Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations

Course No. 380
Professor Brian M. Fagan, Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
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Course No. 380
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Course Overview

Where do we come from? How did our ancestors settle this planet? How did the great historic civilizations of the world develop? How does a past so shadowy that it has to be painstakingly reconstructed from fragmentary, largely unwritten records nonetheless make us who and what we are?

This course brings you the answers that scientific and archaeological research and theorizing suggest about human origins, how populations developed, and the ways in which civilizations spread throughout the globe.

It is a narrative of the story of human origins and the many ties that still bind us deeply to the world before writing.

Your professor is Brian M. Fagan, Ph.D., Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Professor Fagan was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1973 and has received numerous awards, among them the Public Service Award of the Society of Professional Archaeologists and the Public Education Award of the Society for American Archaeology. He received a Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California at Santa Barbara. His excavations have made him a pioneer of multidisciplinary African history.

Dr. Fagan's numerous books include People of the Earth and In the Beginning, two widely used university and college textbooks in archaeology and prehistory. His other works include The Rape of the Nile, The Adventure of Archaeology, Time Detectives, and The Little Ice Age. He also edited The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Professor Fagan was born and educated in Britain and speaks with a British accent.

AudioFile® magazine writes about Dr. Fagan: "Vibrant and dynamic. It's easy to hear why he has been lauded by faculty and students at The University of California, Santa Barbara, for his teaching and academic excellence since 1967."

What Is "Prehistory"?

Prehistory—meaning human societies without writing or widespread written records—survived until Western culture and industrial society completed their globalization in the 20th century, making the topic of a course that begins with some very old fossils seem more current than you may think.

You learn about dozens of archaeological sites all over the world and learn about stone-tool making, mammoth hunting, and temple building as you explore man's earliest origins and the earliest civilizations.

Themes to Remember: Human Achievement

Woven through this narrative is a set of pervasive themes:

  • Emerging human biological and cultural diversity (as well as our remarkable similarities across surprising expanses of time and space)
  • The impact of human adaptations to climatic and environmental change
  • The importance of seeing prehistory not merely as a chronicle of archaeological sites and artifacts, but of people behaving with the extraordinary intellectual, spiritual, and emotional dynamism that distinguish the human.

This is a world tour of prehistory with profound links to who we are and how we live today.

2.5 Million Years of History

This 36-lecture narrative covers human prehistory from our beginnings more than 2.5 million years ago up to and beyond the advent of the world's first preindustrial civilizations.

Due to the large spans of time and geography covered in this series, these lectures are divided into six sections:

Section I: Beginnings

This section surveys the archaic world of the first humans, you travel into the remote past, learning why the late Harvard biologist Stephen Jay Gould was probably right to observe that we all come from the same African twig on the bushy tree of human evolution.

You examine prehistory from Australopithecus africanus through Homo habilis (the first tool-making hominid), and Homo erectus (whose remains were first found on Java but whose origins lie in Africa) through the hardy Neanderthals who lived and hunted successfully in Europe despite the bitter grip of the last Ice Age 100,000 and more years ago. You focus on the first human settlement of Africa as early as 800,000 years ago.

Section II: Modern Humans

This section tells the story of the great diaspora of anatomically modern humans in the late Ice Age. Whether and how these modern humans spread from the African tropics into southwestern Asia and beyond remains one of the great controversies among scholars of prehistory.

You follow Homo sapiens sapiens north into Europe some 45,000 years ago. You meet the Cro-Magnons, among the first known artists as well as hunter-gatherers, who exhibited degrees of spiritual awareness, social interaction, and fluid intelligence.

You venture into the frigid open plains of the Ukraine and Eurasia, where big-game hunters flourished in spite of nine-month winters. Moving to the Americas, debate over the origins of the first human settlement continues.

Section III: Farmers and Herders

This section describes perhaps the most important development in all human prehistory: the beginnings of agriculture and animal domestication.

This defining chapter began about 12,000 years ago, when hunter-gatherers in the Near East broke from the long human tradition of intensely mobile foraging and turned to more settled ways of life built around cultivating cereal grains or tending animals.

Section IV: Eastern Mediterranean Civilizations

Professor Fagan describes early civilizations in an increasingly complex eastern Mediterranean world, discussing many theories accounting for the appearance of urban civilization and overall attributes of preindustrial civilizations.

You examine Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia and the intricate patchwork of city-states between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. You explore ancient Egypt, the Minoan civilization of Crete, the Mycenaeans, and the Hittites.

You learn about the Uluburun shipwreck of southern Turkey, a sealed capsule of international trade from 3,000 years ago.

Section V: Africans and Asians

You analyze the beginnings of South Asian civilization and the mysterious Harappan civilization of the Indus, which traded with Mesopotamia. Professor Fagan resumes the story of South Asian civilization after the collapse of the Harappan and shows how Mauryan rulers on the Ganges encouraged trading much farther afield.

