Ancient Civilizations of North America

Course No. 3900
Professor Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center
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Course No. 3900
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What Will You Learn?

  • Study astounding ancient scientific accomplishments.
  • Examine the Iroquoian principles behind the U.S. Constitution.
  • Explore ancient cities that rival those of modern times.

Course Overview

Arriving in the 15th century and beyond, European explorers came to North America hoping to discover another civilization like those of the Maya or Inca to plunder. Not finding mountains of gold or silver, they saw no value in what they did find: myriad sophisticated cultures with hundreds of vibrant cities, roadways, canals, extensive trade networks, art, religious traditions, and thousands of earthen pyramids.

The people who shaped these civilizations—the engineers, political leaders, mathematicians, and astronomers—were also considered to be of no value, labeled by the Europeans as primitive and backwards, often enslaved or murdered. And because the native peoples left no written language, the narrative continued to be shaped by the conquerors, passed down as truth from generation to generation.

But now—with the technological advances of modern archaeology and a new perspective on world history—we are finally able to piece together their compelling true stories. In 24 exciting lectures supported by explanatory maps, beautiful photographs and illustrations, and 3-D models that bring it all to life, Ancient Civilizations of North America will take you on an eye-opening journey through thousands of years of unique and fascinating ancient cultures. Professor Edwin Barnhart, director of the Maya Exploration Center, will show you a world you never knew existed.

Astronomers, Engineers, and Hydrologists

The peoples of ancient North America were exceptionally knowledgeable about their environment; their lives required it. Professor Barnhart shows you how they used their detailed understanding of flora and fauna, landforms, geology, and water resources when developing strategies for hunting and gathering, locating villages, and farming. But their intellectual and artistic curiosity went much beyond the immediate need for food and safety. Beginning thousands of years ago, and without the benefit of written language, native peoples became skilled mathematicians, metallurgists, jewelers, construction engineers, astronomers, and more. In this course, you will explore:

  • The Sun Dagger of Chaco Canyon and other Chacoan features marking the solstices and equinoxes;
  • The ancient peoples’ use of the cycles of the heavens to align buildings in relation to the cardinal directions and in relation to each other across vast distances;
  • Their use of horizon-based astronomy to align structures to the lunar maximum and minimum standstill points in 18.6-year cycles;
  • The Hohokam hydrologists and engineers who provided water for large desert populations via the sophisticated manipulation of flow rates in some 700 miles of canals, pieces of which still exist today;
  • The ancient engineers and urban planners who designed master-planned communities, building them out in a single, intricate, and coordinated construction effort;
  • Numerous ancient earthworks and geoglyphs that reflect sophisticated engineering and cooperative construction—the Serpent Mound and Blythe Intaglios, among others.

Ancient Cities to Rival Those of Modern Times

About 3,500 years ago, a great and vibrant city existed in present-day northeast Louisiana. Built by a Late Archaic people, Poverty Point is considered by most archaeologists to be the first city in North America. Supporting a population of more than 4,000—40 times the size of an average village at the time—it existed for more than 1,000 years. With Professor Barnhart as your guide, you will understand how Poverty Point has been revealed as a master-planned community, with a 37-acre central plaza; earthen pyramids; and six semi-circular, concentric platform mounds holding hundreds of houses. Carbon-14 dating reveals that the entire set of concentric platform mounds were built in one single phase, requiring extensive leadership, planning, surveying skills, and cooperation from an enormous pool of laborers. Even with its compact organization, every single house had a view of the central plaza—a feat many modern planners would be challenged to accomplish.

In this course, you’ll learn about Poverty Point’s:

  • Vast trade network bringing raw materials from as far away as the Great Lakes (nearly 1,000 miles);
  • Mound A, one of the oldest pyramids on the planet, built over a period of only 90 days with more than 15 million hand-held basketloads of dirt, and still in existence today;
  • Mound E, 13 feet tall and larger than a football field; and
  • Recently discovered “woodhenges,” which could be linked to archaeoastronomy.

