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?

  • Learn about the three sites where the Olmec lived.
  • Break the code for of the Maya's hieroglyphs, astronomy, and their infamous calendar.
  • Explore the Toltec empire to determine if they were role models - or simply myths.
  • Follow the Aztec empire as it expanded into a thriving nation.
  • 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 106.
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
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing! In this very, very long series of 48 lectures, Professor Edwin Barnhart endeavours to survey pre-contact civilizations in Mexico and Central America. Sadly, the course is poorly structured, an unexplained jumble between chronological and thematic approaches. Worse, Professor Barnhart tends to bring everything back to his personal experiences and those of his friends and colleagues, lacking in overall view and thus in objectivity. He is irritating in quoting pointless long lists, such as the names of the days of the month in the Maya language. He often lacks in prudence with respect to the statements he makes, insufficiently accounting for the fact that he is dealing with a rapidly evolving field of knowledge. Surprisingly for someone who has presumably spent much time in Mexico, Professor Barnhart’s pronunciation of Spanish words is very poor. He says for instance “San Cristoble” for “San Cristobal”. Yet more surprisingly, especially since he obviously reads out his lectures, he makes frequent mistakes in English, saying for instance: • the “royaled” family; • the clothes he “weared”; • the ruins “is”; • “bookophile”. Overall, this course is not up to par with usual “Great Course” standards and is best avoided.
Date published: 2017-06-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Had its moments but also had its flaws While the course has good historical narrative covering the history and culture of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations from about 1700 BC to the present, the lectures and the course in general seemed drawn out (the highlights of the twists and turns of how the Mayan hieroglyphs were decoded could’ve been summed up vs. taking up an entire lecture). I agree with another reviewer: While the history was interesting and kept me engaged, too many times the lectures veered into the realm of archaeology and geometry. Yes, I would expect some of both when considering this topic but like the course in general, it seemed to go on unnecessarily long. Pluses: • Good historical narrative covering the history and culture of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations from about 1700 BC to the present; Many villages were covered but the main civilizations covered: o Olmec o Zapotec o Mokaya o Mayan o Teotihuacan o West Mexican o Mixtec o Central Mexican o Toltec o Aztec o Tarascan • Highlights were the lectures chronicling the time period of the Spanish contact to the 1800’s (Lectures 41-45) • The professor was easy to understand and spoke clearly (this is always a tremendous plus when spending 24 hours with someone) Minuses: • While the approach of typically dedicating each lecture to a specific city/region was not a bad one, there were times when the professor would just refer to the civilization being covered by the city name and not distinguishing whether the civilization was Mayan • The lectures on mathematics and astronomy were difficult to follow; A lot of significant numbers were thrown around and I thought the professor could’ve done a better job of explaining their significance or how they all tie together; Perhaps the video version would’ve been better but it was difficult to follow the lecture on Mayan mathematics on audio (i.e. adding two numbers) • Lectures and the course in general seemed drawn out • Found myself zoning out through a lot of the lectures I don't think you'll find another course that covers this region or the Mayans and Aztecs in as much depth as this course does (or find a professor who can communicate as well) so if you are interested in finding a "definitive" course for these topics this is the one I would recommend even if it has its flaws.
Date published: 2017-06-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Too Much Geometry The first few lectures of this course were quite interesting. But at a certain point it went from being a History class to being an Archeology/Geometry class. I really don't need 30 minutes about the proportions of this structure or that, or the geometry that went into its design and construction. After several such lectures, I stopped listening.
Date published: 2017-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best Of all the 30+ Great Course which I have had the pleasure of hearing, this course ranks with Prof Gregory's history of the Reformation as far and away the two best. A great speaking voice, entertaining anecdotes, amazing personal touches from hands on experience, and a truly astonishing breadth of knowledge, from obscure Mayanism to the details of some of the crazy lives of the early Spanish invaders. One small caveat- I listen to these courses in the car so can not use the video, but I would strongly recommend video format if you can. Geography, often obscure, is crucial, and it would be very useful to follow the audio with visuals of many of the artifacts, such as the different styles of Olmec giant heads. The definition of a Great Course.
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on Mezo-America!! I have greatly enjoyed this course. Many years ago I learned much about the amazing civilizations in Mezo-America. But much more has been found in the intervening years. Dr. Barnhart is a very informed and engaging lecturer, and clearly loves his subject. I highly recommend this.
Date published: 2017-05-23
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Basically an audio course on video. I got the video download, but most, nearly all, of the lectures were audio with little illustrations. What illustrations there were are of poor quality making it difficult for the viewer to pick out the icon or symbols being discussed.
