Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed

Course No. 3100
Professor Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center
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Course No. 3100
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn about the three sites where the Olmec lived.
  • numbers Break the code for of the Maya's hieroglyphs, astronomy, and their infamous calendar.
  • numbers Explore the Toltec empire to determine if they were role models - or simply myths.
  • numbers Follow the Aztec empire as it expanded into a thriving nation.
  • numbers Learn about the Caste Wars, which lasted half a century - and continue to some extent even today.

Course Overview

Five hundred years ago, Spanish conquistadors searching for gold and new lands to settle stumbled on a group of independent city-states in Mesoamerica, a region extending for more than a thousand miles from the desert of northern Mexico to the rain forest of Central America. Sophisticated beyond the Spaniards’ wildest imaginings, these people were the Aztecs, the Maya, and related cultures that shared common traditions of religion, government, social organization, the arts, agriculture, engineering, and trade.

In many ways more advanced than European nations, these societies were the equal of the world’s greatest civilizations, with remarkable achievements including the following:

  • Cities: The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was more populous than any city in Europe and featured unprecedented public amenities, among them one of the largest public markets in the world.
  • Time-keeping: The Maya created a calendar that could record their history down to the day over spans of thousands of years—a feat achieved by few other early civilizations.
  • Foods: The most planted crop on Earth today, corn, was domesticated thousands of years ago in Mesoamerica, along with beans, squashes, chocolate, and other foods now consumed everywhere.
  • Writing: Writing was independently invented just five times in the history of the world—once by the Maya, whose elaborate writing system was only deciphered in the late 20th century.
  • Mathematics: Maya mathematics is so complex that we don’t yet know all it can do. The system is among the first ever to use zero, which is indispensible for practical and advanced calculations.

But the ancient Mesoamericans were also deeply mystifying. Their art was filled with strange images of serpents, birds, jaguars, and humans with fantastically adorned headdresses. Their cities were dominated by ceremonial pyramids, thousands of which were built throughout the region. Their most popular rituals included a bruising ball game played to propitiate the gods. And their most notorious practice was human sacrifice, performed frequently and sometimes with hundreds of victims slaughtered in a single ceremony.

Although the Spanish eventually conquered all of Mesoamerica, much remains of the original culture. Beautiful artifacts fill museums. Impressive ruins dot the landscape. And millions of descendants of ancient Mesoamericans still live in their ancestral homes, speaking native languages and practicing time-honored traditions. It’s no wonder that Mesoamerica is a must-see destination for travelers with an urge to step into an extraordinary past.

Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed immerses you in this epic story with 48 exhilarating half-hour lectures that cover the full scope of Mesoamerican history and culture. Your guide is Professor Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center and a noted archaeologist, explorer, and teacher, whose exploits include the discovery of a lost Maya city.

The countries from Mexico to Costa Rica include more than a dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites related to the pre-Columbian period, plus scores of other ancient sites that are equally worth a visit. These lectures are the ideal way to plan an itinerary, prepare for a tour, or simply sit back and enjoy a thrilling virtual voyage. You will be surprised at the number of sites to explore—many more than you could possibly see in months of travel.

Experience a Golden Age of Discovery

Among his many distinctions, Dr. Barnhart was a student of the famous Maya scholar Linda Schele, who played a pivotal role in deciphering the Maya script and helped spur a new understanding of this preeminent Mesoamerican civilization. In Maya to Aztec, you hear how the keys to deciphering the Maya hieroglyphs, which had frustrated generations of code breakers, suddenly fell into place at a conference organized by Schele in 1973. Since then, the marvelous world of the Maya has been revealed in far more rich detail, shedding new light on their history, mythology, rituals, monuments, and arts.

These discoveries, plus the exciting revelations of current archaeological work throughout Mesoamerica, make today a golden age of studies in the field and the perfect time to immerse yourself in this entrancing subject.

Maya, Aztec, and More…

The course focuses in depth on two cultures: the Maya, who have been in Mesoamerica for thousands of years, and the Aztecs, who mysteriously appeared late and rose swiftly to power. The Aztecs fell from power just as precipitously; their empire controlled the region for less than a century, until the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s. You learn what these two groups shared and what made them so different. For example, why did the Aztecs use chocolate beans for money yet apparently had gold for the taking, while the Maya had little interest in the metal so coveted by Europeans? And why were the Aztecs so quickly defeated by the conquistadors, while the Maya resisted the invaders for generations? In addition, you will see how the contrasting histories of the Aztecs and Maya continue to have repercussions in modern-day Mexico and Guatemala, helping to explain the complex politics of that part of the world.

