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Lost Worlds of South America

Lost Worlds of South America

Professor Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center

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Lost Worlds of South America

Course No. 3120
Professor Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center
Share This Course
4.7 out of 5
136 Reviews
93% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 3120
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is well illustrated and features over 400 illustrations, maps and portraits. There are captivating pictures of the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon; photographs of Moche ceramics and the terraced gardens of the Wari; detailed maps of South American regions and sites including Machu Picchu designed to help you better grasp the complex geographies of these lost worlds; and portraits of fascinating South American kings like Atahualpa, the last great ruler of the Inca. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Learn about the sites of Kotosh, El Paraiso, and Caral - the first cities in the Americas.
  • Study the Andean Moche culture in-depth, including its art, roads, and warfare.
  • Examine the communities of the Wari and determine if their expansion was about empire building or cultural diffusion.
  • Walk the Machu Picchu estate and explore the solar-aligned Torreon and Inca cosmology.

Course Overview

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
 |  29 minutes each
  • 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

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Your professor

Edwin Barnhart

About Your Professor

Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
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...
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Lost Worlds of South America is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 136.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent course with minor distractions I have now completed 2 of Dr Barnhart's courses and would purchase another. Excellent coverage of the topic with great photos, maps, and discourse. His Mayan course was scholarly where this course would be characterized as more of the commentary of an educated traveler. As such, his use of the course as a platform for promoting his theories (Fanged Deity, Amazonian influence) were a distraction. But not so much that I would not highly recommend this course. I have added to my bucket list of must see places in South America.
Date published: 2016-12-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from a great adventure but keep your wits about you this is a nice overview of the rich and diverse history of pre-columbian south america. the course is well organized, with each cultural group getting a lecture of its own, and somehow it all seems to fit into just 24 sessions. unsurprisingly the vast majority of what’s covered is in the andean region, but the digressions into the amazon—essentially uncharted territory archaeologically—offer some of the most intriguing provocations of the course. now it’s true that the professor is less rigorous and impartial than i would have preferred, but happily he’s not nearly as unreliable as some reviews caused me to fear. his main weakness is that he seems inclined to lead the evidence rather than follow it, so that sites and civilizations can be larger, more spectacular, and above all older than they might actually be. on the other hand he usually is pretty good at letting you know what is generally accepted and what is his own pet theory. it’s true that he does have quite a few of the latter, and as i’ve said elsewhere i don’t think that an introductory course is the place to be arguing for your own personal interpretations. nonetheless i did feel like the bulk of each lecture was sound, and i was usually able to tell which claims were more idiosyncratic. in my view the most consistently unreliable part of the course is its coverage of religion, specifically the professor’s pet theory that the south americans were monotheists. as far as i know no other authority believes this, and if it were so it’s hard to understand why the spanish wouldn’t have mentioned it. indeed, once we reach the one andean people for whose religion we have ample testimony, the inca, he is conspicuously silent about this theory. furthermore, to assume that images with similar features must represent the same deity is a patently false methodology. if one were to suggest that every image from india of a blue man with four arms was the same god, or that every greek image of a stately woman in a peplos was the same goddess, one would be wildly mistaken. indeed, in some tibetan statues of celestial buddhas the only feature that distinguishes one from the next is the position of the hands. it’s entirely possible that in the andes fangs, goggle-eyes, and serpents are simply standard attributes of deities in general, rather than signs of the same figure crossing multiple cultures and millennia. for these reasons it seems safest to assume the obvious: that the people of south america were polytheists just like everyone else in the hemisphere. and if this is so then this course offers us less understanding of these religions than it might have. the professor is also not a linguist. his pronunciation of spanish leaves one wondering if he even speaks that language, while at least two quechua words are misspelled, regardless of which orthography one prefers. but with all that said, don’t let my caveats put you off this course. it provides a very complete overview of the many different peoples and periods of andean history, and for the most part i thoroughly enjoyed it. it’s this comprehensiveness that sets it apart from the documentaries you might find on tv, or even from many books on the subject. so if you’re able to think on your feet, this course will give you a good foundation for wherever your andean interests might lead. absolutely buy the video version. unlike earlier teaching company videos, this one is full of helpful images, from art to sites to maps to scenes of contemporary life. you don’t want to listen to the discussions of paracas textiles or moche ceramics without being able to see what he’s describing. and you won’t be able to come to your own assessment of his theories about the fanged deity if you can’t see the evidence for yourself.