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Class! The subject matter was absolutely fascinating, and was brought alive by a very engaging expert. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Encyclopedic The general level of Great Course offerings is very high, in fact, way better than most actual college courses I've taken for credit. This course is exceptional, even as compared to that standard. It's obvious that Prof. Barnhart is not just delivering a lecture series that he has learned, but is conveying an enthusiasm and knowledge base of one who has spent his entire life as a research archeologist in this area. He seems to be fascinated by this material and that attitude shows clearly in these lectures. This course was an eye opener into the civilizations which existed for millennia in the hemisphere into which I was born, but never knew much about. Excellent!
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Uncovering the Facts I bought this program to enhance my understanding of Mesoamerican civilizations. I have not been disappointed. The presentation of the material was well organized with great supporting graphics (pictures, maps, etc.). The program followed a progression that was very helpful in helping me to recall material that I had studied years ago. All in all this was a very good program for understanding the Mesoamerican civilizations.
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb At the outset I will say that this is a superb course. Some viewers seem to expect to see a video program like the public television pledge drives. This ain't that. It is, on the other hand, a set of in depth, knowledgable, insightful lectures, rich in detail and information, presented by someone with great experience and thoughtful study of his subject. Mezoamerica is a subject vast in time, culture and geography. For those who thought it was to long I suggest that you go buy a tourist guide book to Mexico. (The course description tells you that it is 48 lectures - that means it is long.) For everyone else who appreciates the complexity of the many cultures, the spectacular level of art and architecture of these societies, and the extraordinary level of intellectual achievements of these early Americans (accomplishments that rival anything in Europe) this course will serve as a comprehensive and thorough introduction to their history. If you are going to tour the ruins of the Mesoamericans this course will surely increase your enjoyment tenfold. Congratulations to Dr Barnhart for this excellent course.
Date published: 2017-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from You experience the passion of the presenter. This series covers enormous amount of material that will be worth going over repeatedly. The organization is very appropriate with focus on specific time intervals, specific geographic locations, and specific ethnic groups. You must be very attentive to names, locations, as well as various alternative names and locations. The presenter does a good job helping keep everything coherent, and provides nice summaries. Well worth the time and is money well spent!
Date published: 2017-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Journey to the jungles of Mesoamerica This is a course I have been waiting for for a long time. This exhaustive course survey's the history of the two great Mesoamerican civilizations, the Maya and the Aztec. In addition to their political and military histories, Dr. Barnhart examines the social, economic, and religious aspects of the Mayans and Aztecs. Sandwiched between them are lectures on the people not nearly as well known but deserve recognition. The Olmec, the Toltec, and the Zapotec were all societies existing before or during the Maya and Aztec hegemonies. I have visited several Mayan ruins in Mexico, including Chichen Itza and Tulum. The lectures on those respective cities gave me a greater appreciation for these ancient cities and a desire to see them again. Maya to Aztec was worth the wait.
Date published: 2017-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course Ed Barnhart is extremely knowledgeable about the Mayan culture. He keeps my attention. He makes the subject fun. I like how he proposes theories about the Mayan due to his knowledge of the subject.
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Survey This is a superb survey of pre-Columbian Mezoamerica. It covers a 3000 year period of Southern Mexico and Central American civilizations leading up to the Conquest. If you are not already a specialist in this area there are many new things to learn from these lectures. Edwin Barnhart is a wonderful and engaging lecturer and fits in well with the Great Courses team. Highly recommended. His Companion lecture course "Lost Worlds of South America" is also highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed I was listening to the audio version of this course while driving across the US by car. It was an excellent presentation and very informative. I really enjoyed it. I am normally not an auditory learner, but the presentation was still done well enough to hold my interest. The exception was the portion on the mathematics and astronomy, where I really could have benefitted by the video, it was a very informative. course,,with a lot of new information for me. Since I am much more a visual learner, I have now purchased the DVD version to review the sections on mathematics and astronomy..
Date published: 2016-10-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A struggle to complete Pros: - Lots of information imparted about Mesoamerica. I learned a good bit. Cons: - Lecturer has trouble reading the teleprompter. I thought he might improve over the 48 lectures, but that did not happen. Therefore lectures did not flow smoothly. - Also constant marching back and forth to respond to camera switches was distracting and annoying. - Course suffers from being video and audio. There are lots of visuals in the course but the lecturer could not describe them fully since it is recorded as audio as well. Maya and Aztec artworks are not obvious to look at. The lecturer would refer to a snake or jaguar in the visual but I could not see it since it was either not highlighted or described fully by the lecturer. I guess if you really love the Maya and Aztec world, you would enjoy this course. As for me, it was tedious and a struggle to get through all the lectures.