Furthermore, ancient Mesoamerica was a crossroads of many different cultures, and you also learn about these major civilizations:

  • Olmec: Famed for colossal stone heads, the Olmecs flourished more than 3,500 years ago and were one of Mesoamerica’s first complex societies. Study their beautiful and inscrutable art for clues about their way of life.
  • Zapotec: The Zapotecs established one of the earliest major cities in Mesoamerica, Monte Alban, located on a strategic mountaintop overlooking the spectacular Valley of Oaxaca. Take a tour of the well-preserved ruins at this fascinating site.
  • Mixtec: In 1932 an archaeologist at Monte Alban discovered a tomb as rich as an Egyptian pharaoh’s. But this was not a Zapotec grave; it belonged to a later people called the Mixtec. Learn about their culture and their powerful ruler called Eight Deer Jaguar Claw.
  • Toltec: Revered by the Aztecs and more recently the purported source of mystical teachings, the Toltecs are one of the great question marks of Mesoamerican history. Investigate what is actually known about this enigmatic culture.
  • Tarascan: A rival power to the Aztecs, the Tarascans have traits that connect them to the Inca in Peru. Discover that they are not the only Mesoamerican civilization with intriguing links to peoples far to the south and north.

Investigate the Controversies

Maya to Aztec is richly illustrated with Professor Barnhart’s own photos taken in the field, along with museum-grade images of artifacts, illustrations recreating ancient cities and temples, maps showing where to find different sites, and graphics that decode Mesoamerican writing and iconography.

Steeped in this subject for his entire professional career, Dr. Barnhart knows the arguments on all sides of the most important controversies, and he often has his own well-thought-out theories to contribute, making this course an exciting glimpse of exploration, theorizing, and discovery in action.

Among the mysteries and controversies you investigate are these:

  • The Maya calendar: The elaborate time-keeping inscriptions of the Maya have sparked many sensational interpretations, such as a purported end of world in 2012. Dr. Barnhart shows that the true meanings involved rebirth, a cyclical view of history, and major turning points in Maya civilization.
  • Human sacrifice: No subject so shocked outside observers, including the ruthless conquistadors, as human sacrifice. The key is to see this ritual in its broader religious context, which included auto-sacrifice—or self-mutilation—practiced by the ruling elite.
  • Ball game: American football has been around for 150 years, but the Mesoamerican ball game has been played for 3,500 years. Explore the debate over the social functions of this risky sport, which used a solid rubber ball weighing as much as nine pounds.
  • Maya collapse: Why would a civilization at the height of power systematically abandon its cities? Dr. Barnhart discusses the leading theories and then looks at evidence that the Maya obsession with cycles of time may have been the decisive factor.
  • Ancient observatory: The massive tower called El Caracol in the Maya city of Chichen Itza is thought to be an ancient astronomical observatory. But how was it used? Are the many celestial alignments connected with it intentional or accidental?

Professor Barnhart also spotlights the momentous encounter that transformed Mesoamerica forever. Near the end of the course, he describes the march of Hernán Cortés and his small army of Spanish troops from Veracruz to the Aztec capital at Tenochtitlan in 1519. There the Aztec ruler, Moctezuma II, welcomed the foreigners with gifts of gold. Heedless of the Aztecs’ vastly superior strength, Cortés waged war and in less than two years defeated the entire Aztec empire. Dr. Barnhart evaluates the conflicting historical accounts of this astonishing conquest, which had a profound impact on the New World and the Old.

One who was affected was the great German artist Albrecht Dürer. In 1520 he visited Brussels and saw an exhibit of Aztec artifacts sent to the Holy Roman Emperor by Cortés. “All the days of my life,” Dürer wrote in his diary, “I have seen nothing that rejoiced my heart so much as these things, for I saw amongst them wonderful works of art, and I marveled at the subtle ingenuity of men of foreign lands.”

