V. Gordon Childe
|Vere Gordon Childe|
Vere Gordon Childe 1930s.
|Born||Vere Gordon Childe
14 April 1892
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||19 October 1957
Blackheath, New South Wales, Australia
|Known for||Excavating Skara Brae
Marxist archaeological theory
|Influenced by||Heinrich Schliemann
G. W. F. Hegel
Vere Gordon Childe (14 April 1892 – 19 October 1957), better known as V. Gordon Childe, was an Australian archaeologist and philologist who specialised in the study of European prehistory. Working most of his life as an academic in the United Kingdom for the University of Edinburgh and then the Institute of Archaeology, London, he wrote many influential books and was an early proponent of Marxist archaeology, combining this with a culture-historical approach.
Born in Sydney, New South Wales, to a middle-class family of English descent, Childe studied at the University of Sydney before moving to England to study at the University of Oxford. Returning to Australia, he was prevented from working in academia because of his socialist political views, instead working for the Australian Labor Party. Emigrating to London, he continued his research into European prehistory through various journeys across the continent, publishing his findings in academic papers and books.
From 1927 through to 1946 he worked as the Abercromby Professor of Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, overseeing excavation of the unique Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae and the chambered tomb of Maeshowe, both in Orkney, Scotland. Becoming co-founder and president of The Prehistoric Society, he embraced Marxism and became a noted sympathiser with the Soviet Union. From 1947 to 1957 he worked as director of the Institute of Archaeology, continuing to publish his research. Upon retirement, he returned home to the Australian Blue Mountains, there committing suicide.
Widely regarded as one of the most important archaeologists and prehistorians of his generation, he became known as the "great synthesizer" for his work in synthesizing regional research into a broader picture of Near Eastern and European prehistory. He was also renowned for his emphasis on revolutionary technological and economic developments in human society, such as the Neolithic Revolution and the Urban Revolution, in this manner being influenced by Marxist ideas on societal development.
Early life 
Childhood: 1892–1910 
Gordon Childe was born on 14 April 1892 in Sydney, New South Wales. He was the only surviving child of the Reverend Stephen Henry and Harriet Eliza Childe, a middle class couple of English descent. Stephen Childe (1807–1923) was the son of William Childe, a stern English priest and teacher, having followed in his father's footsteps by being ordained into the Church of England in 1867 after gaining a BA from the University of Cambridge. In 1871 he married Mary Ellen Latchford, together having five children, and gained employment as a teacher. Moving to Australia's New South Wales in 1878, Mary died after a few years; in 1886 Stephen married Harriet Eliza (1853–1910), an Englishwoman from a wealthy background who had moved to Australia as a child.
Gordon Childe was raised along with his five half-siblings at his father's palatial country house, the Chalet Fontenelle (now known as Whispering Pines Chalet), in the township of Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Reverend Childe worked as the minister for St. Thomas' Parish, but proved unpopular, arguing with his congregation and taking unscheduled holidays when he was supposed to be overseeing religious services. A sickly child, Gordon Childe was home schooled for a number of years, before gaining a private school education in North Sydney. In 1907, he began attending the Sydney Church of England Grammar School, gaining his Junior Matriculation in 1909 and Senior Matriculation the following year. At school he studied ancient history, French, Greek, Latin, geometry, algebra and trigonometry, achieving good marks in all subjects, but was bullied because of his strange appearance and unathletic physique. In July 1910 his mother died; his father soon took Monica Gardiner to be his third wife. Childe's relationship with his father was strained, particularly following his mother's death, and they disagreed on the subject of religion and politics, with the Reverend being a devout Christian and conservative while Gordon Childe was an atheist and socialist.
University in Sydney and Oxford: 1911–1917 
Childe studied for a degree in Classics at the University of Sydney in 1911; although focusing on the study of written sources, he first came across classical archaeology through the works of archaeologists Heinrich Schliemann and Arthur Evans. At university, he became an active member of the Debating Society, at one point arguing in favour of the proposition that "socialism is desirable". Increasingly interested in socialism and Marxism, he read the works of prominent Marxist theoreticians Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, as well as those of philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, whose ideas on dialectical materialism heavily influenced Marxist theory. Ending his studies in 1913, Childe graduated the following year with various honours and prizes, including Professor Francis Anderson's prize for Philosophy.
Wishing to continue his education, he gained £200 from the Cooper Graduate Scholarship in Classics, allowing him to afford the tuition fees at Queen's College, a part of the University of Oxford, England. He set sail for Britain in August 1914, shortly after the outbreak of World War I. At Queen's, Childe was entered for a diploma in classical archaeology followed by a Bachelor of Literature degree, but did not complete the requirements for the former; here, he studied under John Beazley and Arthur Evans, the latter acting as his supervisor. In 1915, he published his first academic paper, "On the Date and Origin of Minyan Ware", which appeared in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, and the following year produced his B.Litt. thesis, "The Influence of Indo-Europeans in Prehistoric Greece", displaying his interest in combining philological and archaeological evidence.
At Oxford he became actively involved with the socialist movement, antagonising the conservative, rightist university authorities. Becoming a noted member of the Oxford University Fabian Society, then at the height of its power and membership, he was there in 1915 when it changed its name to the Oxford University Socialist Society following a split from the Fabian Society. His best friend and flatmate was Rajani Palme Dutt, a British citizen born to an Indian father and Swedish mother who was also a fervent socialist and Marxist. The two often got drunk and tested each other's knowledge about classical history late at night. With Britain in the midst of World War I, many socialists refused to fight for the British Army despite the government imposed conscription. They believed that the war was being waged in the interests of the ruling classes of the European imperialist nations at the expense of the working classes, and that class war was the only conflict that they should be concerned with. Dutt was imprisoned for refusing to fight, and Childe campaigned for his release and the release of other socialists and pacifist conscientious objectors. Childe was never required to enlist in the army, most likely because of his poor health and eyesight.
