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Origin of Civilization

Origin of Civilization

Course No.  3130
Course No.  3130
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Course Overview

About This Course

48 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

Every single day of your life is spent within a civilization—an elaborate system composed of governing bodies, detailed laws, dense urban centers, elaborate trade networks, visual and written cultures, class structures, militaries, and more.

And yet the experience of living inside a civilization has become so interwoven with our lives that it's easy to take for granted just how profound and recent the concept is. Consider that human beings have walked the earth for more than 150,000 years, but it was only 10,000 years ago that our distant ancestors began establishing and living within larger and more complex communities.

Our world is forever indebted to a host of early states that paved the way for our current ways of life, including those of the Sumerians, the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Maya. Without the critical strides they made in areas of government, law, trade, social hierarchies, culture, and more, human civilization as we know it today would not even exist.

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Every single day of your life is spent within a civilization—an elaborate system composed of governing bodies, detailed laws, dense urban centers, elaborate trade networks, visual and written cultures, class structures, militaries, and more.

And yet the experience of living inside a civilization has become so interwoven with our lives that it's easy to take for granted just how profound and recent the concept is. Consider that human beings have walked the earth for more than 150,000 years, but it was only 10,000 years ago that our distant ancestors began establishing and living within larger and more complex communities.

Our world is forever indebted to a host of early states that paved the way for our current ways of life, including those of the Sumerians, the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Maya. Without the critical strides they made in areas of government, law, trade, social hierarchies, culture, and more, human civilization as we know it today would not even exist.

  • How did these first states come into being?
  • What defines a state? A civilization?
  • How were the world's ancient states similar to each other? How did they differ?

Answers to these and other dramatic questions form the core of The Origin of Civilization, a grand 48-lecture course that reveals the stories of how human beings around the world transitioned from small farming communities to the impressive cultural and political systems that would forever alter the course of history. Taking a gripping archaeological and historical approach to these formative states and civilizations, archaeologist and Professor Scott MacEachern of Bowdoin College completes your understanding of the history of human civilization—by exploring it at its earliest stages.

Unlike traditional survey courses of ancient civilizations, which tend to focus only on the glorious achievements of these cultures, The Origin of Civilization brings you those first all-important steps that the world's first civilizations would take on the long and arduous road to glory. It's only by learning about the birth of these complex societies that you'll be able to better understand—and appreciate—the lasting contributions they made to the cultural record.

A Comparative Point of View

Contrary to popular belief, state formation didn't happen in one area and then spread outward. Instead, the emergence of states and regional civilizations occurred throughout the ancient world, from the fertile valleys of the Near East and the savannahs of Africa to the Pacific coast of South America and the plains of China.

To tackle this diversity of early civilizations, Professor MacEachern's lectures incorporate perhaps the most important element of any archaeological study of diverse states and civilizations: a comparative outlook. This all-encompassing perspective—which explores ancient cultures side by side instead of in a vacuum—allows you to better grasp the different (and similar) trajectories through which the first states formed around the world.

"We simply will not be able to assemble a complete and convincing account of ancient civilizations if we don't understand how they developed through time in different environments and circumstances," notes Professor MacEachern. "We must have that comparative point of view."

What caused these new forms of cultural and political complexity to emerge in certain places and not others? How are the processes of state formation the same? How are they different? It is only with the comparative approach of The Origin of Civilization that you can truly begin to answer these and other profound questions about this transformative era in human history.

Explore Fascinating Regions ...

After a series of introductory lectures that draw you into the world of archaeologists and the issues and challenges of their field, you embark on a globe-trotting, time-traveling adventure in which you investigate the earliest examples of state formation. Here is where you plunge into the heart of this captivating new course.