Cahokia, built about 1,000 years ago just east of present-day St. Louis, was the largest city in ancient North America north of Mesoamerica. With 3,000 acres and 50,000 people living in its interior and satellite communities, Cahokia dwarfed the contemporaneous populations of London, Paris, and Rome. At one point in its history, the ancient city was razed and replaced with a master-planned version more than three times its previous size. Although many of Cahokia’s features, such as large mounds, ritual spaces, and communal farming, had been seen elsewhere, its scale and level of social organization were unprecedented. In this course, you’ll learn about Cahokia’s:

  • Grand Plaza, covering an area greater than 35 football fields and containing council houses, elite homes, a charnel house, and more;
  • Monks Mound, the third-largest structure ever built in the ancient New World, and the largest north of Mesoamerica, with 25 million cubic feet of earth covering nearly 15 acres, and reaching 100 feet high;
  • Chunkey Court, the ritual and social heart of the city where the game of chunkey was played, a sport symbolizing warfare and the creation story; and
  • Mass graves indicating ritualized human sacrifice.
  • The Legacy of the Iroquois: North American Democracy

    At the time of European contact, the Iroquois were a semi-sedentary farming people near Lakes Erie and Ontario whose villages were often in fierce conflict with each other. When three visionary leaders recognized that such continual warfare was holding the nation back, they proposed a tribal confederation known as The Great League of Peace. The League’s Great Council consisted of 50 chiefs, or sachem, each of whom was elected to represent a specific clan by the clan’s female elders. These women voted their representatives in—and could also vote them out. The Great Council settled all disputes and conflicts through dialog, debate, and consensus, guided by the 117 articles of confederation known as the “Great Law of Peace.”

    Sound familiar? It should.

    Not only did the Iroquois establish the first North American democracy, but the framers of the U.S. Constitution held the system in the highest regard. Two hundred years after establishing its own Constitution, the United States formally acknowledged this Iroquois legacy in Congressional Resolution 331, stating the “confederation of the original Thirteen Colonies into one republic was influenced by the political system developed by the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.”