Early career in Australia: 1918–1921 
Childe returned to Australia in 1917, taking up employment teaching Latin at the Maryborough Grammar School, Queensland; he left at the end of the school year after suffering abuse from disobedient pupils. The following year he took up the post of Senior Resident Tutor at St Andrew's College, Sydney University, and moving to the city he got involved in Sydney's socialist and anti-conscription movement. In Easter 1918 he spoke at the Third Inter-State Peace Conference, an event organised by the Australian Union of Democratic Control for the Avoidance of War, a group that was deeply opposed to the plans by Prime Minister Billy Hughes and the centre-right Nationalist Party of Australia to introduce conscription for males. The conference had a prominent socialist emphasis, with Soviet Consul-General for Australia Peter Simonoff being present, and its report argued that the best hope for the end to international war was the "abolition of the Capitalist System". News of Childe's participation reached the Principal of St Andrew's College, Dr Harper; under pressure from the university authorities, he forced Childe to resign. With his good academic reputation, several other staff members provided him with work as a tutor in Ancient History in the Department of Tutorial Classes, but he was prevented from doing so by the Chancellor of the University, Chief Justice Sir William Cullen, who feared that Childe would propagate his socialist ideas to students.
Realising that an academic career would be barred from him by the right wing university authorities, Childe turned to getting a job within the leftist movement. In August 1919, he became private secretary and speech writer to politician John Storey, a prominent member of the centre-left Australian Labor Party then in opposition to New South Wales' Nationalist government. Representing the Sydney suburb of Balmain on the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, Storey became state premier in 1920 when Labor achieved an electoral victory there. Working within the Labor Party allowed Childe to gain an "unrivalled grasp of its structure and history", enabling him to write a book on the subject, How Labour Governs (1923). The greater his involvement, the more Childe became critical of Labor, believing that they betrayed their socialist ideals once they gained political power and moved to a centrist, pro-capitalist stance. He joined the Australian branch of the anti-capitalist union Industrial Workers of the World, at the time banned by the government as a political threat. In 1921 Childe was sent to London by Storey, in order to keep the British press updated about developments in New South Wales, but in December Storey died, and a few days later the New South Wales elections restored a Nationalist government under the premiership of George Fuller. Fuller thought Childe's job unnecessary, and in early 1922 terminated his employment.
London and early books: 1922–1926 
Unable to find an academic job in Australia, Childe remained in Britain, renting a room in Bloomsbury, Central London, and spending much time studying at the British Museum and the Royal Anthropological Institute library. An active member of the London socialist movement, he associating with leftists at the 1917 Club in Gerrard Street, Soho, and befriended members of the Marxist Communist Party of Great Britain, contributing to their publication, Labour Monthly; however he had not yet openly embraced Marxism. Having earned a reputation as a "prehistorian of exceptional promise", he was invited to other parts of Europe in order to study prehistoric artefacts. In 1922 he travelled to Vienna, Austria to examine unpublished material about the painted Neolithic pottery from Schipenitz, Bukowina[disambiguation needed] held in the Prehistoric Department of the Natural History Museum; he published his findings in the 1923 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Childe used this excursion to visit a number of museums in Czechoslovakia and Hungary, bringing them to the attention of British archaeologists in a 1922 article published in Man. Returning to London, in 1922 Childe became a private secretary for three Members of Parliament, including John Hope Simpson and Frank Gray, both members of the centre-left Liberal Party. Supplementing this income, Childe worked as a translator for the publishers Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co and occasionally lectured in prehistory at the London School of Economics.
In 1923 his first book, How Labour Governs, was published by the London Labour Company. Examining the Australian Labor Party and its wider connection with the Australian labour movement, it reflect Childe's dissolutionment with the party, believing that the politicians that it managed to get elected had abandoned their socialist ideals in favour of personal comfort. Childe's biographer Sally Green noted that How Labour Governs was of particular significance at the time because it was published just as the British Labour Party was emerging as a major player in British politics, threatening the two-party dominance of the Conservatives and Liberals; in 1924 they were elected to power.
In May 1923 he visited continental Europe, journeying to the museums in Lausanne, Bern and Zürich to study their prehistoric artefact collections; that year he became a member of the Royal Anthropological Institute. In 1925, the Institute offered him "one of the very few archaeological jobs in Britain", and he became their librarian, in doing so cementing connections with scholars across Europe. This job meant that he came into contact with many of Britain's archaeologists, of whom there were relatively few during the 1920s; he developed a great friendship with fellow Marxist O.G.S. Crawford, the noted Archaeological Officer to the Ordnance Survey.
In 1925, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co published Childe's second book, The Dawn of European Civilisation, in which he synthesised the varied data about European prehistory that he had been exploring for many years. Of "outstanding importance", it was released when the few archaeologists across Europe were amateur and focused purely on studying their locality; The Dawn was a rare example that looked at the larger picture across the continent. Its importance was also due to the fact that it introduced the concept of the archaeological culture into Britain from continental scholarship, thereby aiding in the development of culture-historical archaeology. Childe later stated that the book "aimed at distilling from archaeological remains a preliterate substitute for the conventional politico-military history with cultures, instead of statesmen, as actors, and migrations in place of battles." In 1926 he published a successor, The Aryans: A Study of Indo-European Origins, exploring the theory that civilisation diffused northward and westward into Europe from the Near East via an Indo-European linguistic group known as the Aryans; with the ensuing racial use of the term "Aryan" by the German Nazi Party, Childe avoided mention of the book. In these works, Childe accepted a moderate diffusionism, believing that although most cultural traits spread from one society to another, it was possible for the same traits to develop independently in different places, a theory at odds with the hyper-diffusionism of Sir Grafton Elliot Smith.
