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Lost Worlds of South America

Lost Worlds of South America

Professor Edwin Barnhart Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center
Course No.  3120
Course No.  3120
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  29 minutes per lecture

The dramatic terrain of South America is one of the great and thrilling frontiers of archaeology. Buried by the centuries on soaring mountain slopes and beneath arid deserts and lush jungles, the remains of extraordinary, majestic civilizations—many completely unknown until recent decades—are now coming to light and raising tantalizing questions about what else may be awaiting discovery.

These newly uncovered sites, as well as previously known ones such as Cuzco and Machu Picchu, are by no means those of simple, “primitive” cultures, but show astonishing sophistication in large-scale architecture, agricultural systems, art, and urban organization, together with technological ingenuity that dazzles the imagination.

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The dramatic terrain of South America is one of the great and thrilling frontiers of archaeology. Buried by the centuries on soaring mountain slopes and beneath arid deserts and lush jungles, the remains of extraordinary, majestic civilizations—many completely unknown until recent decades—are now coming to light and raising tantalizing questions about what else may be awaiting discovery.

These newly uncovered sites, as well as previously known ones such as Cuzco and Machu Picchu, are by no means those of simple, “primitive” cultures, but show astonishing sophistication in large-scale architecture, agricultural systems, art, and urban organization, together with technological ingenuity that dazzles the imagination.

As one of only six places on earth where civilization arose spontaneously, this region offers a fresh and revelatory look at how human societies formed, from the earliest organized communities to cultures of huge complexity. They paralleled, yet were absolutely different from, the ancient cultures of Greece, Egypt, and others that we know so much better. In these sites you witness, with vivid clarity, the unfolding of one of the true cradles of civilization.

Now, in Lost Worlds of South America, Professor Edwin Barnhart, director of the Maya Exploration Center, leads you on an adventurous trek of discovery through the wilds of South America to the great, mysterious civilizations of the ancients. In 24 eye-opening lectures, you’ll take an in-depth look at the emerging finds and archaeological knowledge of more than 12 seminal civilizations, giving you rich insight into the creative vision and monumental achievements of these wellsprings of human life.

A Startling New Glimpse of the Ancient World

The ancient South Americans show us striking models of how societies can function and organize themselves. The technologies and social structures seen here were wholly invented, using no preexisting models, as these dynamic peoples struggled to tame their environment and carve out societies and empires.   

Recently unearthed marvels include

  • elaborately prepared and adorned mummies that predate Egypt’s by 2000 years;
  • imposing palaces, solar observatories, and dramatically decorated pyramids;
  • massive irrigation systems, aquaducts, and canals;
  • brilliantly engineered road systems covering thousands of kilometers;
  • stunning art objects in gold, turquoise, lapis lazuli, and ceramic; and
  • evidence of huge urban civilizations in the Amazon.

In their amazing sophistication and scale, the sites reveal some of the most remarkable ancient artifacts found anywhere in the world. These cultures rank among the greatest early civilizations, providing an extraordinary window on the development of human societies—and we’ve seen only the beginnings of these archaeological discoveries.

Encounter an Astounding Legacy of History and Culture

In many cases, the finds you investigate are so new that the only way to follow them is through primary sources: the archaeologists and scholars working in the field, and the materials they have brought to light. As an archaeologist, explorer, and passionate advocate for these cultures, Professor Barnhart invites you to join him at the latest excavation sites and to discover this hugely exciting field.

As a key point of the course, the professor elucidates how the iconic Inca civilization was only the tail end of a long, unfolding progression of cultures, and that the Inca stood on the shoulders of other great civilizations such as the Nazca, Moche, Wari, and Chimú. Your journey covers numerous illuminating facets of these cultures and ways of life, including these:

  • Earliest cities in the Americas: Explore the first urban complexes in the New World, dating to 3000 B.C.—their remarkable architectural features of platform mounds, sunken plazas, great pyramid-like structures, and irrigation channels, and the means by which these cultures supported large populations.
  • Wonders of ancient technology: Throughout the series, grapple with the amazing technological innovations of the early South Americans, including the astronomical observatories of Chankillo, the complex hydraulic engineering of the Nazca, the anti-seismic architecture of the Wari, the “raised field” agriculture of Tiwanaku—and the Inca’s technique, centuries ahead of its time, of freeze-drying vegetables.
  • Mummies, headhunting, and fanged deities: In cultures from the Paracas and Wari to the Inca, discover the religious underpinnings, cosmology, and significance of cultural practices such as mummification, ancestor worship, severed heads, human sacrifice, and ancient “brain surgery.”
  • The great Moche civilization: In three lectures on this visionary people, reckon with their towering pyramids, adorned with brilliant color murals; their fabulous tombs—the richest and most lavish in the New World—and their elaborate practices of shamanic healing.  
  • Glories of Andean art: Drawing from the many cultures you visit, witness the mastery of metallurgy, textiles, and ceramics, and the rich iconography seen in sumptuous ritual objects, jewelry, clothing, and personal adornment.
  • The magnificent Inca: In six lectures, learn how the Inca forged an empire of 10 million people, organized it through a system of “labor taxation,” ended hunger in their world, and built the glittering city of Cuzco—laid out in the shape of a crouching puma and boasting grand avenues, fountains, palaces, and temples with walls of hammered gold.