You approach the growth and development of civilization in each fascinating region from a multitude of political, social, cultural, and spiritual perspectives. Covering the most vital regions in the earliest development of human societies, The Origin of Civilization takes you to places such as

  • Mesopotamia, where you explore the ways that agriculture laid the foundation for groundbreaking experiments in social and political development throughout the Near East in places like Uruk and Sumer;
  • the eastern Mediterranean, where you discover how expanding maritime trade during the Bronze Age increasingly knit the different societies of these islands into an integrated web of political, ideological, and economic relationships;
  • Asia, where you survey the evolution of China from early farming communities to literate states and dynasties and explore the ancient states of Southeast Asia, which developed distinct ideologies from competing Chinese and Indian influences;
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, where you join Professor MacEachern on a journey through the early communities and states of the Inland Niger Delta, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Zimbabwe Plateau—areas essential to the story of human civilization; and
  • Mesoamerica, where you comb through the indigenous states in and around what are now Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and witness the full flowering of Olmec and Maya civilization.

In these and other cases, your explorations bring you up close and personal with a host of intriguing topics central to the study of the world's earliest states. These include issues of territoriality, cycles of rise and collapse, the development of writing systems, questions of archaeological interpretation, and much more.

... and Intriguing Archaeological Sites

With its rich and detailed archaeological approach, The Origin of Civilization also offers you an engaging look at what archaeologists have learned from some of the world's oldest and most intriguing sites. You'll see how these locations provide us with intimate windows into how ancient states developed and how everyday men and women lived within them.

Among the familiar—and perhaps unfamiliar—sites you explore alongside Professor MacEachern and some of history's most important archaeologists are these:

  • The pyramids at Giza, the most striking physical manifestations of the power that ruling pharaohs held over dynastic Egypt
  • Eridu, a settlement near the mouth of the Persian Gulf whose temples and housing reflect the presence of social hierarchy and power
  • Knossos, whose grand palatial complexes have reshaped our understanding of political relationships between different ancient communities on the island of Crete
  • Erlitou, a 900-acre site that was China's first true urban center and closely associated with the region's semilegendary Xia dynasty
  • Great Zimbabwe, the only archaeological site in the world to have a country named after it, and one that helps explain the origins of territorial states in southern Africa
  • Teotihuacán, whose planned avenues and ceremonial centers imply a powerful central governing structure at the heart of this Mesoamerican capital

An Unforgettable Story, an Unforgettable Course

With more than 20 years spent as an archaeologist investigating sites in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Canada, and the United States, Professor MacEachern is the perfect guide for this thrilling exploration of what archaeology reveals about the world's first civilizations. His lectures, always rich with archaeological detail, will leave you awestruck at the diverse ways that ancient people crafted and supported complex systems; systems whose broad strokes remain with us even today.

And now you can finally grasp the full scope of this important subject in The Origin of Civilization, your in-depth look at the grand story of how humans laid the foundations for who we are today in the world. It's an unforgettable story that involves looking at the past through a broad lens, rescuing from near-oblivion the physical remnants of early human history, and rediscovering stories and cultures you only thought you knew.