Later life 
Abercromby Professor of Archaeology: 1927–1946 
In 1927, Childe was offered the newly created post of Abercromby Professor of Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, established by deed poll in the bequest of Scottish prehistorian Lord John Abercromby. Although sad at leaving London, Childe took the prestigious position, moving to Edinburgh in September 1927. Aged 35, Childe became the "only academic prehistorian in a teaching post in Scotland", and was disliked by many Scottish archaeologists, who viewed him as an outsider with no specialism in Scottish prehistory; this hostility intensified, and he wrote to a friend, remarking that "I live here in an atmosphere of hatred and envy." He nevertheless made friends in Edinburgh, including Sir W. Lindsay Scott, Alexander Curle, J.G. Callender, Walter Grant and Charles G. Darwin, becoming godfather to the latter's youngest son. Initially lodging at Liberton, he moved into the semi-residential Hotel de Vere in Eglington Crescent. At Edinburgh University, Childe focused on research, and although reportedly very kind towards his students, had difficulty speaking to large audiences; he organised the BSc degree course so that it began studying the Iron Age, progressing chronologically backward to the Palaeolithic, confusing many students. Founding the Edinburgh League of Prehistorians, he took his more enthusiastic students on excavations and invited guest lecturers to visit. Involving them in experimental archaeology, of which he was an early proponent, in 1937 he performed experiments to understand the vitrification process that had occurred at several Iron Age forts in northern Britain.
Reagularly travelling to London to visit friends, one notable comrade was Stuart Piggott, another influential British archaeologist who succeeded Childe as Abercromby Professor at Edinburgh. The duo, along with Grahame Clark, were elected onto the committee of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia, in 1934 using their influence to convert it into a nationwide organisation, the Prehistoric Society, of which Childe was elected president.
Often attending conferences across Europe, Childe became fluent in several languages, and in 1935 visited the Soviet Union, spending 12 days in Leningrad and Moscow; impressed with the socialist state, he was particularly interested in the role of Soviet archaeology. Returning to Britain, he became a vocal Soviet sympathiser who avidly read the CPGB's Daily Worker, although was heavily critical of certain Soviet government policies, in particular the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany. His socialist convictions led to an early denunciation of European fascism, and he was outraged by the Nazi co-option of prehistoric archaeology to glorify their own conceptions of an Aryan racial heritage. Supportive of the British government's decision to fight the fascist powers in the Second World War, he made the decision to commit suicide should the Nazis conquer Britain. Though opposing fascist Germany and Italy, he also criticised the imperialist, capitalist governments of the United Kingdom and United States: he often described the latter as being full of "loathsome fascist hyenas".
Childe's university position meant that he was obliged to undertake archaeological excavations, something he loathed and believed that he did poorly. Students agreed, but recognised his "genius for interpreting evidence". Unlike many contemporaries, he was scrupulous with writing up and publishing his findings, producing almost annual reports for the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, unusually ensuring that he acknowledged the help of every digger.
His best known excavation was undertaken from 1927 to 1930 at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands. Uncovering a well-preserved Neolithic village, in 1931 he published the excavation results in a book titled Skara Brae. Getting on particularly well with the locals, it is reported that to them "he was every inch the professor" because of his eccentric appearance and habits. In 1932, Childe, collaborating with anthropologist C. Daryll Forde, excavated two Iron Age hillforts at Earn's Hugh on the Berwickshire coast, while in June 1935 he excavated a promontory fort at Larriban near to Knocksoghey in Northern Ireland. Together with Wallace Thorneycroft, another Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Childe excavated two vitrified Iron Age forts in Scotland, at Finavon, Angus (1933–34) and at Rahoy, Argyllshire (1936–37).
Childe continued writing and publishing books on archaeology, beginning with a series of works following on from The Dawn of European Civilisation and The Aryans by compiling and synthesising data from across Europe. First was The Most Ancient Near East (1928), which assembled information from across Mesopotamia and India, setting a background from which the spread of farming and other technologies into Europe could be understood. This was followed by The Danube in Prehistory (1929) which examined the archaeology along the Danube river, recognising it as the natural boundary dividing the Near East from Europe; Childe believed that it was via the Danube that new technologies travelled westward in prehistory. The book introduced the concept of an archaeological culture to Britain from Germany, revolutionising the theoretical approach of British archaeology.
Childe's next work, The Bronze Age (1930), dealt with the titular Bronze Age in Europe, and displayed his increasing acceptance of Marxist theory in understanding how society functioned and changed. He believed that metal was the first indispensable article of commerce, and that metal-smiths were therefore full-time professionals who lived off the social surplus. Within a matter of years he had followed this up with a string of further works: The Forest Cultures of Northern Europe: A Study in Evolution and Diffusion (1931), The Continental Affinities of British Neolithic Pottery (1932) and Neolithic Settlement in the West of Scotland (1934).
In 1933, Childe travelled to Asia, visiting Iraq – a place he thought "great fun" – and India, which he felt was "detestable" due to the hot weather and extreme poverty. Touring archaeological sites in the two countries, he opined that much of what he had written in The Most Ancient Near East was outdated, going on to produce New Light on the Most Ancient Near East (1935), applying his Marxist-influenced ideas about the economy to his conclusions.
