Lost Worlds of South America

Course No. 3120
Professor Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center
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Course No. 3120
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What Will You Learn?

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

Course Overview

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

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

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

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

A Startling New Glimpse of the Ancient World

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

Recently unearthed marvels include

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

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

Encounter an Astounding Legacy of History and Culture

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

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

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

A Richly Colorful Journey 

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

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

A Story beyond Imagining

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

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

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

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

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    South America's Lost Cradle of Civilization
    Consider the remarkable evidence for South America as one of the true wellsprings of human civilization. Grasp the diversity of early South American cultures, from the Andean civilizations to the desert and Amazon regions; what these cultures shared; and their extraordinary innovations in agriculture, architecture, handcrafts, social organization, and religion. x
  • 2
    Discovering Peru’s Earliest Cities
    The first cities in the Americas date to 3000 B.C. Investigate the means of subsistence of coastal and inland valley cities, and evidence for trade in marine and agricultural products. Learn about the sites of Kotosh, El Paraiso, and Caral and their striking features of architecture, including plazas, pyramids, and solar observatories. x
  • 3
    South America’s First People
    The earliest evidence of humans in the Americas comes not from North America, but from Chile. Investigate the important Monte Verde site and its view into everyday life 15,000 years ago. Learn also about “Quilcas” cave art, the astonishing Chinchorro mummies—predating Egypt’s— and evidence of early agriculture and trade at Huaca Prieta. x
  • 4
    Ceramics, Textiles, and Organized States
    Observe pivotal changes in northern Peruvian societies in 1800–900 B.C., such as the architectural styles of the southern and northern valleys, which indicate the rise of a state identity. Note the area’s earliest evidence of metallurgy and weaving, and stone sculptures reflecting the first warlike violence seen in South America. x
  • 5
    Chav'n and the Rise of Religious Authority
    The Peruvian site of Chav'n marks the emergence of religion as the focus of public art. Study Chav'n’s distinctive architecture, with images of its characteristic “fanged deity.” Learn about later religious iconography and artifacts at Chav'n suggesting that it was the center of a cult that spread to other sites in the region. x
  • 6
    Cupisnique to Salinar—Elite Rulers and War
    With the waning of Chav'n’s culture, striking new elements appear in the region’s archaeological record. Here, encounter the Salinar culture, a new settlement pattern showing no ceremonial architecture and the first “elite” housing. Examine the evidence of defensive citadels and what may have triggered warfare and emerging social hierarchy. x
  • 7
    Paracas—Mummies, Shamans, and Severed Heads
    Investigate the fascinating Paracas tombs of the 1st millennium B.C., which contain richly adorned mummies, and grasp the significance of mummification. Study the elaborate iconography of Paracas textiles, the meaning of the supernatural beings they depict, and the practice of head hunting as a means to control the spirits of the dead. x
  • 8
    The Nazca Lines and Underground Channels
    The Nazca are yet another South American people of striking accomplishments. Learn about their remarkable irrigation system of underground aquifers, aqueducts, and wells, and their fine polychrome pottery and textiles. Penetrate the mystery of the “Nazca Lines,” massive geoglyphs scratched into the earth, which may be the result of ritual pilgrimage. x
  • 9
    The Moche—Pyramids, Gold, and Warriors
    In the first of three lectures on the Andean Moche culture, chart this civilization’s outstanding features. Discover the immense pyramids, adorned with brilliant color murals, road systems, and sophisticated art. Examine the evidence of extensive warfare, both in the art and in excavated weaponry and sacrificial victims. x
  • 10
    The Moche—Richest Tombs in the New World
    The Moche tombs offer compelling evidence of the culture’s social structure and cosmology. Investigate the sumptuous contents of the three principal tombs of Sipan—the enigmatic buried figures and dazzling costumes, jewelry, and surrounding objects. Contemplate who these buried people might have been, with relation to imagery in Moche art. x
  • 11
    The Moche—Drugs, Sex, Music, and Puppies