Date published: 2016-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed An excellent course with outstanding presentations by the professor aided by excellent photos of the areas being discussed. I really enjoyed this comprehensive overview of the Maya, Aztecs and other ancient cultures of the region. I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in the history of Ancient Mesoamerica
Date published: 2016-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and touching I loved this prof's earlier TC course on South America, and this course on Mesoamerica is also excellent. It's long and detailed, almost encyclopedic, but always interesting. Prof. Barnhart tells the enthralling story of the development of cultures and civilizations throughout Mesoamerica, and continually surprised me with how much information we have learned from excavations and other discoveries in just the last 10 or 15 years. He's also an active archaeologist, and many lectures have interesting vignettes about his personal experiences in the field. He loves the work and beautifully tells the story of the Olmec, the Maya, the Aztecs, and many more cultures. It's an excellent course.
Date published: 2016-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation with visual spectacles I thoroughly enjoyed Edwin Barnhart's two courses on South America and Central America. This course on Central America was both exhilarating and sad. The details of the long history of the people's that moved in an around the lands of the Yukatan and ancient Mexico (including Southwest U.S.A.) was an intense journey through the courses. That was worth getting this course. I was sad about these people's suffering during the Spanish conquest. Overall, both courses are professionally presented by Archeologist Edwin Barnhart. Yes, he moves around during these courses, but, what valuable facts he gives to his lectures!
Date published: 2016-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Mesoamerican History A wonderfully entertaining and informative lecture series. Dr. Barnhardt presents a fully encompassing review to help one understand the evolution, the rise and fall and rise again of current Mesoamerica. Thank you for your passion and concern for these nearly forgotten people. The pinnacle s that they were able to achieve and the damage inflicted upon them by the European invaders causes great pause. A very well balanced lecture series...highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oustanding, and it should be available in Spanish! I loved this course! It was informative, sympathetic, thorough and so much fun! it was a perfect combination of breadth and interesting details. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on the fact that the Maya and the Aztec and all the other peoples of Mesoamerica are still with us, and the living people can shed much useful light on the lives of their ancestors. I have over the years read great books by Michael Coe and Linda Schele, but Professor Barnhart's well-organized, up-to-date outline, stretching over thousands of years, put much of my former reading into a wonderful context. This series should be available in Spanish so that it can be enjoyed by the current people of Mesoamerica, including those who do not speak English!
Date published: 2016-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rich in pictures and easy-going interesting style This course really made me want to know more about the development of the Maya and the whole Aztec culture in the area mostly in and south of Mexico City, so far. Nice coverage of their mathematics and calendar without overwhelming the listener. The pictures are really fantastic--the scenery and the artifacts. Challenges the imagination. Definitely recommend this one.
Date published: 2016-06-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Comments Towards the end of the first disc, both audio and video were blurred and unintelligible. Thereafter till the end of the 4th disc, the presentations were clear and informative. However, the subjects covered were beyond my comprehension, regarding mathematics, design (geometry) and similar topics. So I'm still looking forward to more interesting subjects. The clothing of the professor could be improved. His appearance at times is disturbing, especially walking back and forth on the same carpet. Overall, I am finding the photos and narration interesting.
Date published: 2016-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation of Forgotten Civilization I'm from the USA and they don't introduce us much into Mesoamerican culture during schooling. They focused mainly on ancient Egyptian myths and cultural practices. I had known so little about all this history that when I traveled to Mexico City I didn't even realize there was pyramids there until I saw them on a hotel brochure. Anyways, I thought he gave a great lecture on the series. A few other courses I have on ancient civilizations have been ok, but this one really stood out. Not only does he have a phD, but he's visited a lot of these sites and studied them there. He even introduces you to hieroglyphs and their number and writing system. The great thing about Mesoamerican cultures is that they are still finding a lot of artifacts related to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations. While most things have been translated only about 80-90% of the characters are fully translated so it will be interesting to see when they fully are able to translate every word. This process has taken over 100 years so hopefully it will all be complete within the next decade. I also have the course that describes the civilizations in South America, but have mainly watched this one about the Mayans which lasted for over 1,000 years. I'm about 25% through so can't wait for the rest. Look forward to hearing more about the Popol Vuh, ancient capital cities, how it collapsed, contact with the Spanish, and plenty of unknown facts about the culture. I even saw him on Ancient Aliens so he's jumped into pop-culture. I just hope he doesn't agree with Tsoulakis that extraterrestrials contacted the Mayans thousands of years ago.
Date published: 2016-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A fine, learning experience Professor Barnhart's appearance takes some getting used to, and he speaks in a dead-pan manner. But he speaks clearly and has plenty to say and with authority (he is actively involved in the relevant archeology). The course is comprehensive on Mesoamerica and is long, but worth it. It has filled in a void in my knowledge in a very satisfying manner. You will learn a lot.
Date published: 2016-05-16
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