After publishing Prehistory of Scotland (1935), Childe produced one of the defining books of his career, Man Makes Himself (1936). Influenced by Marxist views of history, Childe argued that the usual distinction between (pre-literate) prehistory and (literate) history was a false dichotomy and that human society has progressed through a series of technological, economic and social revolutions. These included the Neolithic Revolution, when hunter-gatherers began settling in permanent farming communities, through to the Urban Revolution, when society progressed from a series of small towns through to the first cities, and right up to more recent times, when the Industrial Revolution changed the nature of production.
With the Second World War's outbreak, Childe was unable to travel across Europe, instead focusing on writing Prehistoric Communities of the British Isles (1940). Childe's pessimism surrounding the war's outcome led him to believe that "European Civilization – Capitalist and Stalinist alike – was irrevocably headed for a Dark Age." In this state of mind he produced a sequel to Man Makes Himself titled What Happened in History (1942), a synthesis of human history from the Palaeolithic through to the fall of the Roman Empire. Although Oxford University Press offered to publish the work, he released it through Penguin Books because they could sell it at a cheaper price, something he believed pivotal in providing knowledge for "the masses." This was followed by two short works, Progress and Archaeology (1944) and The Story of Tools (1944), the latter being explicitly Marxist and written for the Young Communist League.
Institute of Archaeology, London: 1946–1956 
In 1946, Childe left Edinburgh to take up the position as Director and Professor of European Prehistory at the Institute of Archaeology (IOA) in London. Anxious to return to the capital, he had kept silent over his disapproval of government policies so that he would not be prevented from getting the job. He took up residence at Lawn Road Flats near to Hampstead, an apartment block perhaps recommended to him by former tenant Agatha Christie, wife of his colleague Max Mallowan.
Located in St John's Lodge in the Inner Circle of Regent's Park, the IOA was founded in 1937, largely by archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler, but until 1946 relied primarily upon volunteer lecturers. Childe's relationship with the conservative Wheeler was strained, the former being intolerant of the shortcomings of others, something Childe made an effort never to be. Popular among students, who saw him as a kindly eccentric, they commissioned a bust of Childe from Marjorie Maitland-Howard. His lecturing was nevertheless considered poor, as he often mumbled and walked into an adjacent room to find something while continuing to talk. He consistently referred to the socialist states of eastern Europe by their full official titles, and called towns by their Slavonic rather than Germanic names, further confusing his students. He was deemed better at giving tutorials and seminars, where he devoted more time to interacting with his students. As Director, Childe was not obliged to excavate, though he did undertake one project at Maes Howe, a Neolithic burial tomb plundered by Early Medieaval Norse raiders, during 1954–55.
In 1949 he and O.G.S. Crawford resigned as Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries in protest at the election of James Mann to the Presidency following the retirement of Cyril Fox. They believed that Mann, Keeper of the Tower's Armouries at the Tower of London, was a poor choice and that Wheeler, an actual prehistorian, should have won the election. In 1952 a group of British Marxist historians began publishing the periodical Past & Present, with Childe joining the editorial board. He also became a board member for The Modern Quarterly (later The Marxist Quarterly) during the early 1950s, working alongside old friend Rajani Palme Dutt, chairman of the board. He authored occasional articles for Palme Dutt's socialist journal, the Labour Monthly, but disagreed with him over the Hungarian Revolution of 1956; Palme Dutt defended the Soviet Union's decision to quash the revolution using military force, but like many western socialists, Childe strongly disagreed. The event made Childe abandon faith in Joseph Stalin's administration, but not in socialism and Marxism. Childe retained a love of the Soviet Union, visiting on multiple occasions, and he was involved with the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, a CPGB satellite body, being president of their National History and Archaeology Section from the early 1950s until his death.
In April 1956, Childe was awarded the Gold Medal of the Society of Antiquaries for his services to archaeology. Whilst working at the Institute, Childe continued writing and publishing books dealing with archaeology and prehistory. History (1947) continued his belief that prehistory and literate history must be viewed together, and adopted a Marxist view of history, whilst Prehistoric Migrations (1950) displayed his views on moderate diffusionism. In 1946 he had also published a paper in the Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, titled "Archaeology and Anthropology" which argued that the two disciplines must be used in tandem, something that would be widely accepted in the decades following his death.
Retirement and death: 1957 
In the summer of 1956, Childe retired as IOA Director a year prematurely. European archaeology had rapidly expanded during the 1950s, leading to increasing specialisation and making the synthesising that Childe was known for increasingly difficult. That year, the Institute was moving to Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, and Childe wanted to give his successor, W.F. Grimes, a fresh start in the new surroundings. To commemorate his achievements, the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society published a Festschrift edition on the last day of his Directorship containing contributions from friends and colleagues from all over the world, something that touched Childe deeply. Upon his retirement, he told many friends that he planned to return to Australia, visit his relatives, and then committ suicide; he was terrified of becoming old, senile, and a burden on society, and suspected that he had cancer. Subsequent commentators have suggested that a core reason for his suicidal desires was his loss of faith in Marxism following the Hungarian Revolution and Premier Nikita Khrushchev's denouncement of Joseph Stalin, although Bruce Trigger noted that while Childe was critical of the Soviet Union's foreign policy, he never saw the state and Marxism as "synonymous", thereby dismissing this explanation.