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48 Lectures
  • 1
    Ancient States and Civilizations
    In this introductory lecture, Professor MacEachern lays the groundwork for your detailed exploration of ways and reasons that politically and socially complex civilizations emerged almost 5,000 years ago. x
  • 2
    The History of Archaeological Research
    Discover why archaeology is the best field with which to examine the epic nature of the history of civilizations. As you glean the brief history of archaeology, you learn how lasting archaeological work gets done through the combination of original minds and detailed knowledge about prehistory. x
  • 3
    Studying the Origins of States
    Investigate how modern archaeologists are restoring balance to their field by studying what ancient relics reveal about the lives of common people, not just the elite. Also, Professor MacEachern demonstrates how archaeologists work in the field with a recounting of his ongoing fieldwork in Cameroon. x
  • 4
    Archaeological Interpretation—Çatalhöyük
    Turn your attention from issues of archaeological interpretation to a concrete example of some of the challenges archaeologists face in their work, illustrated by Çatalhöyük in modern Turkey. This Neolithic agricultural site, dating back to 7400 B.C., illustrates how families lived in a settlement with little communal activity. x
  • 5
    Stepping Stones to Civilization
    Explore the four stages of political and social organization developed by American anthropologists in the 1960s and 1970s: the band, the tribe, the chiefdom, and the state. Also, explore some of the complexities behind identifying these stages with a look at the precolonial state of Wandala in central Africa. x
  • 6
    Trajectories of Cultural Development
    Examine the details of some evolutionary schemes of cultural development that were popular and influential in the 19th and 20th centuries. While they may not explain the growth of states and civilizations everywhere, these schemes are nevertheless extremely productive ways to think about issues of civilization. x
  • 7
    When Is a State a State?
    In this lecture, consider the debates in archaeology about how and when we can detect the initial appearance of states in the archaeological record—and what their characteristics may be. Also, debunk some common myths about what the archetypal ancient state looked like. x
  • 8
    A Complex Neolithic—Halafian and Samarran
    Focus now on what specific archaeological cases reveal about the origin of human civilizations. Start with this look at three farming communities that flourished in Mesopotamia between 6250 and 5000 B.C.: the Hassunan, Halafian, and Samarran traditions. x
  • 9
    Hierarchy and Urbanism—'Ubaid Mesopotamia
    Turn south and explore the 'Ubaid tradition of southern Mesopotamia, with a focus on the 'Ubaid peoples' rapid development into a classic settlement hierarchy. What brought this about? Was it simply a population increase? Did it require increased levels of production and an expanding labor force? Find out possible answers here. x
  • 10
    The Uruk World System
    Study the era that succeeds the 'Ubaid period in Mesopotamia, called the Uruk period. Dating from about 4000 to 3000 B.C., these transformative centuries led to irrigation canal systems, long-distance trade, larger walled communities, complex recording systems, and the separation of rural and urban life. x
  • 11
    Sumer and Afterward
    The Early Dynastic period, which spanned from roughly 2900 to 2400 B.C., is best associated with the Sumerians. Here, explore Sumerian city-states and their role in the emergence of secular rule, increased militarization and fortifications, hyperurbanism (the massive influx of people from rural areas to cities), and much more. x
  • 12
    Civilization and Pastoralism in Mesopotamia
    Investigate the pastoralist, nomadic population of the Amorites, who roamed the boundaries of Mesopotamian city-states. Although difficult to study from an archaeological view, societies like theirs were nevertheless important in shaping cultural and political developments throughout much of the Old World. x
  • 13
    The Development of Writing in Mesopotamia
    The invention of writing; it's the most epochal moment in the history of civilization and made possible economic, social, and political systems that had before seemed unimaginable. So how did writing begin? Did it evolve from more ancient recording systems? Or was it a unique invention with no real precursor? x
  • 14
    The Gift of the Nile
    Begin your look at the development of classical Egyptian civilization with this focus on the dramatic importance of the Nile River in supporting small farming communities. These communities would set the stage for the Predynastic period that would emerge between 4000 and 3000 B.C. x
  • 15
    The Egyptian Predynastic Period
    Venture into the heart of the Predynastic Egyptian world, a period of quite radical change for Nile Valley societies. It was this era that saw steadily increasing population densities, larger settlements along the Nile, the rise of copper as a prestigious material, and political competition among the expanding chiefdoms. x
  • 16
    The Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt
    Unpack the mysteries of the so-called Palette of Narmer, a carved stone tablet that has provided archaeologists with insight into the unification of the upper and lower kingdoms of ancient Egypt. This momentous event, which occurred around 3100 B.C., resulted in the creation of an Egyptian territorial state. x
  • 17
    Divinity and Display in Dynastic Egypt