    This lecture investigates the dramatic iconography seen on Moche ceramics. First, learn about the complex rituals and practices of modern South American shamanism. Then study images on Moche pottery usually interpreted as depicting victory in war, and indications that they actually describe an elaborate culture of shamanic healing. x
  • 12
    Enigmatic Tiwanaku by Lake Titicaca
    Lake Titicaca is the site of one of South America’s most impressive civilizations. Discover the huge urban complex of Tiwanaku and its cultural connections to Chav'n de Huantar. Explore Tiwanaku’s mysterious architecture and its “raised field” agriculture, an engineering feat that allowed for the support of a large population. x
  • 13
    The Amazon—Civilization Lost in the Jungle
    Recent discoveries indicate the presence of massive ancient civilizations in the Amazon. Survey the evidence, starting with the Beni region’s elaborate systems of mounds, causeways, and canals. Continue with the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, noting wide areas of human-enriched soil, towns ringed by moats, geoglyphs, and pottery dating to 6000 B.C. x
  • 14
    The Wari—Foundations of the Inca Empire?
    Here, track the remarkable innovations of the Wari culture, highlighting its walled cities, paved road systems, large-scale livestock herding, and ingenious form of terraced agriculture. Examine the evidence of satellite communities of the Wari and the question of whether Wari expansion constituted empire building or a more benign diffusion of culture. x
  • 15
    The Chimú—Empire of the Northern Coast
    This lecture introduces a culture of warrior kings who became conquerors, second in influence only to the Inca. Learn about the Chimú’s extraordinary royal citadels, urban organization, and intervalley irrigation technology. Investigate their subjugation of neighboring cultures, their imperial administration centers, and what may have motivated their conquest. x
  • 16
    The Sican—Goldsmiths of the Northern Coast
    Contrasting with the Chimú, Sican civilization comprised a confederation of equal and independent city-states. Study the apparent Moche influence in Sican pyramid building, elaborate burial styles, and extensive human sacrifice. Observe the unique qualities of Sican art in the mastery of metallurgy and stunning ritual objects in ceramic, gold, and copper. x
  • 17
    The Inca Origins—Mythology v. Archaeology
    Begin your study of the great Inca civilization by tracing the culture’s origin myth, featuring a creator deity who made the cosmos and charged the Inca to found a kingdom in a fertile valley. Compare the mythology with archaeological evidence that suggests that the myths were based in part on historical truths. x
  • 18
    Cuzco and the Tawantinsuyu Empire
    The city of Cuzco stands as the supreme achievement in architecture and aesthetics of pre-Columbian South America. Study the city’s astounding features, such as its hydraulic engineering, anti-seismic construction, and its perfectly fitting stonework that defies explanation. Learn also about the culture of ancestral mummies, the golden Coricancha temple, and other architectural marvels. x
  • 19
    The Inca—From Raiders to Empire
    In charting the rise of Inca civilization, follow the pivotal reign of Pachacuti, the 9th Inca, whose vision to unify the Andes led to large-scale conquest. Learn how his heir, Tupac, doubled the imperial territories, and how the empire was ultimately torn apart by civil war and disease. x
  • 20
    The Inca—Gifts of the Empire
    As a glimpse into how the empire functioned so effectively, learn about the Mit’a, a system of labor taxation, noting the services subjects provided to the empire and how they benefited in return. Grasp the Inca’s ingenious technology of road building, suspension bridges, and freeze-drying vegetables, and how they eliminated hunger. x
  • 21
    The Khipu—Language Hidden in Knots
    The Inca used a complex system of records encoded on knotted strings. Study what is known of the khipu, starting with Spanish accounts of their use and the “khipucamayuq” who recorded and read them. Learn how numbers were encoded, and review evidence suggesting that the khipu may contain a form of writing. x
  • 22
    Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley
    The mountainside complex of Machu Picchu was a royal estate of Pachacuti, the 9th Inca. Walk the site, entering at the Sun Gate, and explore the causeways, terraces, and many rooms of undetermined function. Study the solar-aligned Torreon and other astronomical structures of the site, and their significance in Inca cosmology. x
  • 23
    Spanish Contact—Pizarro Conquers the Inca
    In one of history’s most unusual incidents, the Inca empire was defeated by a Spanish force of 168 men. Study the events surrounding the capture and demise of Atahualpa—the last true Inca ruler—the destructive conquest by Francisco Pizarro, and the following struggle within the empire against Spanish rule. x
  • 24
    Remnants of the Past—Andean Culture Today
    The Andean civilizations have left a remarkable legacy in the modern world. Investigate the many ways in which contemporary peoples in South America maintain ancient ways of life, seen in agriculture, community organization, traditional lifestyles, and astronomical and religious observances, and contemplate what these practices mean in our own time. x