Sorting out his affairs, he donated most of his library and all of his estate to the Institute. After a holiday visiting archaeological sites in Gibraltar and Spain in February 1957, he sailed to Australia, reaching Sydney on his 65th birthday. Here, the University of Sydney, which had once barred him from working there, awarded him an honorary degree. Traveling around the country for six months, visiting family members and old friends, he was unimpressed by Australian society, believing it reactionary, increasingly suburban and un-educated. Looking into Australian prehistory, he found it a lucrative field for research, and lectured to archaeological and leftist groups on this and other topics, taking to Australian radio to attack the racism of academics towards Indigenous Australians.
Writing personal letters to many friends, he sent one to W.F. Grimes, requesting that it not be opened until 1968. In it, he described how he feared old age, and stated his intention to take his own life, remarking that "Life ends best when one is happy and strong." On 19 October 1957, Childe went to the area of the Bridal Veil Falls in the Blue Mountains where he had grown up. Leaving his hat, spectacles, compass, pipe and Mackintosh atop Govett's Leap at Blackheath, he fell 1000 feet to his death. A coroner ruled his death as accidental, although in the 1980s the Grimes letter saw publication, allowing for recognition of his suicide. His remains were cremated at the Northern Suburbs Crematorium, and his name added to a small family plaque in the Crematorium Gardens. Following his death, the archaeological community issued a series of tributes and memorials that were "unprecedented" in scale.
Archaeological methodology and theory 
Childe has been considered the principle contributor to archaeological methodology in the first part of the 20th century.
Culture-historical archaeology 
Childe recognised that during his lifetime, British archaeology transformed from its evolutionary perspective to one of culture-historical archaeology. He was somewhat critical of the 19th century evolutionary school of thought, believing that those archaeologists who adhered to it placed a greater emphasis on the artefacts themselves rather than their makers.
Marxist archaeology 
Childe has typically been seen as a Marxist archaeologist, being the first archaeologist in the West to use Marxist theory in his work. Trigger noted that Childe identified with Marx's theories "both emotionally and intellectually", and as such made use of the Marxist materialist approach throughout his archaeological work.
Marxist archaeology had developed in the Soviet Union in 1929, when young archaeologist Vladislav I. Ravdonikas published a report titled "For a Soviet history of material culture". Criticising the archaeological discipline as inherently bourgeois and therefore anti-socialist, it called for the adoption of a pro-socialist, explicitly Marxist approach to archaeology that was a part of the academic reforms instituted under the administration of Premier Joseph Stalin. Although influenced by Soviet archaeology, Childe maintained a sceptical approach to much of it, dissaproving of Soviet archaeologists tendencies to assume their conclusions in advance of analysing the data.
Biographer Sally Green noted that "his beliefs were never dogmatic, always idiosyncretic, and were continually changing throughout his life" but that "Marxist views on a model of the past were largely accepted by Childe offering as they do a structural analysis of culture in terms of economy, sociology and ideology, and a principle for cultural change through economy." She noted that "Childe's Marxism" often differed from the orthodox Marxism of his contemporaries because he made reference to the original texts of Hegel, Marx and Engels rather than later interpretations and because he was selective in his use of their writings.
Other Marxists, like George Derwent Thomson and Neil Faulkner, have argued that Childe's archaeological work should not correctly be considered Marxist because he failed to take into account the existence of class struggle as an instrument of social change, something which was a core tenet of Marxist thought.
Influence on processual archaeology 
A number of archaeologists have proclaimed that Childe was a forerunner of the "New Archaeology", or processual archaeological movement, which developed in the United Kingdom and United States in the 1960s. Trigger argued that Childe's work foreshadowed processual thought in two clear ways; first by emphasising the role of change in societal development, and second by adhering to a strictly materialist view of the past. Both of these arose from Childe's Marxist beliefs.
This association between Childe and processualism contrasted with the claims of the archaeologist Peter Ucko, who was one of Childe's successors as director of the Institute of Archaeology. Ucko highlighted that in his writings, Childe accepted the subjectivity of archaeological interpretation, something which was in stark contrast to the processualists' insistence that archaeological interpretation could be objective.
Personal life 
Childe never married, and biographer Sally Green found no evidence that he ever had a serious relationship with a woman; she believed him heterosexual because she could find "no suggestion of any homosexual tendency." He had many friends throughout his life, both male and female, although he remained "rather awkward and uncouth, without any social graces". He enjoyed interacting and socialising with his students, particularly at the Institute of Archaeology, and would often invite them to dine with him or visit his apartment. Despite this, he always found it difficult to relate to his students and to other humans generally. He could speak a number of European languages, having taught himself in early life when he was travelling across much of the continent.
Childe was an atheist, and remained highly critical of religion, something he saw as being based in superstition, a viewpoint shared by orthodox Marxists. In History (1947) he discussed religion and magic, commenting that "Magic is a way of making people believe they are going to get what they want, whereas religion is a system for persuading them that they ought to want what they get."
Childe was fond of cars and driving them, writing a letter in 1931 in which he stated that "I love driving (when I'm the chaffeur) passionately; one has such a feeling of power." He was fond of telling people a story about how he had raced at a high speed down Piccadilly in London at three o'clock in the morning for the sheer enjoyment of it, only to be pulled over by a policeman for such illegal and potentially dangerous activity. He was also known for his love of practical jokes, and he allegedly used to keep a halfpenny in his pocket in order to trick pickpockets. On another occasion he played a joke on the assembled delegates at a Prehistoric Society conference by lecturing them on a theory that the Neolithic monument of Woodhenge had been constructed as an imitation of Stonehenge by a nouveau riche chieftain. Several members of his audience failed to realise that he was being tongue in cheek.