    By journeying through Ancient Civilizations of North America with Professor Barnhart, you’ll recognize the legacy of the Iroquois and many more native nations that have influenced our lives today.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Unknown Story of Ancient North America
    Pyramids. State-of-the-art highways. Productive scientists, artists, and engineers. These, and much more, were ancient North America. But having left no written record, and considered of no value by European conquerors many centuries later, these societies seemed destined to remain a mystery. Now, we are finally able to reveal their fascinating truths. x
  • 2
    The First Human Migrations to the Americas
    DNA evidence points to Asia, and only Asia, as the origin of all human migration to North America. While there were many migration episodes, each episode involved passage across the Bering Strait. Sites of ancient habitation have been found all across the continent, under water and on dry land. See why, even with current technologies, scientists cannot yet agree on the ages of these sites. x
  • 3
    Clovis Man: America's First Culture
    Explore Clovis, the very first American culture, which is identified by the Clovis point, a specialized megafauna-hunting tool that became the most widespread technology in the paleo-world. The Clovis populated the Americas from coast to coast, from Alaska to South America. Although the culture became extinct around 12,000 years ago, you will see how some of the Clovis people evolved into the last Paleo-Indians, the Folsom. x
  • 4
    The Archaic Period: Diversity Begins
    When the megafauna died out across the continent about 10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indian culture began to diversify regionally. Better understand why some groups developed hunting and gathering culture in a seasonal round pattern, while others fished from temporary camps. Also, see what DNA research reveals about one ancient sedentary people with resources plentiful enough to support 350 generations of habitation. x
  • 5
    Late Archaic Innovations
    In this lecture you will see how, about 5,000 years ago, the creative, yet disparate, peoples of North America developed corn agriculture, permanent houses with storage and cooking pits, religion, art, pottery, ceramics, metallurgy, and basket weaving. Further explore the only innovation common to these many different cultures: an increase in cemetery sites and formalized treatment of bodies in burials. x
  • 6
    Poverty Point: North America's First City
    About 3,500 years ago, while most North Americans were still nomadic, see how one group of ancient people developed a planned community on more than 900 acres to accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 inhabitants. Designed with exceptional engineering skills, the fascinating city of Poverty Point functioned for 1,000 years and included one of the oldest pyramids ever built on Earth. x
  • 7
    Medicine Wheels of the Great Plains
    Medicine wheels—wagon-wheel type arrangements of stones on the ground—vary in their number of spokes and size; are difficult to date; and although some are precisely aligned to the solstices, the majority have no known astronomical significance. Survey what we do know about their function and meaning, which almost certainly changed over time, just like the human populations who built them. x
  • 8
    Adena Culture and the Early Woodlands Period
    In modern-day Ohio, the continent's first coherent civilizations evolved about 3,000 years ago, bringing together previously far-flung Archaic practices. Meet the Adena, the first ancient American culture with wide-ranging influence. Known for their conical burial mounds and shared concept of an afterlife, they also might have been the continent's first habitual tobacco smokers. x
  • 9
    The Hopewell and Their Massive Earthworks
    Here Professor Barnhart introduces you to the Hopewell culture, a civilization that thrived for over 700 years. You will see how they influenced all the peoples of eastern North America with trade networks, an art tradition, and the practice of burying their most important dead in earthen mounds. Their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy allowed them to build massive earthwork complexes in sophisticated geometric patterns in present-day Ohio. x
  • 10
    The Origins of Mississippian Culture
    About 1,200 years ago in eastern North America, populations gathered their farms and living structures behind defensive walls. Explore Mississippian culture and see how it introduced an increased use of the bow and arrow along with a large body of art, extensive trade networks, and mythological creation stories remembered today in bits and pieces by a multitude of surviving indigenous nations. x
  • 11
    The Mississippian City of Cahokia
    Covering more than 3,000 acres and with an associated population of about 50,000, understand why Cahokia, the largest ancient city in what is now the US and Canada, became a model for the region. Its fascinating and complex life included stratified social organization, burial mounds, deeply held religious beliefs, sophisticated artwork, woodhenges to mark the solstices and equinoxes—and ritual human sacrifice. x
  • 12
    The Wider Mississippian World
    After the fall of Cahokia, witness how Mississippian civilization flourished across eastern North America with tens of thousands of pyramid-building communities and a population in the millions. Look at the ways they were connected through their commonly held belief in a three-tiered world, as reflected in their artwork. Major sites like Spiro, Moundville, and Etowah all faded out just around 100 years before European contact, obscuring our understanding. x
  • 13
    De Soto Versus the Mississippians