You see the impact of monsoons which revolutionized maritime trading among Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, and explore Meroe, Aksum, and the coastal civilization of East Africa.

Several lectures cover the beginnings of civilization in China and Southeast Asia.

Section VI: Ancient Americans

Professor Fagan takes you into sophisticated chiefdoms and civilizations that developed in the Americas over the past 3,500 years, including Pueblo cultures of the North American Southwest and the Mississippian culture of the South and Southeast. You learn about Mesoamerican civilization, primordial Olmec culture of the lowlands, and the spectacular ancient Maya civilization.

Moving to the highlands, you visit the city-states of Monte Albán in the Valley of Oaxaca and Teotihuacán near the Valley of Mexico. Professor Fagan also describes the rise of Aztec civilization, followed by a journey to the Andes. Finally, you explore the southern highlands, with the rise of Tiwanaku near Lake Titicaca, the Chimu civilization of the coast, and the huge Inka empire.

The series closes by analyzing the closing centuries of prehistoric times during the European age of discovery and summarizing the main issues and themes of the course:

  • What was involved in the archaic world
  • The appearance and spread of modern humans
  • Food production
  • The development of states
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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Introducing Human Prehistory
    The themes of the course include emerging human biological and cultural diversity as well as our similarities, the importance of climatic and environmental change, and the importance of seeing prehistory as a tale of people and their beliefs, not just archaeological sites. x
  • 2
    In the Beginning
    Evidence of human origins dates from between 6 million and 3 million years ago. What anatomical and behavioral changes occurred among hominids across this vast expanse of time? What fossil forms define the earliest stages of human evolution? x
  • 3
    Our Earliest Ancestors
    The earliest tool-making hominids appeared between 3 million and 2 million years ago. Evidence from Louis and Mary Leakey's excavations at the famous Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania suggests that Homo habilis, the first toolmaker, used these stone implements as aids in scavenging and foraging. x
  • 4
    The First Human Diaspora
    Until about 730,000 years ago, world climate seems to have been fairly stable. Since then, climate shifts including Ice Ages have played a major role in human biological and cultural evolution, as we can see by considering theories of how humans first moved from Africa to Asia. x
  • 5
    The First Europeans
    Europe seems to have been colonized only about 800,000 years ago—the dating is controversial. Archaeological research indicates people who lived a flexible and highly mobile life, but with cognitive and linguistic abilities that seem no match for those of modern humans. x
  • 6
    The Neanderthals
    This lecture clears away many of the misleading stereotypes about these nimble, efficient hunters who used simple but versatile tools in order to adapt impressively to the harsh climate of late Ice Age Europe and Eurasia. x
  • 7
    The Origins of Homo sapiens sapiens
    You learn the compelling evidence from molecular biology that shows the origins of Homo sapiens sapiens, modern humans, lie in tropical Africa more than 100,000 years ago. x
  • 8
    The Great Diaspora
    The spread of modern humans from Africa into other parts of the world is one of the great dramas of prehistory. Why did it occur, and how did the Sahara Desert play a critical role in it? x
  • 9
    The World of the Cro-Magnons
    The modern humans whom we call Cro-Magnons began to settle Europe 45,000 years ago. What was their crucial advantage over Neanderthals and other more archaic people? How did the Cro-Magnons bring together the material and spiritual worlds in ways never before seen? x
  • 10
    Artists and Mammoth Hunters
    What are the major features of Cro-Magnon mobile and cave art? How can we evaluate the various theories that have been put forward to explain what it means? How did the unique big-game hunting societies of the late Ice Age cope with their exceptionally harsh environment? x
  • 11
    The First Americans
    How and when the Americas were first settled is one of the most controversial questions in the entire field of prehistory. This talk outlines the basic issues and describes the two major competing hypotheses and the relevant evidence. x
  • 12
    The Paleo-Indians and Afterward
    Hunter-gatherer societies began to flourish in North America about 14,000 years ago. They differed across regions, from the more densely peopled Eastern woodlands to the plains and the drier West, but all had elaborate beliefs reflected in art, burial customs, and ceremonial objects. x
  • 13
    After the Ice Age
    What vast climatic changes followed the end of the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago? How did a huge glacial-meltwater release in Canada affect the climate thousands of miles away in the Near East so profoundly that it may have sparked the development of agriculture? x
  • 14
    The First Farmers
    What do excavations of early farming settlements at Abu Hureyra, Syria, and Jericho, Jordan, tell us about how the change from hunting and collecting to herding and farming took place? x
  • 15
    Why Farming?
    What are the leading theories about the beginnings of agriculture? Why is it the case that the consequences of agriculture are more interesting than its origins? How do the remains of early farming societies in southwestern Asia and the Nile Valley help us to trace these effects? x
  • 16
    The First European Farmers
    Europe was a sparsely inhabited place until farmers began to spread rapidly across it from southeast to northwest beginning in about 7,000 B.C. Could the sudden formation of the Black Sea by the rising waters of the Mediterranean have been the trigger for this diffusion? x
  • 17
    Farming in Asia and Settling the Pacific
    Rice has been grown in the Yangtze Valley of southern China since before 7,000 B.C., with millet farming in the Huangho Valley of the north about a millennium behind. But the many islands lying far off Asia could not be settled until root crops like taro and yams were domesticated. x
