Childe was an Australian-born archaeologist best known for his theories about the development of prehistoric civilisation.
Vere Gordon Childe was born in north Sydney, Australia, on 14 April 1892, the son of an Anglican minister. He studied classics at the University of Sydney and went on to Oxford University. It was during this time that his initial interest in European prehistory developed, as well as his commitment to socialism. He eventually became the first professor of prehistoric archaeology at Edinburgh University, serving from 1927 to 1946. He was then professor of European archaeology at the University of London, until he retired in 1956.
Childe's scholarship was rooted in his unsurpassed knowledge of the archaeological evidence. This was gleaned from museums, from published and unpublished sources, from extensive travel, and also partly from his work in the field. His most famous excavation was that of the Neolithic site of Skara Brae in Orkney. His particular skill lay in bringing together great amounts of data for examining 'archaeological cultures', which he saw as recurring groupings of artefacts and structures - such as house types, pottery and burial rites - that defined distinct prehistoric human groups, or peoples.
Upon this foundation he built theories addressing the grand questions, developing models for what he dubbed the 'Neolithic Revolution' and 'Urban Revolution', by which he tried to explain how humans in prehistory broke beyond hunting and gathering into settled farming communities, which then developed into new types of social organisation, spawning of cities and civilisations.
Childe's thinking was infused by an interest in the politics of the left. From 1916 to 1921 he was heavily involved in the Labour movement in New South Wales and he later made a number of visits to the Soviet Union. While his attitudes to Marxism were at times ambiguous its philosophical basis influenced much of his archaeological thinking.
His academic publications marked milestones in the development of culture-historical archaeology, and his later volumes 'Man Makes Himself' (1936) and 'What Happened in History' (1942) brought a much wider audience to his work and a longer-lasting legacy.
After retiring, Childe returned to Australia. On 19 October 1957 he died after falling from a cliff in the Blue Mountains. It is thought that he probably took his own life, troubled by failing health and fearful that his intellectual abilities were declining.
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