With Maya to Aztec, you, too, will marvel at the accomplishments and genius of an exceptional group of civilizations, which were among the greatest the world has ever known.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Maya, Aztecs, and Mesoamerica
    Survey the geography, cultures, and time span covered in these 48 lectures. Dr. Barnhart discusses the organization of the course and key concepts. Then he takes you on a whirlwind tour of important places, civilizations, and events in Mesoamerica. x
  • 2
    Olmec Civilization Emerges
    Begin with the Olmecs at the dawn of Mesoamerican civilization. Flourishing from about 1700 BC to 300 BC, the Olmecs represent one of only six cradles of early civilization in world history. Hear how they were discovered, and investigate three sites where they lived. x
  • 3
    Olmec Art as the Mother Culture
    Delve into Olmec art, searching for clues to who the Olmec were and what preoccupied these builders of Mesoamerica's first great civilization. Explore the mysteries of giant sculpted heads, jaguar carvings, and full-bearded figures depicting men who some think were foreigners from afar. x
  • 4
    Olmec Contemporaries
    Investigate other cultures that thrived in Mesoamerica at the time of the Olmecs, such as the Zapotecs in the Valley of Oaxaca. Probe intriguing archeological evidence, including artifacts similar to those from Olmec culture, which raise the question of who influenced whom. x
  • 5
    Mesoamerican Plants, Cuisine, and Medicine
    Learn about the botany of Mesoamerica and how it benefited not just the people of the region but eventually the entire world. From corn and chocolate to vanilla, chili peppers, rubber trees, and other products, the native vegetation has had a profound impact on global diet and culture. x
  • 6
    Early Highland Maya: Izapa to Kaminaljuyu
    Trace the origin of Maya civilization to a dramatic change in the nature of public monuments. Dr. Barnhart takes you to early Maya highland cities such as Izapa, with its amazing religious carvings, and Kaminaljuyu, which heralded the dawn of the Classic Maya period. x
  • 7
    Preclassic Maya Lowlands: El Mirador
    Travel to the Peten rainforest in northern Guatemala, where hundreds of Maya settlements lie hidden, including some of the oldest Maya cities ever built. Among the spectacular sites, hear about the discovery and excavation of El Mirador, called the cradle of Maya civilization."" x
  • 8
    The Popol Vuh: Creation and Hero Twins
    In 1701 a Spanish priest fluent in Mayan translated a secret copy of the ancient Maya story of creation, the Popol Vuh. The original has long since disappeared, but the translation survives. Hear this magical story in captivating detail. x
  • 9
    The Great City of Teotihuacan
    At its height around 400 AD, Teotihuacan was the most populous city in the western hemisphere. Explore this vibrant metropolis, focusing on its still-extant pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the role they played in the violent ritual life of the Classic Maya period. x
  • 10
    How the Maya Mastered Mathematics
    Study the power of Maya mathematics, which was a positional, base-twenty system that lent itself easily to calculation and the expression of very large numbers. Learn about its use of the zero placeholder, and test your skills solving problems the way the Maya did. x
  • 11
    The World's Most Elaborate Calendar
    Unlock the secrets of the Maya calendar, which was unlike any other in the world, with nested cycles of time keyed to human, seasonal, and astronomical patterns. Look back to their year zero and the special importance of the number 1,195,640. x
  • 12
    Tikal: Aspiring Capital of the Maya World
    Chart the rise and fall of Tikal, one of the great Maya cities until it was mysteriously abandoned around 900 AD. Overgrown by jungle, it sat forgotten for a thousand years. Hear about Tikal's tumultuous history and its dramatic rediscovery. x
  • 13
    Maya Hieroglyphs: Breaking the Code
    Maya hieroglyphs are a beautiful and elaborate writing system, bearing messages that were almost a complete mystery until recent decades. Dr. Barnhart describes the detective work that went into deciphering the script and his own studies with pioneer code-breaker Linda Schele. x
  • 14
    Maya Astronomy and Building Orientations
    The Maya were expert sky observers. Discover that many of their buildings are oriented to view the rising and setting of celestial bodies, and still others are designed to interact with sunlight, creating tricks of light and shadows. Consider what these alignments may have signified. x
  • 15
    The Dresden Codex
    Only four ancient Maya books have survived to modern times. Study the most fascinating of these: the Dresden Codex. Focus on its complex calculations of the motions of Venus and the timing of solar eclipses. Also turn to its pages on divination, which defied understanding until Dr. Barnhart contributed a key insight. x
  • 16
    Palenque: Jewel in the West
    Descend down the secret steps of a Maya pyramid to discover the tomb of Pakal the Great, the most renowned ruler of the city of Palenque. Trace the history of Palenque, which during the 7th century AD excelled in architectural sophistication, hieroglyphic inscriptions, and astronomical knowledge. x