    In 1539, Hernando de Soto of Spain landed seven ships with 600 men and hundreds of animals in present-day Florida. Follow his fruitless search for another Inca or Aztec Empire, as he instead encounters hundreds of Mississippian cities through which he led a three-year reign of terror across the land-looting, raping, disfiguring, murdering, and enslaving native peoples by the thousands. x
  • 14
    The Ancient Southwest: Discovering Diversity
    Uncover what archaeology has revealed about the ancient peoples of the southwestern deserts. Survey the variety of strategies they used depending on their specific locale—from farming in flood plains to building elaborate irrigation canals—and how they developed into multiple distinct, but not isolated, cultures. See why today we recognize three core, and two peripheral, ancient cultures of the area. x
  • 15
    The Basketmaker Culture
    Once natural selection produced a strain of drought-resistant corn, the peoples of the desert gave up their nomadic existence and began to build more permanent structures. Examine the first sedentary cultures of the American Southwest—the possible precursors to the Pueblo—and understand why baskets, which had been invented many thousands of years earlier, significantly increased in importance as the only portable storage solution before the advent of pottery. x
  • 16
    The Mogollon Culture
    As the Mogollon people increased reliance on agriculture, the size and density of their villages also grew, the largest having more than 100 pit houses arranged around multiple kivas. But as you will discover, they're probably best known for their exquisite pottery bowls. Take a look at how, while neighboring cultures were still experimenting with geometric designs, the Mogollon painted sophisticated scenes of animals, humans, and supernatural creatures. x
  • 17
    The Hohokam: Masters of the Desert
    Learn about the Hohokam, a people who made beautiful art, employed cooperative decision making with strong centralized leadership, and developed extensive public architecture. But see why their real claim to fame was building more than 700 miles of sophisticated irrigation canals—the largest and most highly-engineered irrigation system constructed in the Pre-Columbian New World—segments of which are still visible today. x
  • 18
    The Ancestral Pueblo
    The dominant culture of the southwest was the Ancestral Pueblo. For the past 1,300 years, their settlements have exhibited an apartment-like room block pattern, from small farmsteads to cities with thousands of people. Examine how both the architecture and the short lifespans of earlier villages reflected the reality of the area's scarce resource base, promoting cultural traditions born of environmental adaptation. x
  • 19
    The Chaco Phenomenon
    Chaco Canyon contains the most sophisticated architecture ever built in ancient North America—14 Great Houses, four Great Kivas, hundreds of smaller settlements, an extensive road system, and a massive trade network. But who led these great building projects? And why do we find so little evidence of human habitation in what seems to be a major center of culture? Answer these questions and more. x
  • 20
    Archaeoastronomy in the Ancient Southwest
    The people of the ancient Southwest were skilled astronomers, incorporating astronomical alignments in their architecture with impressive displays of light and shadow. Learn how discoveries of the Sun Dagger and the Chimney Rock lunar observatory—as well as the alignment of Great Houses miles apart along lunar maximum lines—could help reveal the true purpose of Chaco Canyon. x
  • 21
    The Periphery of the Ancient Southwest
    As you delve further into the ancient Southwest, you will see why the ancient farming cultures of the region did not spread into surrounding areas where farming was either unnecessary or impossible. Instead, nearby groups lived a more nomadic life, relying on hunting and gathering, and minimal occasional farming. Over time, each group developed its unique artwork, perhaps none as fascinating as the desert Intaglios of the Patayan. x
  • 22
    Late Period Cultures of the Pacific Coast
    From southern California to Alaska, witness a vast array of complex hunter-gatherer cultures that thrived along the Pacific Coast for centuries before European contact. In this most densely populated area of the continent—and its most culturally and linguistically diverse—peoples developed highly stratified societies, sophisticated systems of resource distribution and trade, advanced methods of food storage, and unique artwork. x
  • 23
    Late Period Cultures of the Great Plains
    The peoples of the Great Plains were broadly divided into the bison hunters in the west and the semi-sedentary farmers in the east. But with the European introduction of the horse, gun, and new diseases, you will shift your attention to how each of five main culture areas began to transform and how these changes shaped the homogenized, oversimplified view of American Indian cultures. x
  • 24
    The Iroquois and Algonquians before Contact
    At the time of European contact, two main groups existed in the northeast—the hunter-gatherer Algonquian and the agrarian Iroquois. Delve into how the Iroquois created the first North American democracy as a solution to their increasing internal conflicts. Today, we know much of the U.S. Constitution is modeled on the Iroquois’ “Great League of Peace” and its 117 articles of confederation, as formally acknowledged by the U.S. in 1988. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 232-page printed course guidebook
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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 232-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos and historic artworks
  • Maps and diagrams
  • Questions to consider