  • 18
    The Story of Maize
    The tale of how researchers traced domestic corn or maize to its wild Mesoamerican ancestor (a grass called teosinte) is one of the great detective stories in prehistory. Spreading both north and south, the farming of maize and associated crops such as beans would transform the landscape of both Americas. x
  • 19
    The Origins of States and Civilization
    The world's first civilizations appeared in southwest Asia about 5,000 years ago. What makes a "civilization," and what do all preindustrial civilizations have in common? What are the theories accounting for civilizations' expansions? x
  • 20
    Sumerian Civilization
    Evolving out of innovative farming societies that used irrigation to grow food between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the small, competing city-states of Sumer were engaging in long-distance trade by 4000 B.C. and then became parts of a drive to form much larger empires. x
  • 21
    Ancient Egyptian Civilization to the Old Kingdom
    The long, fertile, green ribbon of the Nile Valley is the setting for this most famous and flamboyant of ancient civilizations. Beginning, as had Sumer, in a series of smaller kingdoms along the river, Egypt's pyramid-building "Old Kingdom" flourished till 2180 B.C. x
  • 22
    Ancient Egypt—Middle and New Kingdoms
    How did Mentuhotep, the politically gifted ruler who restored the Middle Kingdom, redefine his own role as pharaoh in order to achieve this? How did the New Kingdom of Ramses II and company redefine it as Egyptian military and imperial power grew? x
  • 23
    The Minoan Civilization of Crete
    In journeying north across the eastern Mediterranean from Egypt, we come across the Minoan civilization of Crete, whose site was the Palace of Minos at Knossos on that island. What made the religious beliefs at the heart of Minoan civilization so different from those found in other early states? x
  • 24
    The Eastern Mediterranean World
    Among the high points of this talk is the discussion of the remarkable Uluburun shipwreck, an amazing 1984 find off the coast of Turkey that contains a rich cargo drawn from nine regions and gives us a superb window on the burgeoning world of international trade c. 1300 B.C. x
  • 25
    The Harappan Civilization of South Asia
    This civilization rose in the Indus Valley of what is now Pakistan before 2500 B.C. In a way, it was a result of the rise of cities in Mesopotamia because trade with that area seems to have stimulated the rise of cities along the Indus. Were Harappan religious beliefs the ancestors of Hinduism? x
  • 26
    South and Southeast Asia
    Starting with the Harappan collapse (c. 1700 B.C.), we enter the Vedic period, when far-reaching cultural, religious, and technological changes swept South Asia, culminating in the discovery of the monsoon wind cycle (c. 100 B.C.), which opened the door to travel and trade across the Indian Ocean and beyond. x
  • 27
    Africa—A World of Interconnectedness
    Ranging over sites on the continent from the caravan routes of Sudan to the great cattle-raising kingdoms of the south-central plateau around Zimbabwe, this talk shows how Africa played a major role in the Indian Ocean world during the first millennium A.D. x
  • 28
    The Origins of Chinese Civilization
    Here we explore the increasingly complex Longshanoid cultures that grew up over a wide swath of northern China after 3000 B.C. What do we know about the three early dynasties—Xia, Shang, and Zhou—and the realms over which they presided? x
  • 29
    China—Zhou to the Han
    The Western and Eastern Zhou periods were times of endemic warfare until Emperor Qin Shihuangdi unified China in 221 B.C. The Han Dynasty brought China into contact with the West via the Silk Road, and with India by connecting to the ancient monsoon-wind routes of Southeast Asia. x
  • 30
    Southeast Asian Civilizations
    While these civilizations possess indigenous roots, it is also true that China and India had a large impact on them. The famous sites of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom give us insight on the uniquely centripetal Khmer civilization and its notions of divine kingship. x
  • 31
    Pueblos and Moundbuilders in North America
    With this talk we change hemispheres to examine the chiefdoms and states of the Americas before Columbus. Topics include the Pueblo sites of Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, the moundbuilders of the Eastern woodlands, and the great chiefdoms of the Mississippian tradition. x
  • 32
    Ancient Maya Civilization
    We explore the rise and decline of the Maya, who ran the greatest lowland civilization of pre-Columbian times, analyze their origins, study their central institutions such as kingship, describe key Maya sites such as Nakbe and El Mirador, and examine the reasons for their collapse c. A.D. 900. x
  • 33
    Highland Mesoamerican Civilization
    Like the lowlands, the highlands of Mesoamerica were also a cradle of civilizations beginning around the first millennium B.C. The last and most famous was that of the Aztecs, who rose from obscurity to become masters of Mesoamerica in just two dizzying centuries, only to fall themselves before a tiny band of Spanish conquistadors. x
  • 34
    The Origins of Andean Civilization
    This civilization developed between two poles: one on Peru's North Coast, the other in the south-central Andes. Around the former grew up the remarkable Moche state (c. 200 B.C. to A.D. 600), which provides a case study of how a civilization can be overcome by natural disasters. x
  • 35
    The Inka and Their Predecessors
    The Inka were imperial conquerors who took over smaller kingdoms in both the Andean highlands and Peru's north coast sometime after A.D. 1000. Aside from their passion for organization, what institutions fueled the Inkas' endless conquests? And how did a tiny band of Spanish adventurers seize this vast empire so quickly in 1532? x
  • 36
    Here you cast a backward glance over the four main chapters of human prehistory—the archaic world, the appearance and spread of modern humans, food production, and the development of states. Why does knowledge of this matter in today's world? How does it strengthen our understanding of the human condition? x