Childe's other hobbies included going for walks in the British hillsides, attending classical music concerts and playing the card game contract bridge. He was fond of poetry, with his favourite poet being John Keats, although his favourite poems were William Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty" and Robert Browning's "A Grammarian's Funeral". He was not particularly interested in reading novels but his favourite was D. H. Lawrence's Kangaroo (1923), a book set in Australia that echoed many of Childe's own feelings about his homeland. He was also a fan of good quality food and drink, and frequented a number of restaurants.
Known for his battered and tatty attire, Childe always wore his wide-brimmed black hat, which he had purchased from a hatter in Jermyn Street, central London, as well as a tie, which was usually red, a colour chosen to symbolise his socialist beliefs. He also regularly wore a shiny black Mackintosh raincoat, often carrying it over his arm or draped over his shoulders like a cape. In summer he instead frequently wore particularly short shorts, with socks, sock suspenders and large boots.
Legacy and influence 
By the time of his death, Childe had gained a significant influence on the world of archaeology, being praised by his colleague Stuart Piggott as "the greatest prehistorian in Britain and probably the world". Marxist archaeologist Randall H. McGuire later described him as "probably the best known and most cited archaeologist of the twentieth century", while Barbara McNairn considered him "one of the most outstanding and influential figures in the discipline". By 1956, he was cited as the most translated Australian author in history, having seen his books published in such languages as Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Hindi, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Sweden and Turkish. David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce considered Childe to be "probably the most written about" archaeologist in history, commenting that his books were still "required reading" for archaeologists in 2005.
Childe's theoretical work had been largely ignored in his lifetime, and remained forgotten in the decades after his death, although would see a resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Despite this global influence, his oeuvre was poorly understood in the United States, where his work on European prehistory had never become well known. As a result, he erroneously gained the reputation of being a Near Eastern specialist in the country, where he was regarded by anthropologists as one of the founders of Neo-evolutionism, alongside Julian Steward and Leslie White. Nevertheless, Bruce Trigger believed that American archaeologist Robert McCormick Adams, Jr. did the most to develop Childe's "most innovative ideas" after the latter's death.
Following his death, various articles were published that examined various parts of Childe's work from a historical perspective. In 1980, Bruce Trigger published Gordon Childe: Revolutions in Archaeology, which studied the influences that extended over Childe's archaeological thought. That year, Barbara McNairn published The Method and Theory of V. Gordon Childe, examining his methodological and theoretical approaches to the discipline. The following year, Sally Green's biography of Childe, Prehistorian: A Biography of V. Gordon Childe, was published, in which she described him as "the most eminent and influential scholar of European prehistory in the twentieth century".
Various archaeologists have debated and disagreed over the importance of various different parts of Childe's work. Childe himself believed that his primary contribution to the discipline of archaeology was in his interpretative frameworks, an analysis supported by Alison Ravetz (1959) and Peter Gathercole (1976).
Childe was one of the first to explore developments of the three-age system that had been presented as revolutions by Sir John Lubbock and others in the late 19th century. Such concepts as the "Neolithic Revolution" and "Urban Revolution" did not begin with him but he welded them into a new synthesis of economic periods based on what could be known from the artifacts, rather than from a supposed ethnology of an unknown past. Thanks to his presentations and influence this synthesis is now accepted as vital in prehistoric studies. Childe traveled throughout Greece, Central Europe and the Balkans studying the archaeological literature. Harris said of him:
"At a time when European archaeologists were preoccupied with regional sites and sequences, it was he who had the vision, the knowledge and the skill to construct the first prehistory of the whole continent (1925) and the first ordered and comprehensive account of the ancient Near East (1928)."
Childe placed considerable importance on human culture as a social construct rather than a product of environmental or technological contexts. Basically, he rejected Herbert Spencer's theory of parallel cultural evolution in favor of his own theory which was divergence with modifications of convergence.
Popular culture 
Childe is referenced in the American blockbuster film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Directed by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the motion picture was the fourth film in the Indiana Jones series that dealt with the eponymous fictional archaeologist and university professor. In the film, Jones is heard advising one of his students that to understand the concept of diffusion he must read the works of Childe.
|How Labour Governs: A Study of Workers' Representation in Australia||1923||The Labour Publishing Company (London)|
|The Dawn of European Civilization||1925||Kegan Paul (London)|
|The Aryans: A Study of Indo-European Origins||1926||Kegan Paul (London)|
|The Most Ancient East: The Oriental Prelude to European Prehistory||1929||Kegan Paul (London)|
|The Danube in Prehistory||1929||Oxford University Press (Oxford)|
|The Bronze Age||1930||Cambridge University Press (Cambridge)|
|Skara Brae: A Pictish Village in Orkney||1931||Kegan Paul (London)|
|The Forest Cultures of Northern Europe: A Study in Evolution and Diffusion||1931||Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (London)|
|The Continental Affinities of British Neolithic Pottery||1932||Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (London)|
|Neolithic Settlement in the West of Scotland||1934|
|New Light on the Most Ancient East: The Oriental Prelude to European Prehistory||1935||Kegal Paul (London)|
|The Prehistory of Scotland||1935||Kegan Paul (London)|
|Man Makes Himself||1936, slightly revised 1941, 1951||Watts (London)|
|Prehistoric Communities of the British Isles||1940, second edition 1947||Chambers (London)|
|What Happened in History||1942||Penguin Books (Harmondsworth)|
|The Story of Tools||1944||Cobbett (London)|
|Progress and Archaeology||1944||Watts (London)|
|Social Worlds of Knowledge||1949||Oxford University Press (London)|
|Prehistoric Migrations in Europe||1950||Aschehaug (Oslo)|
|Magic, Craftsmanship and Science||1950||Liverpool University Press (Liverpool)|
|Social Evolution||1951||Schuman (New York)|
|Illustrated Guide to Ancient Monuments: Vol. VI Scotland||1952||Her Majesty's Stationery Office (London)|
|Society and Knowledge: The Growth of Human Traditions||1956||Harper (New York)|
|Piecing Together the Past: The Interpretation of Archeological Data||1956||Routledge and Kegan Paul (London)|
|A Short Introduction to Archaeology||1956||Muller (London)|
|The Prehistory of European Society||1958||Penguin (Harmondsworth)|
- Trigger 1980. p. 09.