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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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Ancient Civilizations of North America is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 115.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eyeopener Opens a whole new world. Excellent presentation, visuals, and organization of material that I was unaware of. It gives a whole new perspective on our past.
Date published: 2019-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much I didn't know This was a fascinating and incredibly instructive introduction to these ancient civilizations. What a tragedy that US middle and high school students aren't taught this vital part of our history and heritage. The course blows apart the misconceptions, myths, and simply false information about the First Nations civilizations, and fills the gaps with a surprising amount of new knowledge for a survey course. I loved every moment. Prof. Barnhart livens up the lectures with photos, diagrams, and personal anecdotes that make the material and the people come alive. I hope to visit some of the sites some day.
Date published: 2019-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing information - huge civilizations I have greatly enjoyed this course with so much information I had never heard before about civilizations in North America before any Europeans set foot in America. We hear about the big civilizations of South America but North America was comparable before European disease and aggression destroyed them. Every USA citizen should watch this course.
Date published: 2019-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from as always, great professor. and interesting detail Dr Barnhart is excellent in giving information that pulls you in to the topic. I enjoyed the insight, the pictures and examples throughout his courses.
Date published: 2019-07-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Right on Listening to CD’s regarding period of Crusades and watching is DVD series. Grew up 20 miles south of Adena mound in Moundsville WV but never had perspective on how ancient these cultural remain were, until now. Events in Middle East and Mississippian period of N. America have a lot in common. Too bad written accounts from the period are missing.
Date published: 2019-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecturer We listened to this lecture on a road trip to the Southwest and it gave some much insight into the ancient Pueblan ruins
Date published: 2019-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What an eye opener! I had a very limited understanding of the Native American civilizations in North America, and I am really enjoying the broad expanse of info in this course
Date published: 2019-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative but not dry This course contains a tremendous amount of information, all of which is very well organized and conversationally presented. The photos, drawings, charts, and timelines are helpful. Professor Barnhart makes it clear what is fact and what is opinion. The occasional personal anecdote adds to the presentation. Would recommend this course to anyone with even a vague interest in ancient North America.
Date published: 2019-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accurate Title Traces history from Paleo and Archaic times through pre-European contact. Amazing number of cultures and sites covered.
Date published: 2019-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Love the subject, hate the music. Why can’t you have relaxing music, not such pounding racket. OK? How do I turn it off? No reply? OK?Yea right.
Date published: 2019-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I really enjoyed the course and the instructor This course has everything I have come to expect from a top-tier production from the Teaching Company. The instructors organization, presentation, and speaking style were top rate for me. I like his deliberative speaking style, his conversational tone, his diligence in presenting multiple hypothoses, and his willingness to provide his own opinion. Many excellent photographs and maps supplements the presentations. The lectures were well organized and logically chronological. At the end of the course I felt like the time invested had been well worth it. I recommend this course, and would say it is withing the top ten or fifteen percent of Great Courses video lectures I have watched.
Date published: 2019-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am regular subscriber and this is among the very best of the Great Courses. Thourghly enjoyable. Dr. Barnhart is balanced lecturer and does good job presenting information objectively, discussing limitations in knowledge, and where appropirate identifying his own opinions about pre-colombian native cultures in the contentinal United States. I must add that my interest in this subject was enhanced by spending several months on the Hopi reservation 50 years ago, and living in the greater Ohio Valley were mounds from the Hopewell culture abound. This course focuses on both of these cultures, and adds enough information on other areas of the U.S. to give an overall view of the wide range of cultures in other parts of the U.S. Note this is not a course on post-columbian Native American cultures, but last few lectures provide transition and give a sense of what was lost by European contact.
Date published: 2019-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Helpful. Excellent material, and pretty good delivery. Technological advances have left you in the dust--the delivery style is very static.
Date published: 2019-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Expectations! I find the subject of our progenators in America to be a fascinating subject and I am fortunate to share this fascination with a grandson. I just bought this course on DVD as a Birthday gift for him. My rating is based on several other courses I have procured from The Great Courses folks.