Date published: 2016-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Survey This is a superb survey of pre-Columbian South America. It covers a 5000 year period of North and Central Andean civilizations leading up to the Conquest. If you are not already a specialist in this area there are many new things to learn from these lectures. Edwin Barnhart is a wonderful and engaging lecturer and fits in well with the Great Courses team. Highly recommended. His Companion lecture course "Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed" is also highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Review of a little known topic A comprehensive review of a part of our American history that probably few know. The lecturer has a manner of presentation which is easy to follow and understand.
Date published: 2016-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great resourse.
Date published: 2016-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic A really fantastic course. So much detailed information about so many civilizations, of which the Incas are only one very late comer. The tidbits about civilizations in the Amazon were amazing and so surprising. I hope there is more information about these quickly developing discoveries soon so that Professor Barnhart has the opportunity to do a series about this topic also! This series needs to be translated into Spanish. People in Latin American should have easy access to this wonderful course!
Date published: 2016-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing course! I have wanted to purchase this course for several months and am pleased with the delivery, content and quality of the course. It is all I hoped for and more. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great eye opener I greatly enjoyed the introduction to the ancient past of South America. This course provided a very understandable timeline and some most interesting connections between archeology sites. I think the story of ancient South America is just starting to unfold and future discoveries will be fun to learn about. This course has increased my interest in ancient civilizations of South America.
Date published: 2016-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating and Entertaining Saga As I was completely unfamiliar with the subject, the material presented in this lecture was novel and engrossing. The professor was personable with an enthusiastic, unpretentious approach. The photographs, maps and graphics were of high quality and the material was given in a very concise, logical manner. As one who was quite senior to the presenter, I found some of his language usage unfamiliar, and he definitely was not an "academic type" from my generation. However, he brought energy and clarity to a topic which covered thousands of years, and kept me intrigued to the very end. There is much still to be discovered in this field, but this lecture series was very good introduction to the material available to date.
Date published: 2016-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course, opens up completely unknown -for the most of us - world of various civilizations living in S America. It presents a contrarian view to the most common views about relatively non sophisticated tribes preceding inkas
Date published: 2016-07-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Recommended for archeology enthusiast I persevered through 22 of the 24 lectures. I am planning to travel to South America and thought the course would be interesting to watch while doing my daily exercises. He certainly knows his subject but my mind would wander. I tended to get confused among all the cultures which he describes before the Inca, specifically which valley had with culture at which time. I found it interesting to see the size of some of the early structures and learn that the Inca managed their empire using a system on knots. If you have a real interest in the history of south america it might be a good course for you.
Date published: 2016-07-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Recommended for archeology buffs, not for others I struggled to get through the first 2/3 of this course, which was structured in a way that confused me - not historically or chronologically but around different archeological sites or areas. The last third of the course, covering the period from contact with the West to today, was much easier to follow. The professor had a way of using an unfamiliar term and then defining it a minute or so later, which also added to the confusion at times. A few sections of the course I liked a lot, such as his discussion of shamanism, the khipu "documents" made of knots (definitely worth the whole lecture he devoted to it), how the Inca were conquered and the persistence of Andean cultural elements today. What I found disturbing was the degree to which he mixed in pet theories of his that were sometimes little more than hunches or whims. True, he was candid about which points were guesses or unproven hypotheses, but I would have preferred less of that. The most shocking thing in the whole course was a passage where he deliberately did not dismiss the theory that aliens had landed in South America in ancient times. This is not what I would expect from a college professor, unless he was able to give real evidence for this possibility, which he did not. I listened to the audio version and found the professor's diction very clear and fluid. If you're a stickler for grammar, you might find the professor's speech annoying as he used words wrongly from time to time - "conquested" instead of "conquered," for example, and "bad" where it should have been "badly." Overall, I am not sure he deserved selection for a "Great Courses" course. He certainly wasn't up to the standard of the typical tenured professor who had won multiple teaching awards, which is what we get in most other "Great Courses" courses.