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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 248-page printed course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 248-page printed course guidebook
  • Maps
  • List of archaeological sites
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Brian M. Fagan

About Your Professor

Brian M. Fagan, Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara
Dr. Brian M. Fagan is Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Born in England, Dr. Fagan earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Archaeology and Anthropology from Pembroke College, Cambridge University. Professor Fagan's excavations in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) from 1959 to 1965 earned him recognition as a pioneer of multidisciplinary African history. He has served as Director of...
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Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations is rated 3.9 out of 5 by 118.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good on prehistory, little detail on civilization The first parts of the course, on the author’s specialty—human and pre-human prehistory—is excellent and detailed. The later parts on civilization are often too general, though parts, as befits an ex-classicist are quite inspiring. There was some padding, though, e.g., generalities about decisions in general around lecture 16. I would also have appreciated more detail on the first civilization, ancient Sumer.
Date published: 2014-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a real life Indiana Jones ? I for one enjoy Dr Fagan's courses and find his accent delightful. One of my favorite "Great Courses" is Fagan's "Discovery Of Ancient Civilizations" so I was most eager to also buy this one. For whatever reason, that first course is no longer available. That is odd considering how good it was. Human Prehistory & the first Civilizations understandingly starts at the beginning with pre-humans and progresses through the early civilizations. To Dr Fagan's credit he is very much inclusive of just about every region of the world and points out how through interconnections that no civilization lived in isolation. I found his observations of the development of agriculture most fascinating. His research on climate's impact on history is certainly of interest. Perhaps the most appealing attribute is that Fagan is an archaeologist and not simply a historian...more scientist than philosopher. The man has been around the world exploring it seems. Brian Fagan might be as close to Indiana Jones as they come.
Date published: 2013-11-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from too wide - too shallow Contrary to other reviews, I found Professor Fagan's presentation to be perfectly adequate, though I grant that there are better presentors in TGC. The course provides an all encompassing survey of early history, both in terms of period and in terms of geography. The result is an understanding of some breadth but of very little depth. Having said this, the course does give a global perspective in space and time of evolution of human prehistory and early history, and can serve as an introductory course if one is intending to dive in more depth into ancient history in other courses.
Date published: 2013-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from our roots this is an excellent course on the origin of man and his prehistoric climb from simple animal to the level of complex civilization we see today--though we may not agree that we have managed our instinctive competitive and mating behaviors very well. I love Dr. Fagan's British accent and clear paced presentation style...A great course and so much less expensive then going to UC Santa Barbara and taking his course in person...besides I have a copy of his notes and can replay his lectures anytime I like!!! This is a must take course for every human being!!! It teaches you where you came from and how you got where you are. We are not lemmings that follow each other in thoughtless mass, but thoughtful humans and should act accordingly. Make your life worth while!
Date published: 2013-10-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from human prehistory/Fagan We would prefer more information rather than the elaborate introduction at the first and summary atthe end. Also, most of the courses have more pictures, which we would have appreciated. Pictures help one remember the content.
Date published: 2013-10-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not very good I was quite dissapointed in this lecture. I am not sure if it was the presenter's accent, but I had trouble understanding some of the words he used. At times, I am sure he was mispronouncing some of them and it was difficult to follow. The cadence of the presenter's speech was almost overly dramatic, as if he was trying to make everything seem more grandiose than it really should have been. It was a very difficult lecture to enjoy.
Date published: 2013-06-28
Rated 3 out of 5 by from editing needed I was surprised to hear this introduction-- "lecture 9, the world of the cro-magnate." Seriously?
Date published: 2013-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb and Fascinating. Mercy but this professor can give an extremely well organized, clear, informative presentation. I have listened to this CD collection at least twenty times and will continue listening to it from time to time. Truly a fine, fine contribution. B. T-M.
Date published: 2012-09-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from interesting survey; poorly presented The professor repeated makes sweeping assertions about "cognitive ability", spirituality", etc. in early humans but provides little or no basis for these assertions. He misspeaks often. Much of what he says is just opinion and he rarely substantiates his views with data. This leaves the course lacking credibility. As an example, he repeated mentions pistachios as a major food source for paleo-Indians in North America. This tree is native to SW Asia and was only introduced to our hemisphere in the 1800's.