  • 17
    Sacred Geometry in Art and Architecture
    The Maya had no known unit of linear measure, yet their art and architecture reflect a sophisticated understanding of geometry. Investigate the geometric ratios that the Maya used over and over. Discover how these relate to nature and the practices of other ancient civilizations. x
  • 18
    Illuminating Works of Maya Art
    Learn about Maya life through their art, studying such works as the fantastic painted murals at Bonampak and the famous sarcophagus lid on the tomb of Pakal. According to a best-selling book, the latter depicts an ancient astronaut on a rocket ship, but Dr. Barnhart decodes its real meaning. x
  • 19
    Copan: Jungle Dynasty of the East
    Visit Copan, a beautifully preserved city on the edge of the Maya world. This illustrious site has been continuously excavated since the 19th century, and Dr. Barnhart himself did fieldwork helping to unearth tombs of the city's most notable rulers. x
  • 20
    Calakmul: The Mighty Snake Kingdom
    Maya hieroglyphs tell of a mysterious Snake Kingdom, which long eluded archaeologists. We now know that this powerful city was Calakmul, located in the Peten rainforest of southern Mexico. Learn its long history of warfare with its militant neighbors. x
  • 21
    The Mesoamerican Ball Game
    Created 3,500 years ago and still played today, the Mesoamerican ball game was the New World's first organized team sport. More than just a game, it reenacted mythology, symbolized war, and pleased the gods. Investigate where it was played, along with its rules and variations. x
  • 22
    Enigmatic West Mexico and Shaft Tombs
    Survey the cultures that flourished in west Mexico at the time of the Maya. Their distinctive shaft tombs, pottery, metalwork, and other artifacts have intriguing links to South America. Also see how today's Voladores flying" traditional dance originated centuries ago in this region." x
  • 23
    Classic Maya Collapse: Cities Abandoned!
    One of history's unsolved mysteries is why many Maya cities were abandoned in the 9th century AD, bringing an end to the Classic period. Examine theories that trace this collapse to war, drought, environmental damage, or volcanic eruption. Then hear Dr. Barnhart's solution to the puzzle. x
  • 24
    New Cities of the Terminal Classic: Uxmal
    From 800 to 1000 AD, the Maya region went through a transitional phase known as the Terminal Classic. Study the changes that emerged in new Maya cities, which saw innovations in government, religion, art, and architecture. Focus on the remarkable city of Uxmal. x
  • 25
    Monte Alban and Zapotec Rule over Oaxaca
    Journey to Oaxaca to explore Monte Alban, one of the most beautiful ruins in all of Mesoamerica. Chart the city plan, monuments, and art of this hilltop center of Zapotec civilization, which dominated the Valley of Oaxaca for over a thousand years. x
  • 26
    The Mixtec Rise: Gold and Epic Stories
    Tomb 7 at Monte Alban is a New World version of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, containing an extraordinary number of gold artifacts. Learn about the Mixtec culture that produced these treasures along with many other impressive objects, including illustrated codices of their history and mythology. x
  • 27
    The Great Pyramid of Cholula and El Tajin
    More massive than the largest Egyptian pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Cholula was one of the astonishing feats of the Veracruz civilization, which flourished in the modern state of Veracruz during the Terminal Classic period. Focus on two prominent cities of this culture: Cholula and El Tajin. x
  • 28
    Cacaxtla Murals and Xochicalco
    View the fantastic murals at Cacaxtla in central Mexico, arguably the finest in Mesoamerica. Then look at the famous Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Xochicalco, which, like the Cacaxtla murals, represents the influence of the vanished Teotihuacan and classic Maya cultures. x
  • 29
    The Toltecs: Role Models or Myth?
    The Aztecs claimed that their civilization descended from the mighty Toltecs. But were the Toltecs as magnificent as the Aztecs believed? Join the hunt for this elusive empire, which was headquartered at the modest town of Tula and spread influential ideas such as the legend of Quetzalcoatl. x
  • 30
    Chichen Itza: Maya Capital of the Yucatan
    Travel to the best known of all ancient Maya cities: Chichen Itza. Focus on its Toltec-Maya phase, from 1000 to 1200 AD, and the city's striking similarities to Tula. What do these connections imply about the history of Chichen Itza? Dr. Barnhart presents an intriguing theory. x
  • 31
    League of Mayapan:Maya New World Order
    As Chichen Itza declined, a city named Mayapan rose to power. Mayapan deliberately copied Chichen Itza's monumental buildings and experimented with a more representative form of government. Examine the architecture, social structure, and daily life of this new regional capital. x
  • 32
    Mesoamerican Religion
    Delve into Mesoamerican religion, tracing the evolution of gods and religious practices from the Olmecs to the Maya and finally to the Aztecs, who are featured in the next section of the course. Learn the names, roles, and origins of the principal deities. x
  • 33
