster. He defines a culture as certain types of relics, such as pots, ornaments, funerary remains… which repeatedly appear together. The changes in these cultures throughout history would correspond to ethnic modifications due to migratory movements, invasions or following the diffusion of an object or an idea. Childe’s method consisted in seeking to reconstruct prehistory by chronologically ordering the sets of objects which were the exponents of these displacements or which, in one way or another, exercised influences between peoples.
With Hitler’s rise in Germany and the spread of Nazi theses, Vere Gordon Childe deeply feared that his ethnographic and archaeological theories would be misinterpreted. Childe denied that his concept of people had racial implications and he defended the idea that cultural progress is obtained by breaking with the isolation of human groups, by having them share their ideas. He considers it important to study the common heritage of mankind.
He devoted several works, both academic and informative, to refuting the Nazi-supported ethnic archeology of Gustaf Kossinna, who argued that it was possible to trace the origin of races back to their prehistoric roots and relate to the degree of progress achieved. Naturally, those who shared these Nazi theses maintained that the Aryan white race was the one which had historically given the most proof of the capacity for progress and development.
Childe’s preoccupation with Nazism and his pseudoscience led him to lay out his idea of history from a Marxist perspective in two books.: “The origins of civilization” and “What happened in history?”. He reflects on the progress of human beings. After analyzing the first peoples and the organization of ancient civilizations, he concludes that the main obstacle to the technological and cultural development of a society is the ruling class. The elites, to prevent them from losing their privileges and changing social status with the change of society, contain social transformations.
However, this strategy of the ruling class increases the cost of maintaining the state and, also due to the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the rulers, will harm the economy until civilization collapses. But this decline of a society does not necessarily imply anything negative, but it can be an opportunity to reorganize the economy and put wealth and ideas back into circulation.
Gordon Childe is credited with being the first to offer a socio-economic interpretation of early European societies and to be the leading Marxist archaeologist in the West. Additionally, he provided such distinct concepts today as the “Neolithic Revolution”, a shift in human history in which our species cleverly used cultivation and domestication to survive and thrive. Today, this concept has become essential to talk about the origins of agriculture, a key step for the human species to reach what it is today.
- Allen, Jim (1967). “Aspects of V. Gordon Childe”. Labor history. 12 (12): 52–59. doi: 10.2307/27507861. JSTOR 27507861
- Brothwell, Don (2009). “Child, Her Pupil, and Archaeological Science: An Epilogue.” European Journal of Archaeology. 12 (1–3): 193–202.
- OnlineKlein, Leo S. (1994). “Child and Soviet Archaeology: A Romance”. In David R. Harris (ed.). The Archeology of V. Gordon Childe: Contemporary Perspectives. London: UCL Press. p.p. 75–93. ISBN 978-1-8572-8220-7.
- lasgafasdechilde (2017) Really Gordon Childe. Archaeology, politics and dissemination. Childe glasses. Retrieved from: https://lasgafasdechilde.es/2017/06/30/vere-gordon-childe-arqueologia-politica-y-divulgacion/
- Sherratt, Andrew (1989). “V. Gordon Childe: Archeology and Intellectual History”. Past present. 125 (125): 151–185.
- Trigger, Bruce (1980). Gordon Childe: Revolutions in Archaeology. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-02310-5038-8.