Date published: 2019-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am loving this course. This is the first course I have found that presents the Native history with respect and honors their achievements. I appreciate the instructor's efforts in using the same words to describe Native works as are used when describing western culture. Even though I have taken several Native American courses, I am learning a lot from this course.
Date published: 2019-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overview of the conquest of Americas Marshall Eakin covered the span of the conquest from the first natives coming across the Bering Strait to the cultures that arose from the European conquest, many existing today. He covered the areas of the Caribbean and South America, the Spanish and Portuguese who conquered the Incas and Azetcs. He moved to North America with the early conquests there. He then covered the English, Dutch and French entry into the Americas. His lecture on the African slave trade and its effects was exceptional, as was the attempts by the Europeans to Christianize the native people. It is a good course for those who want an overview of that period in our history and the effect it had on the native population, effects that exist today.
Date published: 2019-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lecturer, Complete grasp of subject The presenter is one of the most interesting and informative lecturers of the many, many Great Courses we have acquired and gone through. We have all three of his courses and eagerly await more. This is one of the Great Courses' greatest courses!
Date published: 2019-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Barnhart has done it again! I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Dr. Barnhart’s classes and this one does not disappoint. He presents in such a way that one is entertained while learning subjects that should have been taught in school! Please have more courses taught by him! He certainly fills the gaps in my education.
Date published: 2019-04-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview of ancient people in No. America I bought this course in a set with Native Peoples of No. America and I thoroughly enjoyed both courses. Dr. Barnhart was very easy for me to listen to. It seemed like he had traveled to this time and place and was now back to tell us what he saw and experienced. I can barely wait to watch it again.
Date published: 2019-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ancient Civilizations of North America I have not finished watching the whole course yet. So far, it is a bit dry for me, but I bought it as a second source reference for a future course I am thinking about taking here at my community college which may not go into this much detail. The course so far is well narrated and informative and even if I don't use it as a school source I find the content interesting.
Date published: 2019-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great instructor! This was my first Great Course and I didn't know what to expect. Turns out, it's very much like a course at a University where are you learn the instructor is everything and makes it or breaks it for you - this guy is GOOD!
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Come to see North American history in a new light As a five-year resident of Hawai'i, it's been eye-opening to learn what ancient Hawaiians accomplished as ocean navigators and civilization builders. If you've seen Hoku'lea — the sea-faring outrigger that's circumnavigated the earth — or the massive lava-stone-constructed heiau on Maui or the Big Island it's hard not to be awed. This course by Dr. Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center in Texas, produces a similar awe. I knew there were civilizations on North America, but that knowledge was the tiny tip of a massive iceberg. I had no idea. I will never look at the mainland the same way again. Dr. Barnhart has also inspired me to seek-out some of the sites he mentions. As a second-grade teacher, I spend two months each year studying Hawaiian mythology with my students. When they hear the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian creation myth, and see how closely it matches Darwinian evolution, and when they hear the myth how Pele, the volcano goddess came to the islands and see how her transit from Kauai to the Big Island matches the islands slide over the "hot spot" that powers the currently-active volcanoes, their eyes open wide. This course opened my eyes. I also want to find a way to share it with my students. In the meantime, I've been telling everyone I know about this course. I know my wife is keen to listen! Can't recommend Dr. Barnhart's lecture series enough. Worth the time investment! And it's far more enjoyable — far more educational — to spend time listening to these lectures than listening to the news!
Date published: 2019-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great history Thoroughly enjoyed learning American history at an earlier time frame.
Date published: 2019-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview The Professor is extremely knowledgeable and a great teacher. He provides a good overview and the beginning of each disc and ties everything together in a way that makes learning exciting.
Date published: 2019-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Essential for Current Residents of US While I ended up spending most of my adult life in public service, I began as a college teacher of American history...50 years ago! As this course makes clear, there is an incredible amount of information about our First Nation ancestors' civilizations and lives that has come to light -- or that has become better understood -- since then. If it were within my power, there are two areas where I would press the reset button for our country: the first would be to avoid completely the importation of slaves into North America, and the second would be to more intelligently, compassionately, and open-mindedly deal with the native inhabitants of this continent from the very beginning. While this course focuses on the millennia BEFORE European contact, Professor Barnhart does briefly describe the reality of the devastation actually caused these