    Aztec Origins: Arrival and Rise of the Mexica
    How did a vagabond group of wanderers become the most powerful civilization in North America? Survey the history of the Aztecs, looking behind their idealized self-image to discover their likely beginnings and the secret of their political, economic, and military success. x
  • 34
    The Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan
    See the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan through the eyes of a visitor during the height of Aztec power, when the city's quality of life was unrivaled virtually anywhere in the world. Modern Mexico City, which is built atop Tenochtitlan, preserves isolated ruins of this grandeur. x
  • 35
    Life in the Aztec World
    Drawing on contemporary accounts by Spanish soldiers, priests, and literate Aztecs, enter the daily life of a typical Aztec, discovering the culture's social organization, marriage customs, public festivals, and shockingly commonplace rituals of human sacrifice. x
  • 36
    How the Aztecs Expanded Their Empire
    By the time of European contact, the Aztec empire was the most extensive in Mesoamerican history. Study the Aztecs' methodical approach to conquest and the structure of their empire, which was more like Alexander the Great's than imperial Rome's. x
  • 37
    Independent Tarascans: Desert Warriors
    Second only to the Aztecs in the extent of their realm were the neighboring Tarascans. Compare their empire and culture to Aztec civilization, and sift through conflicting clues that point to the origin of the Tarascans, who considered themselves newcomers to Mesoamerica. x
  • 38
    Paquime: Northernmost Mesoamerican City?
    On the frontier between Mesoamerica and the American Southwest stands a mysterious ruin: Paquime, also called Casas Grandes. Was it connected with the Pueblo culture to the north, or with the Aztecs and Tarascans to the south? Dr. Barnhart offers a fascinating hypothesis. x
  • 39
    Illuminating Works of Aztec Art
    Tour some of the masterpieces of Aztec art, including the Calendar Stone and Stone of Tizoc, which were likely platforms for human sacrifices. Then behold the terrifying Statue of Coatlicue, and pore over the Codex Mendoza, which is a beautifully illustrated history of the Aztec nation. x
  • 40
    Tulum: Aztecs at the Ancient Maya Port City
    Archaeologists call the last phase of pre-Columbian culture before the arrival of the Spanish the Late Post-Classic period. Get a snapshot of this waning era by visiting the ruins of Tulum, a Maya seaport that hints at a final Aztec incursion into the region. x
  • 41
    First Contact with Europe in Mesoamerica
    Review the events that brought an improbable expedition led by Christopher Columbus to the New World in search of Japan. Trace Columbus's later contact with Mesoamerica, and follow the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, including Vasco Nunez de Balboa and Hernan Cortes. x
  • 42
    The Siege of Tenochtitlan
    Cortes's defeat of the Aztec empire was one of the greatest military victories in history. Analyze how the enterprising conquistador managed this coup with just a few hundred Spanish troops, aided by native allies and a secret weapon that even he did not know he had: infectious diseases. x
  • 43
    Conquest of the Maya and Landa's Legacy
    Once the Aztecs were defeated, the Spanish turned their eyes to the rest of Mesoamerica. Follow the decades of military campaigns needed to subdue the Maya. This conquest included the wholesale destruction of Maya books and ritual objects by the Franciscan monk Diego de Landa. x
  • 44
    Fall of the Last Maya Kingdom: The Itza
    Study the fortunes of the last independent Maya kingdom: the Itza. Isolated in the Peten rainforest between two Spanish-dominated areas, the Itza fiercely defended their domain for almost two centuries after the initial Spanish contact. Discover the stratagem that finally vanquished them in 1697. x
  • 45
    The Caste Wars of Yucatan
    Trace the resistance of the Maya to foreign domination, culminating in the Caste Wars of Yucatan, which pitted native Maya people against the Mexican army and lasted for over half a century, ending in the early 1900s. Although Mexico prevailed, the resistance continues to this day. x
  • 46
    Echoes of the Past in Mexico
    Explore the many areas where native culture still survives in modern Mexico. Focus on the Zapotec, Huichol, and Nahua peoples (descendants of the Aztecs). Learn that traditions which have survived for thousands of years are now threatened by technologies such as the internet and cable television. x
  • 47
    Maya Survival and Revival
    Despite centuries of assimilation and persecution, Maya culture still thrives. Investigate its survival in Guatemala, where 80 percent of the population is Maya, living largely in traditional ways. Dr. Barnhart describes his own observations from extensive visits to the country. x
  • 48
    Frontiers of Mesoamerican Archaeology
    Explore the current frontiers of Mesoamerican archaeology, looking ahead to the most promising avenues for future research. Many major cities are known but have yet to be excavated, and countless others are waiting to be discovered. Dr. Barnhart closes by discussing the top three projects on his wish list. x