    The center of dynastic Egypt was undoubtedly the pharaoh. Learn how the unification of Egypt gave rise to an ideology of rule that linked the social and spiritual health of the Nile valley and its inhabitants with these fascinating rulers. x
  • 18
    Why So Different? Mesopotamia and the Nile
    One of the characteristics of archaeology as a science is its comparative approach. With this in mind, delve into the differences between the simultaneous growth of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilization, and discover the factors behind the development of civilizations that often led to totally dissimilar results. x
  • 19
    Borders and Territories of Ancient States
    Rethink your assumptions on how ancient states functioned and controlled their territories. Unlike our conception of modern states (with neat borders and clearly defined territories), the earliest states were often composed of concentric "zones" of influence centered on their capitals. x
  • 20
    The Levantine Copper and Early Bronze Ages
    Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are not the only ways to think about the origins of civilization. Case in point: the Levant (now the area in and around Israel). Learn about the agricultural practices of the Ghassulian communities, how the Bronze Age began to sweep the region in 3500 B.C., and more. x
  • 21
    Hierarchy and Society in the Aegean
    Expand your sense of ancient states with the first in a series of lectures on those that sprouted on islands along the eastern Mediterranean. Also, focus on what the ruins of administrative centers and tombs reveal about increases in social hierarchy and political centralization in this region. x
  • 22
    Early Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations
    Examine the remarkable development of both Mycenaean civilization and the political and cultural life that flourished on Crete between 2100 and 1450 B.C.—a time known as the Palatial period. Then, look closer at three different writing systems from this era: Cretan hieroglyphics, Linear A script, and symbols written on the mysterious Phaistos Disc. x
  • 23
    Palace and Countryside on Crete
    Elaborate palaces were the most striking archaeological features of Minoan civilization. Here, learn about the various roles these palaces played—as administrative, religious, and storage centers—and how excavations at palaces like Knossos help illuminate our understanding of life in the ancient eastern Mediterranean. x
  • 24
    How Things Fall Apart—The Greek Dark Ages
    Around 1500 B.C., a wave of destruction swept through the palace system of Crete and resulted in a takeover by overlords from mainland Greece. What was responsible for the fall of Minoan and Mycenaean civilization? Was it the result of foreign invasion? Natural disasters? Or something else entirely? x
  • 25
    First Farmers in the Indus Valley
    Move away from the Near East and over to the Indus Valley, the region that is now modern India and Pakistan. This lecture is your introduction to the Harappan civilization, a sophisticated but unfamiliar urban culture as important to the development of human civilizations as the ancient Egyptians and Minoans. x
  • 26
    Cities along the Indus
    Harappa. Mohenjo-daro. Dholavira. Discover how the ruins of these and other sites reveal intriguing aspects of life during the mature period of civilization in the Indus Valley, including its preoccupation with water management, its lack of great social and economic differences, and its complex symbolic script. x
  • 27
    Seeing What We Expect—Power and Display
    Harappan civilization—which occupied a region almost three times the size of Mesopotamia—consisted of a diversity of urban centers; so many that it was impossible to be ruled as a single territorial state. So how were these cities, towns, and settlements ruled? Investigate possible answers to this important question. x
  • 28
    Sedentism and Agriculture in Early China
    Shift your attention further east and explore the development of cities and states in central China. Start with a look at the initial development of agriculture in a succession of two farming cultures: the Yangshao (which primarily grew foxtail millet) and the Longshan (which primarily grew rice). x
  • 29
    State Formation in Ancient China
    Chart the evolution of ancient Chinese states from the end of the Longshan culture to the semilegendary Xia dynasty to the well-known Shang dynasty. In each case, the details about these periods are revealed through findings at archaeological sites, including a massive urban center, a capital city, and a burial complex. x
  • 30
    Origins of the Chinese Writing System
    Focus here on the development of Chinese writing systems; specifically, ancient characters written on oracle bones excavated from the last capital of the Shang dynasty. Information provided by these inscriptions has given archaeologists invaluable clues into the structure of the Shang court, the nature of its divination rituals, and more. x
  • 31
    From Human Sacrifice to the Tao of Politics
    In the mid-11th century B.C., the Shang dynasty was overcome by the Zhou dynasty, which would thrive for almost 800 years. Using both the historical record and archaeological resources, examine how this transition took place and learn how the Zhou period continued the development of ancient Chinese civilization. x
  • 32
    Spread of States in Mainland Southeast Asia
    How do states develop in areas where they're subject to contact with existing states? What balance, if any, can we see between indigenous cultural dynamics and external influences? Find out in this lecture on Vietnam, Cambodia, and other areas of Southeast Asia where state formation fused Chinese and Indian culture and ideology. x