Date published: 2016-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview We purchased this course prior to a trip to Peru. While it was not directly related to the areas we were visting, other than Machu Pichu and Cusco, it gave us a good overview of the history, civiiazations, and cultures of what became primarily Peru. It was well worth the money and added to our understanding of the places we visited,
Date published: 2016-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Eye-Opener Learning about all of the complexities and transitions in South American civilization history has been a truly enlightening experience; hearing it from an instructor so passionate and knowledgeable about the subject made it that much better.
Date published: 2016-06-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The only course I've returned I have been buying Great Courses for many years and this is the first one I've returned. The value of the Great Course to me has been the quality of scholarship from the presenters. Presentation styles have varied greatly from the entertaining to the very dry and sometimes I have disagreed with the views presented. However, I have alway felt that there was an underlying depth of knowledge and that opinions were clearly identified with opposing views examined. Unfortunately, it was not the case with this course. Although there was a lot of interesting material, I was never convinced that I was getting a real college level course. One of the central ideas he puts forward is the idea of a single deity that appears consistently throughout the region and over time but it came over more as an idea he had had one day, rather than a researched, academic conclusion. The fact that he had done work with the Discovery Channel may give a clue - their productions are hardly top quality university standard. The presenter was clearly uncomfortable with the format as he was stumbling over words and breaking sentences in unusual places, making things harder to follow. In fairness, this may well be due to the more recent Great Courses approach of making the speakers move, often in a specific pattern. It really detracts even from more polished presenters. Although this may be an aberration, I am suspicious that with the MOOC challenges Great Courses may be trying to change their target audience.
Date published: 2016-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overall review of the prehistory of South Am I enjoyed this course very much and even loaned it to a colleague who is an expert on Aztec and Inca cultures. The subject matter was covered in a clear and convincing way and provides an excellent starting point for more detailed work. Unfortunately the lecturer's delivery was somewhat distracting in that he continued to walk in an V-shape pattern which looked very unnatural. In addition, I think he was in error on two subjects. He wants us to think that the small lake to the SW of Titicaca (Huanamarca) may have been flooded by hand cutting a channel through a sill that once blocked such a connection, Titicaca and the small lake have both been sediment cored and the small lake has a record going back tens of thousands of years and thus already had water during the time frame of interest. In addition his idea that fitting large stones at Saqsaywa by adding acid from volcanic lakes is pretty far fetched. There are two acid lakes in Chile and Bolivia; however, it must have been quite difficult to transport large quantities of acid in those days, and, in addition, granitic boulders do not dissolve easily given such a treatment. Other than that I can highly recommend the course.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb I have been a serious amateur student of archaeology since my freshman year in college in 1976. Thus, when I encounter some source (a book, a lecture) which reveals to me large elements which I had never previously encountered, I am stunned. So it was with this course. Add to that the overall excellent quality of the lectures, good graphics and I conclude that this was time and money well spent.
Date published: 2015-12-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating if eccentric history The Great Courses loves archaeologists with charisma, from Hale to Harl to Brier they have come up with an outstanding supply of Indy Jones types that are a blast to watch. They are also excellent teachers and that is where the current Professor falls just a touch short. His archaeology chops are excellent and he knows his subject, but he isn't quite to the level of the others as an academic. Part of this is that his interest runs a bit more toward speculation that straight history. To be fair South America isn't nearly as well researched as Egypt or Mediterranean., but still there seems to be a lot of unsubstantiated theory here. When on solid ground, this course is very good. There is an amazing amount of information for the novice to South American history. That would definitely be me. The regular rise and fall of civilizations, possibly due to El Nino?, is an interesting cycle to watch. In many places civilizations fall as another one rises and then conquers from far away. In this more restricted space it almost seems that the Civilizations fall and rise right on top of each other. The graphics are excellent and as with virtually all recent GCs and the overall production values are high.