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Your professor

Edwin Barnhart

About Your Professor

Edwin Barnhart, Ph.D.
Maya Exploration Center
Dr. Edwin Barnhart is director of the Maya Exploration Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has over 20 years of experience in North, Central, and South America as an archaeologist, explorer, and instructor. In 1994, Professor Barnhart discovered the ancient city of Maax Na (Spider-Monkey House), a major center of the Classic Maya period in northwestern Belize. In 1998 he was invited by the...
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Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 131.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well taught and comprehensive These lectures are really enjoyable and interesting. Presented well and extremely comprehensive. If anyone has the slightest interest in Meso america these lectures couldn't be more recommended! The instructor having firsthand experience made it all the more fascinating
Date published: 2019-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from informative and well done. Glad I purchased it. Excellent.
Date published: 2019-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative! I bought this course preparing to visit the Mexico City area. I learned a lot about the various pre-Columbian cultures, and was able to appreciate my visits to the museums and ruins much more- some of the guides were not great locally, using laminated cards for descriptions but no real detail. I highly recommend this course if you plan to visit the archaeological sites in Mexico. This makes 2 courses by Dr. Barnhart that I have purchased- this and the South American course- and I am very happy with both.
Date published: 2019-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I have listened to! This is one of the best courses I have listened to. I have taken courses about the Maya before, but scholars have learned so much more in recent years. Dr. Barnhart is on top of everything in this field. I liked this course so much I bought a copy for my parents!
Date published: 2018-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Instructor! We have only just started our series of 48 lectures, but we are very impressed with the instructor. He is knowledgeable without being condescending and has a very good sense of humor. We feel we are learning a great deal from his presentations.
Date published: 2018-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great professor!! This is a fabulous course and the professor is not only interesting to listen to but he presents different theories and their supportive information and then expresses his opinion enabling the learner to draw his own conclusions. We were so interested my teens and I watched 5 lectures in a row. Fabulous!!
Date published: 2018-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two Amazing Civilizations Explained in 24 Hours I purchased this course in the audio download format. I am considering purchasing the DVDs so I can see the examples provided by the lecturer. The information is truly mind boggling. Why are we not taught more about these brilliant people? The lectures on the Popol Vuh, the Mayan Calendar, and both Mayan and Aztec religion were fascinating. Even though I had the ability to pause the lecture when I arrived at my destinations, I found myself sitting in the car and listening to the point I was late for several meetings. Be careful - you will learn something in this course. Be careful - you will feel utter contempt for the Spanish and their aggressively stupid behavior during and after the conquest. Yes, the professor slaughters Spanish names and words however, most people will not know the difference. I appreciated his own thoughts and insight on many of the topics even though I disagree with some of his conclusions. Just face it - these people were more advanced than the Europeans and most of the known world at this time. Buy this course if you plan to travel to Mexico, Belize, Honduras or Guatemala. Your trip will be all the more enjoyable if you do. Even my 9 year old enjoyed some of the lectures.
Date published: 2018-09-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A lot of information on a little-known people. Comprehensive. All I ever wanted to know about the subject, and more.
Date published: 2018-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A revelatory introduction to a suppressed human world, filled with detailed content but inviting far greater immersion.
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What fascinates me, and disturbs me at the same time, is the violence these otherwise incredible empires use to subjugate and oppress their neighbors. It seems to be an intrinsic part of our nature.
Date published: 2018-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive coverage of subject I am sharing this course with five friends. We are getting into our stride with it after the first two discs. I love the astronomical features, the calendar explanations and the number system. It is fun to add and subtract. I have to find the explanation of multiplication and division. The Romans were so out of it in comparison
Date published: 2018-04-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A College Course Explaining Those Mexican Ruins This is a college level course covering all aspects of Mesoamerican culture from pre-history up until today. Just as there were different native American cultures, so too there were many different cultures which migrated around the vast area of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and other areas. Mesoamerican cultures interacted much more than the native cultures in the United States. In order to explain this complexity, the professor does a great job of alternating between regions and time periods. Some reviewers found this frustrating, but there is no way around this. With Dr. Barnhart’s approach, he is able to explain the nuances in the transmission of culture, trade and technology. The viewer gets an appreciation of the growth of a single culture, but then goes backward in time to learn about another culture and then how they interacted. Dr. Barnhart is an expert on many esoteric areas; he can read Mayan writing and understands their complex calendar and geometry. He gives the viewer a flavor for all of this if the viewer is so inclined to learn. Again, some reviewers found this troubling. Perhaps he should say (like some of my professors), “The next topic is for enrichment and it’s not on the test. You can tune me out for 10 minutes.” I got a little lost, but through it all I did get the “flavor” that he was describing. I had already visited the ruins at Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Teothuacan, and Tulum (separate vacations as a complete gringo) so I was motivated to learn this material. I found the use of maps absolutely wonderful. When a new site was mentioned, I zoomed in on Google Maps. The pictures of buildings, stelae, pottery, etc. were perfect (I don’t think course would work on audio for anyone unfamiliar with the material). He explains competing views on some controversial topics, and he clearly admits when he has a position on the matter. I like when he sometimes mentions his own travels throughout the region and some of the research he was involved in. I also liked the way he moved about the room. That’s what they told us to do when I was teaching. It may be a little too much of a good thing, but all Great Courses do this. I found Dr. Barnhart easy to listen to and friendly. If you want a quick intro on the topic, watch a one-hour National Geographic special. If you want a real explanation (and the potential for complexity), watch this Great Course.