  • 33
    Axumite Civilization in Ethiopia
    Professor MacEachern takes you to the Ethiopian plateau in the first of four lectures highlighting state formation in ancient Africa—a subject often ignored in surveys of the origins of civilizations. Here, focus on the development of the Axumite state: its extensive trade networks, its effective use of coinage, and more. x
  • 34
    Inland Niger Delta—Hierarchy and Heterarchy
    The Inland Niger Delta (part of Mali in West Africa) is an extraordinary area in the development of agriculture, trade, and more. Find out why with this look at important Inland Niger Delta sites such as Jenné-jeno—an important urban center that housed more than 25,000 people at its height. x
  • 35
    Lake Chad Basin—Settlement and Complexity
    Professor MacEachern guides you through the ruins of settlements in the Lake Chad Basin—the region of Africa where he does most of his research. Recent work in the area, you discover, has revealed that the population densities and sociocultural systems here were much more complex than archaeologists once thought. x
  • 36
    Great Zimbabwe and Its Successors
    Few archaeological sites have been subjected to the degree of abuse and misrepresentation sustained by Great Zimbabwe in southeastern Africa. Nevertheless, this lecture unpacks the intriguing history of this urban center and the insights it can provide into the development of the elite. x
  • 37
    Sedentism and Agriculture in Mesoamerica
    Travel now to the New World and explore the rise of civilizations in Mesoamerica and South America. Here, focus on the domestication of corn, the great cereal crop of the New World, and the sedentary farming communities that arose in late 3rd-millennium B.C. Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. x
  • 38
    The Olmec of Lowland Mexico
    Found along the Gulf Coast of Mexico between about 1300 and 300 B.C., the Olmecs were the most spectacular manifestation of social hierarchy in early Mesoamerica. Investigate the sophistication and inventiveness of this civilization through its ideologies, its ceremonies, and its architecture (including the famed colossal Olmec heads). x
  • 39
    Teotihuacán—The First American City
    At its height, between A.D. 150 and 400, Teotihuacán was one of the largest cities in the world. Walk the streets of this great Mesoamerican city, explore the tombs and pyramids lining the Avenue of the Dead, and uncover the reasons why this city rose—and why it eventually fell. x
  • 40
    Beginnings of States in Lowland Mesoamerica
    A counterpoint to contemporary Teotihuacán is the development of states and civilization among Maya populations in what is now modern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Learn what three spectacular archaeological sites in this region reveal about early Maya farming communities. x
  • 41
    The Great Maya City-States
    Between A.D. 250 and 800, the geographical spread of Maya urbanism and political complexity reached its peak, epitomized by a series of Maya city-states. What were these diverse city-states like? Find out by exploring the history and characteristics of two unique sites: Tikal and Palenque. x
  • 42
    Epigraphy—Changing Views of the Maya
    Transformations in archaeological views of the Maya over the last few decades are the result of advancements in understanding Maya script. This lecture focuses on the development of Maya writing systems and how inscriptions on stone monuments have clarified our understanding of this civilization's political history. x
  • 43
    Was There a Maya Collapse?
    The Maya collapse, which occurred at the start of the 8th century A.D., is often conceived of as an event equivalent to the fall of ancient Rome. Here, delve into the possible causes of this decline, which signaled the end of this particular form of Mesoamerican urbanism. x
  • 44
    Adaptations in Pacific South America
    Move now to the last great cultural region in this course: the Pacific coast of South America. In this lecture, discover the role played by different resources—including fish, shellfish, cotton, and corn—in establishing various kinds of economies in ancient regions around Peru and Chile. x
  • 45
    Pyramids and Precocity in Coastal Peru
    Travel through the Norte Chico area of Peru and investigate some of its ritual and settlement sites. Your particular focus is Caral—an amazing 160-acre site whose pyramids, mounds, and residential plazas reflect larger cultural trends that flourished in 3rd millennium B.C. Peru. x
  • 46
    Andean Civilization—Chav'n to Chimú
    The late 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. were a period of astounding economic and cultural change along the Pacific coast of Peru. Professor MacEachern examines the iconography and artwork found at Chav'n de Huántar, then guides you through a series of states, including Tiwanaku, Wari, and Chimú. x
  • 47
    The Florescence of the Inka Empire
    The Inka Empire was the culmination of state development in Pacific South America. Survey the various political, cultural, and religious factors responsible for the rise, expansion, and fall of this famed empire. x
  • 48
    Ancient States—Unity and Diversity?
    In this final lecture, consider the many themes and insights found during this comparative approach to the origin of civilizations and states. What conclusions can archaeologists come to about the development of states throughout the world? What additional questions and issues need to be addressed? x