- Green 1981. p. 01.
- Trigger 1980. p. 32.
- Green 1981. pp. 03–04.
- Green 1981. p. 04.
- Green 1981. p. 05.
- Green 1981. p. 07.
- Green 1981. p. 08.
- Green 1981. pp. 08–09.
- Green 1981. p. 09.
- Green 1981. p. 10.
- Childe 1958. p. 69.
- Green 1981. pp. 12–13.
- Green 1981. pp. 14–15.
- Trigger 1980. p. 33.
- Green 1981. pp. 17–18.
- Green 1981. pp. 18–19.
- Green 1981. pp. 21–22.
- Green 1981. pp. 22–24.
- Green 1981. pp. 26–27.
- Green 1981. pp. 27–28.
- Green 1981. pp. 29–30.
- Trigger 1980. p. 34.
- Green 1981. pp. 31–35.
- Green 1981. pp. 35–36.
- Green 1981. pp. 37–40.
- Green 1981. p. 40.
- Green 1981. p. 41.
- Playford, J. D. (1963). "Labour Monthly (London), 1921-1962". Labour History (Australian Society for the Study of Labour History) (5): 57–59. doi:10.2307/27507733. JSTOR 27507733.
- Childe 1923.
- Green 1981. pp. 43–44.
- Green 1981. pp. 47–48.
- Childe 1964 . p. 181.
- Green 1981. pp. 46–47.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 35–36.
- Green 1981. pp. 48–49.
- Green 1981. pp. 49–50.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 37–40.
- Trigger 2007. pp. 242–245.
- Green 1981. pp. 50–51.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 5–7.
- Childe 1958. p. 70.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 12–14.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 44–49.
- McNairn 1980, p. 7.
- Green 1981. pp. 52–53.
- Childe 1942. p. 150.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 60–61.
- Green 1981. pp. 56–57.
- Green 1981. pp. 58–59.
- Green 1981. pp. 59–60.
- Green 1981. pp. 72–73.
- Green 1981. pp. 60–61.
- Green 1981. p. 67.
- Green 1981. pp. 62–63.
- Green 1981. pp. 73–74.
- Green 1981. pp. 93–94.
- Green 1981. pp. 76–77.
- Green 1981. pp. 85–86.
- Green 1981. p. 87.
- Green 1981. p. 86.
- Green 1981. p. 64.
- Green 1981. p. 66.
- Green 1981. pp. 68–71.
- Green 1981. p. 69.
- Green 1981. pp. 66–67.
- Green 1981. p. 68.
- Green 1981. p. 63.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 61–67.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 21–24.
- Green 1981. p. 90.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 56–60.
- Green 1981. pp. 90–91.
- Childe 1929. pp. v–vi.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 67–74.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 24–26.
- Green 1981. p. 92.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 26–27.
- Green 1981. p. 93.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 83–87, 104–110.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 27–30.
- Green 1981. pp. 96–97.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 83–87.
- Green 1981. p. 97.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 110–114.
- McNairn 1980, pp. 33–38.
- Green 1981. pp. 97–98.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 114–117, 151.
- Green 1981. pp. 99–100.
- Trigger 1980. p. 125.
- Green 1981. p. 105.
- Green 1981. pp. 117–118.
- Green 1981. p. 106.
- Green 1981. pp. 107–108.
- Green 1981. pp. 110–111.
- Green 1981. p. 113.
- Green 1981. p. 112.
- Green 1981. p. 118.
- Green 1981. pp. 119–120.
- Green 1981. p. 121.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 124–125.
- Green 1981. pp. 122–123.
- Green 1981. pp. 142–143.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 154–155.
- Green 1981. pp. 127 and 130.
- Green 1981. p. 129.
- Trigger 1980. p. 166.
- Green 1981. p. 126.
- Green 1981. p. 142.
- Green 1981. pp. 143–144.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 166–167.
- See for example Faulkner 2007. p. 115.
- Trigger 1980. p. 167.
- Green 1981. p. 144.
- BARTON, HUW. "In Memoriam V. Gordon Childe." Antiquity, 74.286 (2000): 769
- Green 1981. pp. 145–146.
- Green 1981. p. 147.
- Green 1981. p. 149.
- Green 1981. pp. 150–151.
- Green 1981. pp. 151–152.
- Green 1981. pp. 152–154.
- Green 1981. pp. 154.
- Barton 2000, pp. 769–770.
- Trigger 1980. p. 11.
- Trigger 1980. pp. 12–13.
- McNairn 1980, p. 2.
- Trigger 2007. p. 247.
- McGuire 1992, p. 69.
- Trigger 1980. p. 169.
- Trigger 2007, pp. 326–340.
- Trigger 1980, p. 177.
- Childe 1979. p. 93.
- Green 1981, p. 79.
- Trigger 1980. p. 175.
- See for example Thomson 1949. and Faulkner 2007. pp. 97–101.
- See for example Faulkner 2007. p. 100.
- Trigger 1980. p. 181.
- Ucko 1990. p. xiii.
- Green 1981. p. 20.
- Green 1981. p. 72.