Date published: 2015-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Unexpected Treasure I suspect that most North Americans have less background knowledge about the early history of South American cultures and people than they do about ancient Greeks, Romans, etc. Certainly, with respect to South American history, my own education through university years basically covered only the years since Spanish and Portuguese exploration and colonization there. When the Inca Empire was discussed, for example, that was in terms of how the conquistadors found it to be, with not much said about how it had come to be that way. Archaeology in South America, itself in its infancy relative to such studies in other parts of the world, has had to deal with the frustrating fact that a vast number of ancient artifacts have been looted, destroyed, or dispersed. Also, ancient South American languages and record-keeping systems still remain largely undecipherable. This Teaching Company DVD course that my wife and I recently viewed emphasizes these points. I must say that the course contained so much completely new and unexpected information and speculation that it was one of the most interesting of the Great Courses I have studied. The visual illustrations provided with the lecture were ample and of good quality. I now know something about complex early Andean cultures capable of city-and-pyramid building, sophisticated agriculture, astronomy, pottery making, and weaving that may actually have been well-established as long ago or even longer ago than such advances in parts of the world more routinely regarded as cradles of human civilization. About ninety percent of the course was about Andean peoples. Though I would have liked more about Amazon Basin cultures, said to have pre-dated the Andean, I understand that even less is currently known of Amazonian history. Dr. Edwin Barnhart’s presentation was engaging and enthusiastic. I respect the fact that he is himself an experienced archaeologist and not simply an academic who knows a lot about the subject. I appreciated, too, that whenever his own personal interpretations about things differed from those of other prominent scholars, he would carefully explain the varying viewpoints and make a good case for his own leanings. Dr. Barnhart’s lecture style was certainly clearer and better than that of the average professor I have encountered over the years at four different universities, though a little short of what I consider truly excellent. Occasionally, his statements sounded incomplete or confusing. He tended to make use of new names or terms in advance of defining or explaining them, though he did fill us in eventually. Also, I would have preferred it if he had used just one convention for reporting dates—the B.C./A.D. system, the B.C.E./C.E. system, or B.P. (before the present). Making use of all three systems over the course of the twenty-four lectures was a mistake, in my opinion. On a very few occasions, when the lecturer mentioned a year without appending any reference letters at all, the date context was uncertain. My overall impression of this course is that it was a source of new and valuable learning for me. It was also exciting; if it had been a book I’d been reading, I’d have called it a 'page-turner!' I look forward to viewing the whole course again.
Date published: 2015-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An interesting course, and not what I had expected Most history courses present material with events that are well understood and documented. However, as is presented in this course, events and the overall history of South America are not as well understood, and, in fact, continue to be unearthed and discovered up to the present. Although it covers mainly Pacific Coast and Andean cultures, relationship to Amazonian cultures is also touched on. It is only within approximately the last 50 years that much of these cultures has been discovered, and archeology continues to unearth new sites even today. Professor Barnhart has been involved in this area for many years, and is very knowledgeable about the field. He discusses what is known about each period, area and population, but then tries to put them in perspective in terms of what is still unknown, and offers possible explanations for many aspects of the cultures. At the end, he discusses how these cultures were initially contacted by, and subsequently interacted with the Spanish leading up to the present day. Having traveled in the area, I found the course relevant and stimulating, and I can recommend it to anybody who would like to learn more about this area and these cultures.
Date published: 2015-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from VERY Well-done This is a great course. I wasn't sure what to expect - except to learn more about the peoples of South America before the Incas - and of the Incas. Professor Barnhart did an outstanding job of explaining what went on, as well as, what is going on. His in-depth knowledge and passion kept me and my wife anxious to hear each lecture. The information was first-rate and the visuals did an outstanding job of clarifying his talk. The visuals were some of the best of any Great Course I have listened to. It was awesome that Professor Barnhart has been to the areas discussed multiple times and used many pictures that he had taken himself. I liked the fact that he didn't speak in absolutes...there were many times that he gave opposing views to the ideas expressed by others - and why! I was left with a much greater knowledge of the history of South America and a desire to learn more. Well done.
Date published: 2015-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining education I bought this course because I was born and grew up in Peru. My wife and I watched this across the course of several weeks and were captivated by the content and the way it was presented by Professor Barnhart. Professor Barnhart's title is "Director of the Maya Exploration Center", but it's obvious he is extremely knowledgeable about the region to the south of the Maya territory. Most of the sites mentioned by Dr. Barnhart are in places where traveled and I now know more about them than I ever did before! Thank you, Professor Barnhart for taking the time for making this course and for making it entertaining as well!