Lecture Titles

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Scott MacEachern
Ph.D. Scott MacEachern
Bowdoin College

Dr. Scott MacEachern is Professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He earned his B.A. with Honours in Anthropology from the University of Prince Edward Island and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Calgary. Professor MacEachern is also an Adjunct Professor of Archaeology at the University of Calgary and has been a Visiting Researcher at UniversitÈ Laval in QuÈbec. An archaeologist with extensive field experience in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Canada, and the United States, Professor MacEachern has published scholarly articles in Antiquity, Current Anthropology, Journal of World Prehistory, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, World Archaeology, and other noted publications. In addition, he has presented lectures and seminars at prestigious universities, including Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, the Sorbonne, and the University of Cape Town.

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Reviews

Rated 3.3 out of 5 by 31 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Valuable from an Archaeological Perspective As a fan of both ancient history and archaeology, this course appeared to be a must for me. Though surprised and discouraged by the multiple negative reviews, I decided to take advantage of the temporary heavily-discounted sale price and purchased the video download for streaming on my iPad. I began by selectively viewing several representative lectures throughout the course, enough to convince me that the entire course was indeed well worthwhile and then proceeded systematically from there. Given that Professor MacEachern is a practicing archaeologist, it is no surprise that the course’s emphasis is more on archaeology than history, especially as much of the coverage relates to prehistoric (i.e. pre-writing) cultures. That focus is fine with me, since the only dedicated course on archaeology (stressing theory, methodology and techniques) offered by the Teaching Company/Great Courses was way back in 1998 by Professor Susan McCarter’s informative “Introduction to Archaeology”, apparently no longer available in any format. Ancient history courses by professors Hale, Harl, Aldrete and others draw on archaeological discoveries to supplement the written record or in discussing pre-writing cultures, but they emphasize findings rather than process. As for Professor MacEachern’s reputedly bland speaking style, I agree that he is not as engaging or animated as the three lecturers I cited above, among others, but I firmly disagree that words like “slow, halting and dull” fairly describe his delivery. He does occasionally repeat himself and at times offers descriptive detail beyond what is necessary to make his point, but for the most part his narrative should hold the attention of the majority of his audience, and to his credit he speaks without notes or use of a teleprompter. The first seven lectures deal mainly with concepts and classifications of both archaeology and anthropology, some outdated, which may be of only marginal interest to students not active in these fields. Unfortunately, several of the negative reviewers acknowledge that they did not venture beyond this phase of the course. Had they done so, they would have encountered case studies of early civilizations undoubtedly more to their liking. The video version of this course is clearly preferable, as there are many useful maps, drawings and photographs to re-enforce the narrative, especially in the later lectures, where Dr. MacEachern’s delivery also seems faster-paced and livelier. The lectures on various ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and the Aegean emphasize the development of the earliest forms of written language and archaeological dating techniques. For example, although reference to kings and specific historical events is almost entirely absent, his explanations for the rise and fall of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are, nevertheless, very illuminating. His approach to the ancient civilizations of India, China and Southeast Asia is similar, with emphasis on archaeologically-based insights. As a self-declared Africanist, Dr. MacEachern’s analysis of Great Zimbabwe (lecture 36), a relatively short-lived society from AD 1300-1450, is the only thorough treatment of what is arguably the most important and imposing precolonial, indigenous monumental architecture in sub-Saharan Africa that I have found in any of the Great Courses. Well into the 20th century there was widespread denial among Europeans that structures of this magnitude and sophistication could have been built