The Last Leap of Vere Gordon Childe: His Final Days
Affiliation: University of Wollongong, Australia
Keywords: Vere Gordon Childe, Prehistory, Australia, Archaeology, Abercromby Professor of Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology
Categories: Humanities, Social Sciences and Law
Vere Gordon Childe, aged 65, the leading prehistorian of his day, died in a fall off Govetts Leap in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The manner of his death divided people. Those in contact with him during the five months of his return to Australia from the UK agreed with the coroner that the fall was accidental. He had been cheerful, friendly, optimistic and had plans to study the geology of the Blue Mountains. His colleagues in the UK, having been told that he intended to jump off a cliff when he got to Australia, took the view that he had committed suicide, attributing it the absence of a close relationship and believing that his intellectual work had come to an end. After a hiatus of several decades, there was renewed interest in Childe’s work. Even though many of his ideas had not stood the test of time and his Marxist interpretations were debunked, his role in establishing prehistory as a discipline was acknowledged. This article examines the circumstances surrounding Childe’s death and factors that may have contributed to his suicide. There is compelling evidence that he became depressed and returned to Australia with the intention of ending his life. Having come to terms with the decision, he was able to put on a good front for those around him.