Date published: 2012-08-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Bob Brier he's not If you want a very basic course on early humans and early civilizations, this may be the right course for you. However, if you desire a more scholarly approach as you would receive from Bob Brier, this is not the course you want. I'm over thirty courses into the series at this writing. Unfortunately, rarely does Professor Fagan provide any real substantial information about those archeologists whose efforts led us to the understanding that we have today. If you want to hear long drawn-out sentences, you will love the time it takes to hear him say "two ... hundred ... thousand ... years ... ago" or the endless repetition of "we simply do not know." As true as it may be, even more frequent is the phrase "the web of interconnectedness." Actually, I wish that I could praise Professor Fagan just because we work at the same institution. But, alas, the details are where we learn and those missing elements make this course not much more than a review of what most already know.
Date published: 2012-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buyer Beware! Beware of all the dull reviews by all the know-it-alls! This course and subject, like many others, isn't complete (it's only an intro like so many TTC courses!), and yet, it's immensely facinating and engaging. The course content is excellent! See it for yourself! The Prof. delivered this course flawlessly - notwithstanding his "Shakespearean accent." Great value for a great subject!
Date published: 2012-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting But Long Interesting, informative, long, very long -- I did appreciate the wrap-up and the set-up with each lecture. I have the same comment about most of the lectures -- they need better graphics, maps, pictures, charts, graphs -- but mostly maps. I would like to see where the instructor is talking about when he begins a topic and ocassionally during the lecture. I liked the fact that East and West were covered and juxtaposed -- something that is not always done in courses. I know Dr. Fagan is one of the best in his field -- I used his text in college -- but his pacing is distraction. The information is good but it is 10 or so years old now. Overall it is a good way to become aquainted with the subject .
Date published: 2012-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A BRILLIANT COURSE, A BEST BUY I found every lecture to be exciting, absorbing and deeply interesting. Dr. Fagan made this series of talks come to life like a compelling adventure story, leaving me hanging on eagerly for the next episode! Truly, though, the advent of man and his evolution are an adventure through millions of years, which Dr. Fagan presents in a thrilling way so that learning is a happy time and not a chore. Professor Fagan has a delivery which some listeners in North America may find difficult: it is an old-fashioned, deliberate, enunciated style with an "upper-class/educated accent". I find it charming and easy to follow, and thank goodness you will NOT hear "er" or "um" at all... nor annoying repeated phrases such as "Y'know" and "I mean" which fill some other Great Courses lectures. Please note that his accent makes the word CLASS almost rhyme with FARCE (the long English A so typical of aristocrats, i.e. CLAAS), and he emphasises the letter R, often trilling it. Contrary to what some reviewers have said, Dr. Fagan does not have any speech impediment, nor does he have a regional British accent; he simply speaks in an academic style that was more fashionable 60 to 80 years ago, a style that delivers speech purposely and relatively slowly for emphasis. However, if you just cannot abide or tolerate any deviation from standard American or Canadian speech, you may prefer to read Dr. Fagan's books! Because the course dates from 2003, it is indeed true that some updating is needed for accuracy (for example, DNA science determined in 2010 that in fact humans and Neanderthals did interbreed). Still, this course constitutes an extremely valuable introduction to the development and progress of man, a fascinating narrative into the world of anthropology and archaeology; it should not be considered a history course in the usual sense. The maps and other key onscreen visuals are very helpful, and the course handbook is a valuable adjunct, also containing maps. Dr Fagan's opening remarks to each lecture and his closing summaries are a very fine touch and do not occupy excessive time. This is a course not to be missed (sorry to sound trite!). Please do not be influenced by the negative aspects of some reviewers, for there is a tremendous amount of material which the professor imparts fluidly and authoritatively, and following this course you'll probably want to do some deeper delving into the subject.
Date published: 2012-05-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Needs updating, editing, and decent English We have over a dozen TC courses and have liked them all so far. This course, however, was a big disappointment. First, the section on prehistory was far too long, 19 of the 34 lectures (not counting the intro and epilog lectures which are essentially filler). Given the relative lack of data, this section is little more than a few fossils and lots of speculation. Second, his info on the interactions of pre-human and early human species is out of date and not consistent with new studies that have come out in the past 10-15 years. Third, although I hesitate to complain about this because usually I enjoy listening to speakers with accents and usually don't mind non-native English speakers, Professor Fagan has some serious problems with spoken English. It's not really the accent that is the problem but the constant mispronunciation of words and the excessive use of certain words that make the lectures both annoying and stale. Even my kids were starting to laugh and make jokes about his speaking style and that obviously makes it difficult to focus on the material. So my recommendations are to trim this down to 24 lectures max, update the material to include studies past the year 2000, and find a better speaker.