- Green 1981. pp. 124–125.
- Childe 1947. p. 37.
- Trigger 1980. p. 18.
- Green 1981. p. 73.
- Green 1981. pp. 114–115.
- Green 1981. p. 117.
- Green 1981. p. 76.
- Trigger 1980, p. 11.
- McNairn 1980, p. 1.
- Lewis-Williams & Pearce 2005, p. 19.
- McNairn 1980, p. 3.
- Trigger 2007, pp. 352–353.
- Trigger 1980, pp. 10–11.
- Trigger 1980, p. 12.
- McNairn 1980.
- Green 1981, p. xix.
- Trigger 1980, p. 13.
- Greene, Kevin (1999). "V. Gordon Childe and the Vocabulary of Revolutionary Change". Antiquity 73 (279): 97..
- Harris, David Russell; Childe, Vere Gordon (1994). The Archaeology of V. Gordon Childe: Contemporary Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago. p. 1.
- Harris, David Russell., and Vere Gordon Childe. The Archaeology of V. Gordon Childe: Contemporary Perspectives. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1994.
- Childe, V. Gordon. Piecing Together the Past. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956.
- Rose 2008.
- Barton, Huw (2000). "In memoriam V. Gordon Childe". Antiquity 74 (The Antiquity Trust). pp. 769–770.
- Childe, V.G. (1923). "Schipenitz: A Late Neolithic Station with Painted Pottery in Bukovina". The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 53 (Royal Anthropological Institute). pp. 263–288. JSTOR 2843571.
- Childe, V. Gordon (1929). The Danube in Prehistory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Childe, V. Gordon (1942). What Happened in History. Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin Books Ltd.
- Childe, V.G. (1958). "Retrospect". Antiquity 32 (The Antiquity Trust). pp. 69–74.
- Childe, V. Gordon (1964 ). How Labour Governs. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
- Childe, V.G. (1979 ). "Prehistory and Marxism". Antiquity 53 (The Antiquity Trust). pp. 93–95.
- Faulkner, Neil (Autumn 2007). "Gordon Childe and Marxist Archaeology". International Socialism 116 (London: Socialist Worker's Party). pp. 81–106.
- Gathercole, P. (October 1971). "'Patterns in Prehistory': An Examination of the Later Thinking of V. Gordon Childe". World Archaeology. 3 (2) (London: Routledge). pp. 225–232. JSTOR 21101683737057.
- Gathercole, Peter; Irving, T.H. and Melleuish, Gregory, ed. (1995). Childe and Australia: Archaeology, Politics, and Ideas. Queensland: University of Queensland Press.
- Green, Sally (1981). Prehistorian: A Biography of V. Gordon Childe. Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire: Moonraker Press. ISBN 978-0239002068.
- Greene, Kevin (1999). "V. Gordon Childe and the vocabulary of revolutionary change". Antiquity 73 (The Antiquity Trust). pp. 97–109.
- Harris, David R., ed. (1994). The Archaeology of V. Gordon Childe: Contemporary Perspectives. Melbourn University Press. ISBN 0-522-84622-X.
- Lewis-Williams, David; Pearce, David (2005). Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos and the Realm of the Gods. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0500051382.
- McGuire, Randall G. (1992). A Marxist Archaeology. San Diego: Academic Press Inc. ISBN 978-0124840782.
- McNairn, Barbara (1980). The Method and Theory of V. Gordon Childe. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University. ISBN 978-0852243893.
- Renfrew, Colin (1987). Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-European Origins. Jonathan Cape Ltd. ISBN 978-0224024952.
- Renfrew, Colin; Bahn, Paul (2004). Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice (Fourth Edition). London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 978-0500284414.
- Rose, Mark (20 May 2008). "The Man in the Fedora". Archaeology Magazine.
- Sherratt, Andrew (1989). "V. Gordon Childe: Archaeology and Intellectual History". Past & Present 125 (Oxford: Oxford University Press). pp. 151–185. JSTOR 21101683737057.
- Stevenson, Alice (2011). ""Yours (unusually) cheerfully, Gordon": Vere Gordon Childe's letters to R.B.K. Stevenson". Antiquity 85 (The Antiquity Trust). pp. 1454–1462.
- Thomson, George (1949). "Review of V.G. Childe's History". The Modern Quarterly 4: 266–269.
- Trigger, Bruce (1980). Gordon Childe: Revolutions in Archaeology. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0231050388.
- Trigger, Bruce (2007). A History of Archaeological Thought (second edition). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521600491.
- Tringham, Ruth (Spring 1983). "V. Gordon Childe 25 Years after: His Relevance for the Archaeology of the Eighties: A Review Article". Journal of Field Archaeology. 10 (1) (Maney Publishing). pp. 85–100. JSTOR 21101683737057.
- Ucko, Peter (1990). "Foreword". In Peter Gathercole and David Lowenthal. The Politics of the Past. London: Unwin Hyman. pp. ix–xxi.
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).
- Díaz-Andreu, Margarita (ed.). "Childe 50 years after". European Journal of Archaeology 12, pp. 1–250, 2009. (ISSN 1461-9571)
- Irving, Terry and Rowan Cahill, 'Vere Gordon Childe and the Pacifists-The Friends' Meeting House, Devonshire Street', in Terry Irving and Rowan Cahill, Radical Sydney: Places, Portraits and Unruly Episodes, UNSW Press: Sydney, 2010, pp. 130–143.
- Rouse, Irving. "Vere Gordon Childe, 1892–1957: [Obituary]", American Antiquity, Vol. 24, No. 1. (Jul. 1958), pp. 82–84.
- 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.