A Richly Colorful Journey 

Professor Barnhart enhances the history with stories of his own adventures and firsthand accounts of the sites and regions in question. You join him by video at the site of the fascinating Nazca geoglyphs to learn how the Nazca people etched vast geometric designs into the earth. You hear of hair-raising incidents pitting archaeologists against daring looters, and of Professor Barnhart’s own work of attempting to penetrate the enigma of the Inca’s “impossibly” perfect stonework.

The ancient cultures come alive through hundreds of original photographs, taken by Professor Barnhart and other archaeologists working in the field, illuminating the architecture, artifacts, and artworks, as well as 3-D models that vividly reveal the sites themselves.

A Story beyond Imagining

Armed with a probing investigative spirit, Professor Barnhart takes you deeply into the mysteries of these civilizations, raising compelling questions about how these peoples lived, worked, prayed, and thought. 

He leads you on an investigation of cryptic iconography on Moche ceramics and imagery suggesting that Moche priests incarnated or “channeled” the culture’s creator deity. With his expert guidance, you’ll probe what may have underlain the mass sacrifice of young women in the Sican culture. And you’ll trace startling connections between the ways of life of the ancients and those of present-day peoples in South America.

You’ll be riveted as you delve into one of the last unbroken ancient codes—the system of writing in knotted strings called “khipu”—and learn how the early South Americans shared meals with their mummified ancestors. And you’ll be amazed as you track huge canal systems, mounds, raised causeways, and fish farms indicating wide-scale civilization in the “untamable” jungles, all made possible by recent dramatic discoveries in the Amazon.

