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Vere Gordon Childe

Vere Gordon Childe (April 14, 1892 - October 19, 1957) was an Australian archaeologist, 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.

Childe was born in 1892 in Sydney, and came to Britain to attend the University of Oxford (Queen's College). His book, The Dawn of European Civilisation (1925) won him immediate recognition, and he followed it up with other books on archaeological theory. He was multi-talented, being an accomplished linguist, and by 1927 had been appointed 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 the work which had begun as a result of storm damage uncovering previously undiscovered structures in addition to those already exposed.

After leaving Edinburgh, Childe worked at the University of London for 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 an accident; 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. Perhaps it was natural that, being an archaeologist with only the material artefacts of the past to inform him, he should be drawn to an overarching theory of hsitory which explained everything as a result of the changes in the modes of production. It was clear that early humans were hunter gatherers, and that civilisation had arisen when they had first developed agriculture and then concentrated populations in cities.

Further developmemts in civilisation (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.

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 Heelenized eastern Mediterranean, and particularly at Alexandria he saw the culmination of classical culture.

See: The Archaeology of V Gordon Childe by David R Harris ISBN 052284622X

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