Date published: 2015-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent, just what it say this is not a complete history of South America. It is a history predominantly of the western part of the continent, the Andes/Peru, and is compelling. This is an area of history and geography I confess I know little about, but it was superb. Very objective, fascinating history, well presented, Dr. Barnhart kept my interest. I use these in the car and so cannot comment on visuals, but this was a very very good course and highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding history of early South America I found the Lost Worlds of South America to be extremely informative. Many modern books and presentations focus exclusively on the Inca Empire. It was interesting to learn that the Inca Empire only shared the spotlight for a short period of time in comparison to the cultures that existed centuries before the Inca Empire dominated the western region of South America. The presentation skills of Dr. Barnhart really brought the history of ancient South America to life. His easy going style coupled with his immense knowledge of the subject made for a truly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon learning about South America. Anyone anticipating visiting South America -- as well as for people living here -- owe themselves this course to see how early South American cultures influenced the people now living in South America. Dr. Barnhart's ability to recount historical facts with great personal insight based on actual visits to the region really brought the course to life.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I want to visit South America again! This is a riveting and fantastic course! There is so much great information and you really get your money's worth in terms of the educational value. I have a friend that lives in Peru and he has been asking and asking me to visit and see all the ruins of the ancient Inca cities and I've already emailed him to set up my flights!
Date published: 2015-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Parallel Reality (Audio) I visited South America for six months about twenty years ago, traveling extensively. I went to some of the archaeological sites that Professor Barnhart describes in the course such as Tiwanaku, Machu Picchu, Cuzco, and the Islands of the sun and moon on Lake Titicaca. The course brought back many vivid memories, but more importantly, I found that a lot of what was then considered as consensus had now been turned on its head completely. Indeed for me this is one of the most surprising and exciting takeaways from the course: South American Archaeology is not at all a mature field yet. New, dramatic findings are being discovered at a rapid pace, and with them a lot of the previous dogmas have to be replaced. It is as if the ground is moving beneath this field of study. Perhaps I should consider a career change… One critical and rather obvious point that should be mentioned all the same, is that there are no written sources that can shed light on South American civilization whatsoever. That is, until the arrival of the Spanish. These had a much skewed perspective on South American civilizations and so should be considered with a grain of salt, though they do contain valuable information. The Inca apparently did have some form of written language composed of knotting strings, but this has as of yet not been deciphered. So really, we are left only with the science (Art?!) of Archaeology to decipher these great civilizations. This is a powerful tool, but does have limits. As Professor Barnhart states, it is almost impossible to understand the thoughts of the ancients only through Archaeological remains, while it becomes almost easy if we have written sources. Just consider Homer, Plato, and the Dead Sea Scrolls… So this does justify to some extent the title of the course "Lost" worlds of South America. Another absolutely fascinating aspect, is that all of this civilization evolved in a totally parallel reality relative to the Afro-Eurasian civilization. They reinvented everything: Ceramic making, intensive agriculture, and living in large cities. So much of the evolution has similar characteristic to the Afro-Eurasian civilization, but with some very distinct South American twists. Professor Barnhart was fantastic in delivering this course. He is so enthusiastic about the subject, and has such a huge breadth of knowledge that you almost can't help but be carried away by his excitement. His tone is casual and dynamic and the lectures feel conversation-like. The personal stories from his own Archaeological digs and travels really help to make the material feel "real" and "concrete". Another point I liked, is that he brings forward a lot of his own theories and ideas even though on some of the occasions he admits that they have yet been fully substantiated. Some of them are not really theories, but just ideas and small anecdotes… He also mentioned a couple of times in which he carried out Cosmo-Archaeological measurements that did not agree with the consensus. All of this helps bring the message across that the field is still very young and changing and that the dogmas are still not as rigid as in some of the more mature areas in history and archaeology. The content was absolutely fascinating and indeed felt like discovering a "lost world". Overall this is certainly one of my favorite courses in the TGC so far and I am sure I will hear it at least once or twice more. In fact I enjoyed it so much I immediately decided to buy Professor Barnhart's other TGC Course "Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica revealed". Another course that I would really like to see from the TGC "Ancient Civilizations of NORTH America". I think such a course is really quite conspicuously missing.
Date published: 2015-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Changed my South American Travel Destinations I have been inhaling Great Courses since I retired and loving every minute! I have always been interested in prehistory and have taken such courses from The Teaching Company as well as in school or through my reading, so that long-term interest coupled with my passion to visit South America made this course a natural for me. I had never thought about focusing on Peru. I was hazily thinking of once-in-a-lifetime destinations like the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, the Amazon River basin, Machu PIcchu, and probably Rio and Buenos Aries. Now I'm putting trips focused on ancient civilizations in Peru on my wish list on various travel sites, looking at Moche ceramics to see if there's an affordable, non-looted piece I could acquire, reading his recommended Lords of Sipan, and in general finding my thinking greatly changed about where I will go in South America and what I want to see. AND I want to learn so much more about the pre-Incan civilizations!!
Date published: 2015-06-22
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