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course! I'm annoyed at the reviewers who commented on the supposed "speech impediment" of Professor Brian Fagan. I almost didn't buy the course for that reason. Now I've learned to utilize the generous return policy rather than rely on reviewers whose exposure to accents must be limited to George W. Bush. This is an excellent course and I don't find the material boring at all. The delivery is well paced and thorough. I do believe it's not perfectly up to date, but that would be very difficult to achieve as Great Courses can't release a new version to stride with every discovery. This is an excellent and worthwhile course for anyone who desires a broad overview on this topic. I'm glad I had the sense to trust my instinct rather than reviewers trying to flaunt their knowledge or be senselessly cruel.
Date published: 2012-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As current as can be expected I write this short review only to point out that what some reviewers criticize as "outdated" are points that are only recently so. It is impossible to create a course in an active field of science that remains current for even a few years, but the few superseded items of information are easily corrected and, in any event, are nowhere near as valuable as Fagan's excellent overview of the big picture. If you're an expert in the field, why are you taking the course? If you're not an expert, I can't think of a better introduction.
Date published: 2011-09-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Some Interesting Parts I just finished the DVD version of this course (36 lectures). The course can be divided into four main parts. The first part discussed "Archaic Humanity" (began with ancestors of humans more than 2.5 million years ago). The second part covered "Modern Humans" (whom appeared in Africa around 200,000 to 150,000 years ago). The third part covered "Food Production" period which covered the period from 12,000 years ago (the end of the last ice age). The final part covered "Civilization Formation" which happened from around 5,000 years ago in various areas globally (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Harrapan etc.) and was driven, among other things, by the surplus in food production. I found the course to be interesting in its breadth and scope, and the presenter (Professor Brian Fagan) to be very clear. I also liked the fact that the course was based on archaeological evidence. In terms of Professor Fagan's presentation, I disagreed with a lot of reviews which criticized his pronunciation of some words. I thought Prof Fagan did just fine and his emphasizing and story-telling skills were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the chapters which covered ancient civilizations, particularly those which were not 'popular' such as the ancient Chinese, ancient Khmer and ancient Indian / Harrapan culture & civilization. If I could make one recommendation about the course: I just thought it dragged too much / too long at some parts in the course - particularly: The ancient pre-modern-human hominid discussions which covered more than 6 lectures, and the discussion on Ancient Americas in more than 6 lectures (including a chapter on Maize in ancient Americas). I felt these could have been discussed more succinctly.
Date published: 2011-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Grand Sweep of Prehistory Two and a half million years of history is a lot of ground to cover in a course of this nature. To accomplish this task Professor Fagan divided the material into four major chapters. He begins with "Archaic Humanity" or the discovery of human beginnings and continues with "Modern Humans" or the story of Homo Sapiens Sapiens. He then highlights "Food Production" as a milestone and concludes with "State Formations". As you can well imagine the sheer amount of material covered in this course is monumental in scope. Dr Fagan does an excellent job in laying out the material in such a manner that the listener does not get immersed in detail but is subjected to an overview of the salient points of each category. It is evident by his presentation that he is classically educated and strongly believes in this education stragegy. I found it a good companion to his scientific training. There cannot be any doubt that Dr Fagan is an expert in his field and it was a privilege to import some of his observations and insights into my better understanding of this less well known field. There are two areas where I feel the course could be strengthened and they are more use of graphics as the artifacts greatly amplify the course content and second, due to the number of years that have passed since the course was published several major findings have been made in this area. As a result, some of his conclusions are open to question. However, I have to admit that he readily attested to this possibility during his presentation. That having been said, I found the course extremely satisfying and highly recommend it to anyone seeking to gain a better understanding of early human history.