by Africans. The final quarter of the course is devoted to precolumbian civilizations and empires in Mesoamerica and South America, again addressing the rise and fall of those cultures based on archaeological evidence, since except for the Maya, there is no decipherable writing in those societies. For me, the most important and interesting of the cultures described are Teotihuacan in Mexico (lecture 39), the Maya city-states (lectures 41-43) and the Inca Empire in western South America (lecture 47). My main critical observation is that despite its global coverage, the course’s substantive content could have been presented effectively in fewer than 48 lectures, or alternatively, to fill that number, greater use of relevant historical material might have been added, wherever available and appropriate, to meet the expectations of some of the course’s critics. Nevertheless, I would recommend this course to those who wish to learn more about how early civilizations evolved, developed and ultimately collapsed, as revealed mainly by archaeological methods. August 25, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by OK But Not Great This was not my favorite course. The presentation was dry and academic, and the visuals were not inspiring. If you want to go with this one, maybe consider audio-only format. In terms of content I found it largely covers material that you can find in other courses, but with a comparative perspective from different cultures, and an emphasis on early state formation. That point of view is different from the typical history course, and was the most valuable aspect of this course for me. November 10, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Much better than 3.3 Stars! Thank you for the few positive reviews, which I read carefully over and over again and which finally persuaded me to buy this course as video download for a bargain price yesterday. And today I´ve already watched 8 lectures and I don´t think it´s boring at all. Ok, Prof. MacEachern is not as entertaining as Prof Hale or Harl, but he knows his stuff and presents it in a serious way and his slow speaking, often searching for words and asking questions style I like much more than a too smoothed teleprompter read. He presents a goldmine for history/archaeology buffs about the origin of civilization: the rare lectures about africa and the indus valley alone! I recommend the video version, because there are good maps and essential photos of pottery etc. Forgive me for writing this review so soon, after watching only 8 lectures, but I had to share my point of view, that this intellectually stimulating course is totally underestimated! October 3, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by Too much anthropological theory,not enough history I’m afraid I have to agree with the many reviewers who have complained about the excess concern with anthropological theory in this course. While discussing whether the origin of a civilization matches Professor MacEachern’s preferred theory may be a useful device for structuring the narrative, too often he speaks as though it’s the _only_ important point, whereas for the intended audience it’s often the least important point. For some of the most important of these cultures, particularly Sumer, a great deal of historical detail is known, though not easily available to the non-specialist. Instead we get extended and repetitive comments on what we _don’t_ know, and the details of our ignorance—or ideas unsupported by the available evidence, and why they’re not supported, when simply listing the dumb ideas, or even omitting them, would have more than sufficed.     For Sumer in particular, he spends far too much time on the theory of pastoralists versus city dwellers, and discussing the types of written texts, and far too little on actual content. On pre-dynastic Egypt, he spends a great deal of time discussing the uncertainty (especially about dating), when he could have presented a great deal of actual information, with a brief proviso noting the uncertainty. On Chinese writing he discusses “People A, people B”, and “such and-such official” rather than providing specific examples. He spends a fair amount of time stressing the importance of our knowledge of Mayan writing, which he should have spent on the writing system itself (I had to look elsewhere to learn that it was a mixed logographic and syllabic system), and what we have learned from it. He does provide some welcome detail on his area of specialization, but for the other civilizations, he presents less actual knowledge than Professor Harl did in his “Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations,” which is only a quarter the length. December 8, 2013
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