Date published: 2018-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brings Central American culture to life This is a remarkably well done course. I've travelled through much of the area that the lectures cover and I've visited several of the sites, but I've never understood the relationships, rise and fall of the various civilizations (Olmec, Aztec, Toltec, Maya, etc.) in this way before. The semi-chronological organization of the lectures works very well to tie cultural, linquistic, and technological accomplishments together. I plan to review several lectures again before I visit additional sites, perhaps through the authors Maya Exploration Center.
Date published: 2018-02-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from First course I have ever returned Having bought nearly 40 courses over 6 years or so, we have enjoyed courses over many disciplines. This was the first we couldn't bear to finish. We persevered for about 20 lectures but they bored us rigid. It was literally a struggle to stay awake. The structure is very confusing, jumping from a chronological approach to thematic and geographic. The videos are mostly of the professor reciting long lists of unfamiliar names - rulers, cities, gods - with a few quick difficult-to-decipher photos. I had been excited to start this course as I had a long interest in these fascinating civilizations but had expected to gain some understanding of who these people were, how they lived, what was important to them but after 20 lectures I was still waiting.
Date published: 2018-02-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mexico tour My husband and I bought this course to prepare for our trip to Mexico to tour many of the famous ruins. We learned a lot. Some of the lectures seemed to drag a little but most were very interesting. There is so much information to be given out in such a short time. That is to be expected when one is looking at so much time of human civilizations in just 48 lectures. We watched the course a second time just to refresh ourselves before our flight. I do recommend this course before any trip to Mexico. We know now there are more areas for us to explore in the future even after this current trip. The only problem is the last 2 disks did not work and would stop or skip. We had replacements sent out asap. They did the same thing so we missed a lot of the last 9 lectures. I do not know what is to be done about it. We know more now than we did before and have a better understanding of the cultures, place and times we are about to visit. Watch, learn, enjoy and then go see the worlds of the Aztec, Maya and more.
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating window into history and culture I listened to this course out of a sense of obligation as I prepared for a trip to Guatemala to study Spanish, and I was surprised to find myself captivated. Part of this was my own ignorance. I didn't even realize the ancient Mayans had a written language and books. Professor Barnhart is clearly fascinated by these cultures, and he gives a terrific tour of their lands, their history, the customs from human sacrifice to ball games. But unlike a few other Great Courses teachers who are PC advocates for their subjects - the professor in the Native American course and one of the professors in a course on Islam come to mind - he's never preachy or condescending. And he includes a lot of interesting information on the discoveries being made today, what we know and still don't know about these cultures.
Date published: 2018-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A long title for an extremely interesting course. I took the course a while back. Found it to be one of the best of the many courses I have taken. I then looked up Dr. Barnhart and went to Mexico to visit several ruins with him. My son and his two boys are now in Guatemala visiting Tulum and I purchased the course on dvd as background for their trip.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating history This is such a fascinating class about the history of western history. It is amazing how much is known about these great civilizations.
Date published: 2017-12-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Professor, but drown us in details I have listened to many great courses lecture series and have never found myself so completely uninterested and confused. The professor is very enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but there are so many similar sounding unpronounceable names and waaay too many lectures and details. I was very interested in the subject, but this course damped my enthusiasm by drowning in details
Date published: 2017-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative I had world history in college, but the courses were admittedly weak on Mesoamerica. This was a very good introduction to the topic and quite informative. The professor was enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I took this course shortly before going to the Field Museum in Chicago. I felt a little smarter when I went through the exhibit on Mesoamerica because the artifacts and displays made more sense with the knowledge gained from this course.
Date published: 2017-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Tons of information My wife and I are Great Courses junkies, having purchased a number of courses on music, religion, and European history and civilization. Earlier this year, we saw two courses listed in the catalog on the Americas (Maya to Aztec, and Lost Worlds of South America) and realized we knew almost nothing about life in the Americas prior to contact with Cortez in the early 16th century. We enjoyed Maya to Aztec course very much, particularly the frequent use of pictures of the various sites, buildings, and art, as well as Dr. Barnhart’s lecture style. We also appreciate the credit he constantly gives to others for their work. Throughout the series, Dr. Barnhart tosses out ideas and questions to be answered that should provide plenty of opportunities for Master’s and Doctoral candidates to work and publish. Apparently, there is still much to learn in Mesoamerica. Lost Worlds of South America is next. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2017-09-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Resercher The Professor is an active field explorer bring his actual experiences and love of the subject to the classroom.
Date published: 2017-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting history of a unique society I have been viewing this program the last couple of weeks. It is well presented and thorough. I look forward to each new segment. It is packed with content. Professor Barnhart shows an encyclopedic knowledge of theMaya and Aztec.