Date published: 2011-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from On the origins of globalization—very well done I really liked this course a lot. Looking back, each lecture went by fast and had sufficient depth for me. I appreciated Dr Fagan as my academic tour guide through the ages. What I came away with was sharp sense of humanity and interconnectedness, a better understanding of globalization, a respect for human struggles and achievements through the ages, and a sense of awe knowing that so many others came and went before me. I would expect this kind of impact from a philosophy of life course, but this one (and Big History) manages to offer reflective opportunities and some perspective on the value of human life. Actually, I held out for a long time due to some negative reviews, but I’m glad I got it and would like to say that the negative reviews are mostly exaggerated. While audio would suit many people, I opted for the DVDs and have no regrets. Sure, there could have been more visuals, but I was satisfied with the number of maps and other graphics. Given that this course dates back to 2003, it would be a good idea to give it a modern makeover with additional graphics and some snazzy PowerPoint transitions. This course is a mixture of anthropology and archeology. It’s divided up into 6 parts: Parts I and II cover pre-humans and modern humans; Part III is about farming; Part IV is on the Mediterranean; Part V tackles Africa and Asia; and Part VI details the Americas. I liked them all equally. The Guidebook is excellent. It’s about 200 pages of detailed outline. There are also a lot of maps reproduced. Now to Dr Fagan, who I think has received much unwarranted criticism. For example, some reviews claim he spends 5 minutes previewing lectures and another 5 minutes reviewing at the end. I can assure you this is very much false. He uses about 2 minutes give or take to review the past lecture and introduce the current topic. Conclusions average only 30 seconds to 1 minute. Secondly, he doesn’t have a speech impediment. He has a British accent. It’s not the familiar sound of a James Bond or BBC reporter who speaks with standard RP accent, but a regional dialect (maybe West Country, Cornish, but I could be wrong). If James Bond and David Attenborough are the most exotic speech variety you can handle, perhaps you should pass. If you can deal with the rhotic-R pronunciation and a few other dialectal idiosyncrasies, then you’ll do fine with Dr Fagan. Many say he’s a slow speaker. That’s true when he emphasizes points, but I can name a handful of other TGC professors who speak just as slow or even slower. Does he misspeak often? This is a valid criticism. It happened a lot in Lecture 12, and a few times in each lecture. However, overall I found his presentation to be artful and lyrical. Finally, at the end of 2010 it was announced that new DNA sequencing results indicate that Neanderthals and humans interbred, as they share 1-4% of DNA. Sure the course dates back to 2003, but even if it had been recorded in early 2010, it would still be out of date. At 18 hours and 36 lectures, there’s still an awful lot of valuable material to get through. There’s no reason to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” because of a recent scientific discovery. To close, I would love to see a new course devoted specifically to pre-humans, archeological techniques, and dating methods.
Date published: 2011-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from 2 Million Years in 18 Hours I am sure that some of the information in this lecture is outdated based on the time passed since it was recorded, but I greatly appreciated that it covered early civilizations all over the world...not just in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The lengthy coverage of the early American civilizations was particularly good. Professor Fagan does not have a speech impediment as one reviewer suggested, just a very Shakespearean English accent.
Date published: 2011-06-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Outdated and Unedited When buying a course on any topic here, wouldn't a customer expect first of all a reliable UP-TO-DATE content??? Then how to take the fact that several important points in the course SOLD TODAY have been scientifically proved to be wrong and therefore irrelevant??? For example: 1. Professor says: "Cro-Magnons pushed Neanderthals from the territory of Europe and from existence in a matter of 5 000 -10 000." It is known that the spread of Homo Sapiens into Europe and Asia happened by 45 000 years ago. The latest settlement of Neanderthals in Europe was found in Pyrenees dated by 28 000 years ago. Doing simple math gives us 17 000 years already! 2. Professor says:"Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens Sapiens never had any biological interaction". It is a common knowledge by now that around 4% of DNA of all modern people from non-direct-african descent came from Neanderthals, which in reference to chronology, since Neanderthals lived alongside with Homo Sapiens Sapiens for 45 000 years in Palestine and 17 000 years in Europe, proves that interbreeding between 2 distinctive races was quite a common practice for many thousands of years. I could continue giving examples of misleading here but most important thing is that scientific research on the prehistory of human development has already changed several important concepts taught in this course, in result of which the picture that lecturer draws there DISINFORMS the audience. This course came out in 2003. It's 2011 now and NOTHING HAS BEEN EDITED SINCE THEN. Why does the company keep selling it if ithe content is already unreliable, outdated and misleading???
Date published: 2011-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative This is a good series. I frequently study this material from many sources, so I was expecting to hear a lot of the same things again. There was indeed overlap, but I found that Dr. Fagan often managed to approach the subject from an angle I hadn't encountered. There was plenty of material new to me to make this series worthwhile. It takes some time to get used to Dr. Fagan's accent, but once you're over that, he's quite easy to listen to.
Date published: 2011-05-18
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I am assuming this course would be much more interesting if it were in print, but as its not... I found the professor to be almost completely non-listenable due to his speech impediment. I was constantly replaying sections or pausing the playback to try to figure out what he said. I've never had this much trouble trying to understand anyone before which made this course extremely irritating and disappointing. I would not recommend this course or this professor to anyone.