native peoples by the arrival of Europeans. Among the many fascinating subjects covered in this course is that of where and when humans first arrived on this continent. The current prevailing theory -- of which I was aware -- is that they crossed from what is today NE Russia via the land bridge between it and today's Alaska that existed at the time of the ending of the last ice age, when the seas were lower than today, around 17,000 years ago. What I did not know was that DNA testing reveals that some of those early peoples apparently came from Europe as well, perhaps by the same island-hopping process by which the Vikings encountered Vinland in more recent history. As is the case with so many other areas discussed, our understanding of this intriguing mystery is still unfolding as more evidence comes to light. The course covers the many different cultures that evolved in various areas of the country. Some of them covered large areas, others were relatively concentrated; some of them traded widely, while others apparently did not. What is so clear, and it is a point that Dr. Barnhart hammers home repeatedly, is that these peoples were not the stereotypical "savages" that most of us were taught during those long-ago days of my childhood but, quite the opposite, were highly skilled in adapting their life-style to their environments and, in the process, coming to build often large cities, produce beautiful art that was often more than just decorative, and were highly skilled surveyors, builders (of buildings and canals), and astronomers. Just as many of their descendants are still with us, so also do our "sins" of the past continue. We may think that our suppression of their cultures and disrespect for their opinions are a thing of the past, but consider how in very recent years the feelings of Native Americans regarding the placement of pipelines and mining for fossil fuels in lands sacred to their traditions have been brushed aside or even totally ignored. We have so much yet to learn about these people, and so much to change in our behavior toward them! A course of elemental importance to all of us who live in what was once their land.
Date published: 2019-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Hands-On Study of America’s Ancients Barnhart’s first lecture regarding the limitations of C-14 dating is a classic. He then discusses Optically Stimulated Luminescence, a hopeful method for dating soils. He respectfully dances around several issues regarding dating protocols though his preferred Before Present system is NOT the one he uses most frequently during the course. L2 continues his discussion of archaeological limitations when he delves into the mysteries, limitations, and confusions of ancient N.A. haplotypes subtype studies. I would much rather someone be honest about what we don’t know than try to snow me with technocracy. I appreciate his multiplicity of theories vs “this is the way it was” absolutism. Q1 at the end of L2 is “Do you have faith in the validity of ancient DNA studies?” and your answer will probably be more sophisticated after this course. In L3 an example of what you have learned follows in the story of a former slave turned cowboy and geologist George McJunkin. He stood his ground against universities, eventually rolling back N.A. human history 7000 years. This penultimate victory of the intelligent observer over the choking academic committee is cheering. L3 combines what you know so far with easy (but rigorous) proofs of the intriguing disappearance of the Clovis and Folsum peoples. L3 Q2 asks: “Did Clovis man kill off the mammoths or was it solely…environmental?” Again, your viewpoint may now be more complex. L4-6 discusses the Archaic period peoples from basic survival to America’s first city at Poverty point. L7 is a bit of a side-trip through the confusion of information on stone circles. Next, Barnhart begins intense regional studies making this course very hands-on. Living in the mid-West I actually keep L8-11 & L24 on a device so that when we anticipate being near the sites discussed, we replay before we go. We also take the related lecture notes with us. For any Board Gamers living in our area, I highly recommend VPG’s “Mound Builders” as a fascinating review (in 50 cards and its map) of the Cahokia network of Hopewell and Mississippian Era mound building and many of the Great American Woodland sites/cultures covered in L8-11. L12 & 13 have same value for those living somewhat beyond the Fort Ancient area. L14-21 would of interest those in the SW. L21 & L22 would be best for Pacific coastal persons & finally L23 for those traversing the Plains.
Date published: 2019-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful cover, engaging features I saw a sampler of this course in which Professor Barnhart described Poverty Point. The presentation was so informative, I bought the course and loved every minute. I thought I knew something about the ancient civilizations of North America but found out that I knew very little. I feel more informed and will be visiting many of these sites over the next year. We really liked Barnhart's personal asides and jokes.
Date published: 2019-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lectures If you like documentaries and discovering our ancient civilizations, this is one of the finest lecture series I have seen. Better even than what you see on the Discovery Channel because it brings it all together.
Date published: 2019-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation I am very pleased with these presentations. The presenter is very interesting. He knows so much about the culture, presents so much material that is new to me. I have been listening to about 6 lectures a week.
Date published: 2019-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Prof Barnhardt is an excellent instructor. Very enjoyable presentation style. Course content is well organized and thorough. Graphics are excellent. It was a pleasure to take in this series. So much so that I have just purchased Prof Barnhardt's lecture series on Mayan civilizations.
Date published: 2019-02-07
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