In Lost Worlds of South America, the breathtaking valleys, mountains, and deserts reveal wonders that rival anything we know of the ancient world. Travel with us to a lost and splendorous past—a fountainhead of civilization that speaks unforgettably of human striving, vision, and the indomitable will to endure.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    South America's Lost Cradle of Civilization
    Consider the remarkable evidence for South America as one of the true wellsprings of human civilization. Grasp the diversity of early South American cultures, from the Andean civilizations to the desert and Amazon regions; what these cultures shared; and their extraordinary innovations in agriculture, architecture, handcrafts, social organization, and religion. x
  • 2
    Discovering Peru’s Earliest Cities
    The first cities in the Americas date to 3000 B.C. Investigate the means of subsistence of coastal and inland valley cities, and evidence for trade in marine and agricultural products. Learn about the sites of Kotosh, El Paraiso, and Caral and their striking features of architecture, including plazas, pyramids, and solar observatories. x
  • 3
    South America’s First People
    The earliest evidence of humans in the Americas comes not from North America, but from Chile. Investigate the important Monte Verde site and its view into everyday life 15,000 years ago. Learn also about “Quilcas” cave art, the astonishing Chinchorro mummies—predating Egypt’s— and evidence of early agriculture and trade at Huaca Prieta. x
  • 4
    Ceramics, Textiles, and Organized States
    Observe pivotal changes in northern Peruvian societies in 1800–900 B.C., such as the architectural styles of the southern and northern valleys, which indicate the rise of a state identity. Note the area’s earliest evidence of metallurgy and weaving, and stone sculptures reflecting the first warlike violence seen in South America. x
  • 5
    Chav'n and the Rise of Religious Authority
    The Peruvian site of Chav'n marks the emergence of religion as the focus of public art. Study Chav'n’s distinctive architecture, with images of its characteristic “fanged deity.” Learn about later religious iconography and artifacts at Chav'n suggesting that it was the center of a cult that spread to other sites in the region. x
  • 6
    Cupisnique to Salinar—Elite Rulers and War
    With the waning of Chav'n’s culture, striking new elements appear in the region’s archaeological record. Here, encounter the Salinar culture, a new settlement pattern showing no ceremonial architecture and the first “elite” housing. Examine the evidence of defensive citadels and what may have triggered warfare and emerging social hierarchy. x
  • 7
    Paracas—Mummies, Shamans, and Severed Heads
    Investigate the fascinating Paracas tombs of the 1st millennium B.C., which contain richly adorned mummies, and grasp the significance of mummification. Study the elaborate iconography of Paracas textiles, the meaning of the supernatural beings they depict, and the practice of head hunting as a means to control the spirits of the dead. x
  • 8
    The Nazca Lines and Underground Channels
    The Nazca are yet another South American people of striking accomplishments. Learn about their remarkable irrigation system of underground aquifers, aqueducts, and wells, and their fine polychrome pottery and textiles. Penetrate the mystery of the “Nazca Lines,” massive geoglyphs scratched into the earth, which may be the result of ritual pilgrimage. x
  • 9
    The Moche—Pyramids, Gold, and Warriors
    In the first of three lectures on the Andean Moche culture, chart this civilization’s outstanding features. Discover the immense pyramids, adorned with brilliant color murals, road systems, and sophisticated art. Examine the evidence of extensive warfare, both in the art and in excavated weaponry and sacrificial victims. x
  • 10
    The Moche—Richest Tombs in the New World
    The Moche tombs offer compelling evidence of the culture’s social structure and cosmology. Investigate the sumptuous contents of the three principal tombs of Sipan—the enigmatic buried figures and dazzling costumes, jewelry, and surrounding objects. Contemplate who these buried people might have been, with relation to imagery in Moche art. x
  • 11
    The Moche—Drugs, Sex, Music, and Puppies
    This lecture investigates the dramatic iconography seen on Moche ceramics. First, learn about the complex rituals and practices of modern South American shamanism. Then study images on Moche pottery usually interpreted as depicting victory in war, and indications that they actually describe an elaborate culture of shamanic healing. x
  • 12
    Enigmatic Tiwanaku by Lake Titicaca
    Lake Titicaca is the site of one of South America’s most impressive civilizations. Discover the huge urban complex of Tiwanaku and its cultural connections to Chav'n de Huantar. Explore Tiwanaku’s mysterious architecture and its “raised field” agriculture, an engineering feat that allowed for the support of a large population. x
  • 13
    The Amazon—Civilization Lost in the Jungle
    Recent discoveries indicate the presence of massive ancient civilizations in the Amazon. Survey the evidence, starting with the Beni region’s elaborate systems of mounds, causeways, and canals. Continue with the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, noting wide areas of human-enriched soil, towns ringed by moats, geoglyphs, and pottery dating to 6000 B.C. x
  • 14
    The Wari—Foundations of the Inca Empire?
    Here, track the remarkable innovations of the Wari culture, highlighting its walled cities, paved road systems, large-scale livestock herding, and ingenious form of terraced agriculture. Examine the evidence of satellite communities of the Wari and the question of whether Wari expansion constituted empire building or a more benign diffusion of culture. x
  • 15
    The Chimú—Empire of the Northern Coast
    This lecture introduces a culture of warrior kings who became conquerors, second in influence only to the Inca. Learn about the Chimú’s extraordinary royal citadels, urban organization, and intervalley irrigation technology. Investigate their subjugation of neighboring cultures, their imperial administration centers, and what may have motivated their conquest. x
  • 16
    The Sican—Goldsmiths of the Northern Coast
    Contrasting with the Chimú, Sican civilization comprised a confederation of equal and independent city-states. Study the apparent Moche influence in Sican pyramid building, elaborate burial styles, and extensive human sacrifice. Observe the unique qualities of Sican art in the mastery of metallurgy and stunning ritual objects in ceramic, gold, and copper. x
  • 17
    The Inca Origins—Mythology v. Archaeology
    Begin your study of the great Inca civilization by tracing the culture’s origin myth, featuring a creator deity who made the cosmos and charged the Inca to found a kingdom in a fertile valley. Compare the mythology with archaeological evidence that suggests that the myths were based in part on historical truths. x
  • 18
    Cuzco and the Tawantinsuyu Empire
    The city of Cuzco stands as the supreme achievement in architecture and aesthetics of pre-Columbian South America. Study the city’s astounding features, such as its hydraulic engineering, anti-seismic construction, and its perfectly fitting stonework that defies explanation. Learn also about the culture of ancestral mummies, the golden Coricancha temple, and other architectural marvels. x
  • 19
    The Inca—From Raiders to Empire
    In charting the rise of Inca civilization, follow the pivotal reign of Pachacuti, the 9th Inca, whose vision to unify the Andes led to large-scale conquest. Learn how his heir, Tupac, doubled the imperial territories, and how the empire was ultimately torn apart by civil war and disease. x
  • 20
    The Inca—Gifts of the Empire
    As a glimpse into how the empire functioned so effectively, learn about the Mit’a, a system of labor taxation, noting the services subjects provided to the empire and how they benefited in return. Grasp the Inca’s ingenious technology of road building, suspension bridges, and freeze-drying vegetables, and how they eliminated hunger. x
  • 21
    The Khipu—Language Hidden in Knots
    The Inca used a complex system of records encoded on knotted strings. Study what is known of the khipu, starting with Spanish accounts of their use and the “khipucamayuq” who recorded and read them. Learn how numbers were encoded, and review evidence suggesting that the khipu may contain a form of writing. x
  • 22
    Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
    The mountainside complex of Machu Picchu was a royal estate of Pachacuti, the 9th Inca. Walk the site, entering at the Sun Gate, and explore the causeways, terraces, and many rooms of undetermined function. Study the solar-aligned Torreon and other astronomical structures of the site, and their significance in Inca cosmology. x
  • 23
    Spanish Contact—Pizarro Conquers the Inca
    In one of history’s most unusual incidents, the Inca empire was defeated by a Spanish force of 168 men. Study the events surrounding the capture and demise of Atahualpa—the last true Inca ruler—the destructive conquest by Francisco Pizarro, and the following struggle within the empire against Spanish rule. x
  • 24
    Remnants of the Past—Andean Culture Today
    The Andean civilizations have left a remarkable legacy in the modern world. Investigate the many ways in which contemporary peoples in South America maintain ancient ways of life, seen in agriculture, community organization, traditional lifestyles, and astronomical and religious observances, and contemplate what these practices mean in our own time. x