Date published: 2011-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A wonderful and informative course. I found nothing negative in this course. It does open ones eyes and imagination. I have my family tree going back to 1645, what a minute bit of time of where I came from now thinking and realizing the vast time the professor has taken me.
Date published: 2011-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Course I Have Bought From You This is without doubt the best series of lectures I have bought so far. Dr. Fagan takes a complex, enormously wide subject and brings it to life. He is clear as to what is known, what is in question, what is controversial, and what the positions of controversy are. He covers the evolutionary journey in terms that make the people who came before us BECOME people to us, instead of disjointed bones. He is British and some of his pronunciations are different from ours but a few minutes of listening and you forget about them. i found his presentation almost lyrical and definitely fascinating from the first lecture to the last which made me sad because I had reached the end of this phenomenal series. I was so impressed by Dr. Fagan's knowledge and insight that I ordered several of his books. I would buy anything in the future that you might offer by this amazing and brilliant teacher.
Date published: 2011-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Topic Material and Presentation I found this presentation to be EXCELLENT. The subject matter was really interesting, the course lecture material was laid out very well, the presentation was excellent and professor Fagans knowledge was most impressive. I replayed several lectures simply because they were so rich in information and so thought provoking. I was particulary impressed with his style of presentation. I had no problem following him and always wanted more. Like a good book I was truly sorry for the course to end.
Date published: 2011-04-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good content; Poor Delivery This is a topic which greatly interested me and the content was comprehensive and informative. However, Dr. Fagan's delivery was stilted and difficult to get used to. In fact, it took several lectures for me to wrap my brain around his terminology and pronunciation of his words. I love listening to lecturers with English accents so it was not his continental accent which interfered but rather what seemed to me, a speech impediment. However, on the positive side, the professor had great enthusiasm for his subject and once I adjusted to the accent I could appreciate his descriptions of ancient finds and imagine, as he clearly did, the way our ancestors once lived.
Date published: 2011-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXTRAORDINARY! What an achievement this course is! Truly remarkable in three ways: Content--absolutely fascinating overview of how we became who we are, what drives humankind in its evolution toward the realization of its potential, etc. Organization--the scope of this course is huge, and yet, miraculously, Professor Fagan has rendered it so accessible that you can readily see the movement of our evolution in a full sweep. Presentation--I LOVE his presentation. His use of language is wonderful and his delivery exciting. I happen to think the accent is terrific as well. Couldn't disagree more with those who objected to his style for various reasons. I did not get the DVD and only had the benefit of audio--this worked very well for me. Thank you, Dr. Fagan, for a real contribution and a beautiful statement of your life's work!
Date published: 2011-01-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good content, terrible presentation This should have been an excellent course, but Prof. Fagan's lecturing style is so awful that listening to it is a chore, rather than a pleasure. The content is very good, and he really does a good job of picking out noteworthy details. Unfortunately, he is the worst lecturer I've heard in a long time, and definitely not up to the usual high standards of the Teaching Co. Chief among my objections are his use of constant repetition, overuse of certain of his favorite expressions, and his tendency to break sentences into single words ___ with ___ increasingly ______ long ______ breaks ______ between _________ words. He obviously thinks that's a good way to emphasize a point, but you can only listen to so many sentences ending in "... three ___ million ___ years ______ago." before you start climbing the walls. It quickly becomes infuriating to listen to him, although I have to admit that I did listen to the whole course, just to get the content, which is quite well presented. Just hire a normal person and let him use Prof. Fagan's lecture notes. This is not worthwhile.
Date published: 2010-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from COMPREHENSIVE & INTERESTING Dr. Fagan has put his intellectual arms around an immense amount of information encompassing world wide human history from the knowable beginning unearthed thus far by discovery. To cover the material in 6 DVD's obviously restricted this course to a brief survey ending with the first civilizations. It concludes with the Inka and their predecessors. For someone who never paid much previous attention to this period, I found the information fascinating with occasional factoids thrown in to mull over. (During the last ice age, the sea level was four hundred feet lower. It made passage to Alaska from Siberia less complicated for the spread of humans to the new world.) While this course may not be adequate for knowledgeable historians, it's recommended for those whose interest in our joint human history is either casual or sorely lacking. It also serves, I believe, as a solid foundation for other TTC history courses. One word of caution. Dr Fagan's dramatic speaking technique may be rather off-putting to some. However, listening to him is a very worthwhile experience.
Date published: 2010-10-21
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