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I am enjoying the course on Ancient Mesoamerica. The lecturer is sometimes a little distracting in his movement back and forth, the information is good. I am learning a great deal. thanks
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great story teller! This is a well-organized course, rich with details that bring the various cultures described to life. Excellent teacher, one of the best I have experienced in the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I had to upgrade my purchase This instructor is dynamic. I originally purchased the audio download, but about halfway through, once the series began Mayan hieroglyph code breaking, I had to get the video, too. The video is great, very good for casting.
Date published: 2017-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Finally Found Time To Learn About Mesoamerica I am a retired technology professional who has always been interested in archaeology and history. Wrote my high school term paper on Howard Carter. Mesoamerica, an area where I lacked knowledge, is no longer a mystery thanks to Dr. Barnhart. I highly recommend this course, and the Professor, and look forward to completing his other on S. America. If I were younger I'd sign up for his classes and go on his field trips !
Date published: 2017-08-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Archeology, Art, Math, Conflict, History Language In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a resident of Mexico, with an abiding interest in Mesoamerican history (especially, but not exclusively pre-Columbian). My wife and I have traveled to many of the sites mentioned by Professor Barnhart, as well as many that did not highlight. All of this likely influences my judgment and ratings. My wife and I watched this course together and were both entranced. While some reviewers have felt that 48 lectures were too many, I would have welcomed another 12. I purchased the course in video and feel very strongly that in order to really understand what is going on, the visuals are imperative. I have a pretty decent knowledge of the geography of Mexico and Guatemala and of where many of the prominent Mayan, Aztec, and Olmec cities are located in present-day Mexico, but even so I found the maps presented during the lectures highlighting the locations, almost essential. So I think many of the criticisms from reviewers who took the audio version reasonable. And aside from the maps, the visuals help in understanding the math in base 20, architecture, the calendar, the Mayan hieroglyphs and the settings of the cities. And absolutely essential during the art discussions where Dr. Barnhart shows some absolutely stunning pieces, painting and murals. Get the video. The course is largely structure along an historical timeline, beginning with the Olmecs, combined with a focus on individual city sites, causing some jumps forward and backward in the overall timeline. Still the dates given (again with useful visuals) help keep everything in order. Other breaks in the historical approach are the occasional lectures devoted to a single topic such the hieroglyphs, the calendar, base 20 mathematics, the ball game and other single topics that are necessary to understand the overall cultures examined. Professor Barnhart also spends a deal of time explain warfare and how and why one city-state rose over others and then subsequently fell. This includes Hernán Cortes and the Spanish contact and their effects on native culture. Professor Barnhart does not shrink from the atrocities either of the conquistadors or the Aztecs (in particular) in his descriptions. In particular I found the inclusion of the last few chapters essential as much of what happened after the contact carried over to the Maya culture today. On a more personal note I was both surprised and pleased to discover that one entire lecture was devoted to the culture and shaft tombs of West Mexico. My wife and I have been to Los Guachimontones (a partially uncovered site with round pyramids, ball court and a shaft tomb about an hour from Guadalajara) several times, usually taking our guests on a day trip, sometimes combined with an overnight in Tequila. This outing has always been a hit, even with visitors who had no prior knowledge of Mesoamerica. Sites like these have none of the grandeur of Uxmal or Chichen Itza, lack the jungle setting of Coba or the scenic, seaside beauty of Tulum, but for us are locally important. So pleased that there was time for their inclusion. Some reviewers have been disappointed that this course did not have enough emphasis on history. That is a valid comment, but for me, the inclusion of the various subjects like math, astronomy, art and architecture essential in understanding the historical aspects of the course. And even if these inclusions were not essential, the lecture on the Dresden Codex (get the video) and the one on the Popol Vuh almost worth the cost of the course. About the only downside for me was the way Professor Barnhart turned and walked at each camera change. I put the blame on TTC for this, as it happens frequently in many courses. One reviewer criticized Dr. Barnhart’s Spanish accent, which I found really very bad. I am sure that he knows how bad it is, just as I know how poor is mine. Perhaps as a balance, Professor Barnhart is quick to point out what is not known, which theories are in conflict with others and what and why he believes about his own ideas. I can’t recommend this course enough. Get the video!
Date published: 2017-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In-depth introduction to a fascinating field! I took Professor Barnhart's course to acquire some degree of preparation for an upcoming two-week trip to Mexico. I'm very glad I did. Professor Barnhart knows his subject inside and out, his enthusiasm for it comes across in the lectures, and he is a leader in the field of Mayan archaeology. He presents not only the history of the Mesoamerican peoples but also their academic achievements, literature, belief systems, social structure, economy, leisure activities, and daily life. I particularly enjoyed the lectures covering mathematics, geometry, astronomy, the Mesoamerican ball game, and the revival and preservation of Mayan culture. I have much more to learn on this subject, and the world has much more to discover.
Date published: 2017-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating! As a member of the Choctaw Nation, I was very interested to learn more of the Mesoamerican natives. This course is a fascinating look at a number of the cultures that flourished in what is now Central America before Europeans discovered this hemisphere. It is mind-boggling to realize how developed cultures were on this side of the world exhibiting advances equal to or superior to great civilizations of the eastern hemisphere. This is excellent material presented by a very capable professor. I highly recommend this course to all with an interest in Central American early culture.
Date published: 2017-06-23
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