Lecture Titles

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Edwin Barnhart
Ph.D. Edwin Barnhart
Maya Exploration Center

Dr. Edwin Barnhart is director of the Maya Exploration Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has over 20 years of experience in North, Central, and South America as an archaeologist, explorer, and instructor. In 1994, Professor Barnhart discovered the ancient city of Maax Na (Spider-Monkey House), a major center of the Classic Maya period in northwestern Belize. In 1998 he was invited by the Mexican government to direct the Palenque Mapping Project, a three-year effort to survey and map the unknown sections of Palenque's ruins. The resultant map has been celebrated as one of the most detailed and accurate ever made of a Maya ruin. In 2003, he became the director of Maya Exploration Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of ancient Maya civilization. The center leads study-abroad courses for college students and tours for the general public in the ruins of the ancient Americas, among its other research and educational activities. Professor Barnhart has taught archaeology and anthropology at Southwest Texas State University, and currently teaches University of Texas travel courses for college professors on ancient Andean and Mesoamerican astronomy, mathematics, and culture. Over the last 10 years, he has appeared multiple times on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese NHK Public Television. He has published over a dozen papers and given presentations at eight international conferences.

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Reviews

Rated 4.8 out of 5 by 70 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by The Continent You Thought You Knew Growing up in North America when I did, the history of the Western Hemisphere ended more or less at the Mexican border, with only a few scattered facts about wars, explorers, and geographical features further south. That’s what makes Prof. Edwin Barnhart’s course such a refreshing eye-opener. If you thought that ancient South American history consisted more or less of the Spanish conquest of the Inca, you’ll be surprised to see that 2/3 of the Prof’s lectures are about events and civilizations that existed before then. You’ll be taken on a trip back thousands of years in time, parallel to the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Assyria, to find artifacts of people you never knew existed. Prof. Barnhart is active as an archaeologist and has spent much time in the areas he discusses, so he’s a fascinating discussion leader. He’s not afraid to express his opinions, but he does fairly present the ideas of those he disagrees with. There are a few minor quibbles. The Prof takes awhile to get used to following stage directions, and the director keeps him on his toes, pacing back and forth across the set. He also has some trouble now and then with grammar (someone “conquested” another tribe, for instance), but his hands-on knowledge of the main subject makes up for that. There are many photographs to illustrate each lecture, so do yourself a favor and get the video version. I bought the DVDs but ended up streaming most of the lectures on my iPad for convenience. The video quality of the TGC app is excellent. August 23, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Good introductory Overview For someone like my husband and I who really know nothing about South America and its early cultures this course gave an excellent overview and introduction. Couldn't really have asked for more. My only complaint is that the Course Guidebook did not include a timeline, a very helpful feature almost always included in the guidebooks. Given our unfamiliarity with the pace of South American history and the presenter's need to focus on certain cultures which often historically overlapped others, this would have been most helpful. September 4, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Wonderful I was transported. This course was wonderful. I loved the presentation. It was clear to me that this professor loved this topic and was enthusiastic about sharing his passion. I had no background in this subject area, and left wanting to learn more on my own. I really loved this series. August 23, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by EXCEPTIONAL COURSE, OUTSTANDING PRESENTATION! This was the first course I have done with The Great Courses and it exceeded my expectations in every regard. Dr. Barnhart's study, personal research, extensive field work together with his easy to follow sequencing of the related topics presented in his series made for an extremely interesting learning experience. I was hooked on the course from the first few sentences he began his series of lectures with and stayed glued to the series until the end when I immediately started a second tour of the material. Anyone with even a mild interest in the history of the civilizations of South American would be hard pressed to find a more meaningful and intellectually stimulating course. I hope The Great Courses will engage Dr. Barnhart for more materials in the new future. August 4, 2014
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