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  • Download 24 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • Download 24 audio lectures to your computer or mobile app
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 200-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 200-page course synopsis
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • 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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Reviews

Lost Worlds of South America is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 171.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Course The instructor was interesting. The topics were focused in the Andes. The course was about what has been discovered about the people in this area. Sometimes there was not much information about a people or location and one wishes that more information could have been shared
Date published: 2019-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Overview Course I recently completed this course in preparation to a two-week to Chile and Peru, my first visit to the continent. The course was instrumental in helping me understand the historical context of the sites I was going to see. In fact, this course and the trip have inspired me to a new interest in South American archaeology. I realize there is much more to see in addition to Lima and the Inca sites. Now I’m watching the course again to get ideas of other sites it might be worth seeing, especially on the north coast of Peru. Dr. Barnhart is obviously an expert in his field. If I had one suggestion for the instructor, it would be not to walk back and forth so much during the lecture. I found it a bit distracting. Otherwise, outstanding job!
Date published: 2019-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating The subject matter is fascinating, full of new discoveries that I had never heard of . But the format of the lecturer walking back-and-forth is tiresome. It would be much better if there were many, many pictures and him providing his very good lecture with them as the background.
Date published: 2019-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and thorough overview My wife is from Peru and I have always had an interest in the Incan culture as well as the pre-Incan civilizations. I have read a number of books on the topic and traveled to Peru about 10 times. Even though I had a good overview of the subject matter before starting the course, I found the course to be very well done and I learned a lot of additional information that filled in the gaps in my knowledge. The instructor obviously knows the material well and has a real passion for it. I enjoyed his presentation of the material in a well thought out and logical manner. This course made my interest in the topic grow and I will definitely look for additional material to learn. I will also look for other courses taught by this same instructor.
Date published: 2019-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Topic, Well Presented, but a Bit Short I bought this a few weeks ago, and ripped the audio so I could listen to it in the car. Nice lectures - Professor Barnhart knows his stuff. Just be sure you know what you're buying - this is four disks, at about 1/2 an hour a piece, so two hours worth of material total. I was a bit surprised, as I've bought Great Courses that I never managed to finish... but not entirely disappointed.
Date published: 2019-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ENGAGING!! This course is outstanding. The professor is easy to listen to, articulates the information clearly, and provides great photos for references. I appreciate his knowledge and extensive experience. I look forward to watching his course videos after a long day in the office...his work is so interesting!
Date published: 2019-04-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating and informative My wife and I bought this to get some insight into South American cultures before we embark on a trip to Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands. An excellent overview of past cultures of the region, including updated information on recent research and varying views on the interpretation of the available evidence. I wish Dr. Barnhart had emphasized the lack of a written language, number system and - gasp! - the wheel. These appear to be unique features of this part of the world that would be fun to hear explained more explicitly.
Date published: 2019-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lost Worlds Brings the Past Into the Present An excellent and informative story told by someone who is very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. So much is being learned about the civilizations that rose, fell, and in many ways remain in South America. This is the perfect course for people who want to enjoy these new discoveries that largely dispute everything we were taught just a few decades ago.
Date published: 2019-04-17
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