Origin of Civilization

Course No. 3130
Professor Scott MacEachern, Ph.D.
Bowdoin College
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Course No. 3130
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Consider the initial appearance - and characteristics of - of states in human history.
  • numbers Unpack the mysteries of the so-called Palette of Narmer, which provides insight into Egypt's unification.
  • numbers Examine the development of ancient Chinese writing systems and their impact on society.
  • numbers Explore the civilizations of Mesoamerica, with a focus on the domestication of corn and the development of communities.
  • numbers Explore the Norte Chico area of Peru, including Caral's pyramids and plazas.

Course Overview

Every single day of your life is spent within a civilization—an elaborate system composed of governing bodies, detailed laws, dense urban centers, elaborate trade networks, visual and written cultures, class structures, militaries, and more.

And yet the experience of living inside a civilization has become so interwoven with our lives that it's easy to take for granted just how profound and recent the concept is. Consider that human beings have walked the earth for more than 150,000 years, but it was only 10,000 years ago that our distant ancestors began establishing and living within larger and more complex communities.

Our world is forever indebted to a host of early states that paved the way for our current ways of life, including those of the Sumerians, the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese, and the Maya. Without the critical strides they made in areas of government, law, trade, social hierarchies, culture, and more, human civilization as we know it today would not even exist.

  • How did these first states come into being?
  • What defines a state? A civilization?
  • How were the world's ancient states similar to each other? How did they differ?

Answers to these and other dramatic questions form the core of The Origin of Civilization, a grand 48-lecture course that reveals the stories of how human beings around the world transitioned from small farming communities to the impressive cultural and political systems that would forever alter the course of history. Taking a gripping archaeological and historical approach to these formative states and civilizations, archaeologist and Professor Scott MacEachern of Bowdoin College completes your understanding of the history of human civilization—by exploring it at its earliest stages.

Unlike traditional survey courses of ancient civilizations, which tend to focus only on the glorious achievements of these cultures, The Origin of Civilization brings you those first all-important steps that the world's first civilizations would take on the long and arduous road to glory. It's only by learning about the birth of these complex societies that you'll be able to better understand—and appreciate—the lasting contributions they made to the cultural record.

A Comparative Point of View

Contrary to popular belief, state formation didn't happen in one area and then spread outward. Instead, the emergence of states and regional civilizations occurred throughout the ancient world, from the fertile valleys of the Near East and the savannahs of Africa to the Pacific coast of South America and the plains of China.

To tackle this diversity of early civilizations, Professor MacEachern's lectures incorporate perhaps the most important element of any archaeological study of diverse states and civilizations: a comparative outlook. This all-encompassing perspective—which explores ancient cultures side by side instead of in a vacuum—allows you to better grasp the different (and similar) trajectories through which the first states formed around the world.

"We simply will not be able to assemble a complete and convincing account of ancient civilizations if we don't understand how they developed through time in different environments and circumstances," notes Professor MacEachern. "We must have that comparative point of view."

What caused these new forms of cultural and political complexity to emerge in certain places and not others? How are the processes of state formation the same? How are they different? It is only with the comparative approach of The Origin of Civilization that you can truly begin to answer these and other profound questions about this transformative era in human history.

Explore Fascinating Regions ...

After a series of introductory lectures that draw you into the world of archaeologists and the issues and challenges of their field, you embark on a globe-trotting, time-traveling adventure in which you investigate the earliest examples of state formation. Here is where you plunge into the heart of this captivating new course.

You approach the growth and development of civilization in each fascinating region from a multitude of political, social, cultural, and spiritual perspectives. Covering the most vital regions in the earliest development of human societies, The Origin of Civilization takes you to places such as

  • Mesopotamia, where you explore the ways that agriculture laid the foundation for groundbreaking experiments in social and political development throughout the Near East in places like Uruk and Sumer;
  • the eastern Mediterranean, where you discover how expanding maritime trade during the Bronze Age increasingly knit the different societies of these islands into an integrated web of political, ideological, and economic relationships;
  • Asia, where you survey the evolution of China from early farming communities to literate states and dynasties and explore the ancient states of Southeast Asia, which developed distinct ideologies from competing Chinese and Indian influences;
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, where you join Professor MacEachern on a journey through the early communities and states of the Inland Niger Delta, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Zimbabwe Plateau—areas essential to the story of human civilization; and
  • Mesoamerica, where you comb through the indigenous states in and around what are now Mexico, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and witness the full flowering of Olmec and Maya civilization.

In these and other cases, your explorations bring you up close and personal with a host of intriguing topics central to the study of the world's earliest states. These include issues of territoriality, cycles of rise and collapse, the development of writing systems, questions of archaeological interpretation, and much more.

... and Intriguing Archaeological Sites

With its rich and detailed archaeological approach, The Origin of Civilization also offers you an engaging look at what archaeologists have learned from some of the world's oldest and most intriguing sites. You'll see how these locations provide us with intimate windows into how ancient states developed and how everyday men and women lived within them.

Among the familiar—and perhaps unfamiliar—sites you explore alongside Professor MacEachern and some of history's most important archaeologists are these:

  • The pyramids at Giza, the most striking physical manifestations of the power that ruling pharaohs held over dynastic Egypt
  • Eridu, a settlement near the mouth of the Persian Gulf whose temples and housing reflect the presence of social hierarchy and power
  • Knossos, whose grand palatial complexes have reshaped our understanding of political relationships between different ancient communities on the island of Crete
  • Erlitou, a 900-acre site that was China's first true urban center and closely associated with the region's semilegendary Xia dynasty
  • Great Zimbabwe, the only archaeological site in the world to have a country named after it, and one that helps explain the origins of territorial states in southern Africa
  • Teotihuacán, whose planned avenues and ceremonial centers imply a powerful central governing structure at the heart of this Mesoamerican capital

An Unforgettable Story, an Unforgettable Course

With more than 20 years spent as an archaeologist investigating sites in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Canada, and the United States, Professor MacEachern is the perfect guide for this thrilling exploration of what archaeology reveals about the world's first civilizations. His lectures, always rich with archaeological detail, will leave you awestruck at the diverse ways that ancient people crafted and supported complex systems; systems whose broad strokes remain with us even today.

And now you can finally grasp the full scope of this important subject in The Origin of Civilization, your in-depth look at the grand story of how humans laid the foundations for who we are today in the world. It's an unforgettable story that involves looking at the past through a broad lens, rescuing from near-oblivion the physical remnants of early human history, and rediscovering stories and cultures you only thought you knew.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Ancient States and Civilizations
    In this introductory lecture, Professor MacEachern lays the groundwork for your detailed exploration of ways and reasons that politically and socially complex civilizations emerged almost 5,000 years ago. x
  • 2
    The History of Archaeological Research
    Discover why archaeology is the best field with which to examine the epic nature of the history of civilizations. As you glean the brief history of archaeology, you learn how lasting archaeological work gets done through the combination of original minds and detailed knowledge about prehistory. x
  • 3
    Studying the Origins of States
    Investigate how modern archaeologists are restoring balance to their field by studying what ancient relics reveal about the lives of common people, not just the elite. Also, Professor MacEachern demonstrates how archaeologists work in the field with a recounting of his ongoing fieldwork in Cameroon. x
  • 4
    Archaeological Interpretation—Çatalhöyük
    Turn your attention from issues of archaeological interpretation to a concrete example of some of the challenges archaeologists face in their work, illustrated by Çatalhöyük in modern Turkey. This Neolithic agricultural site, dating back to 7400 B.C., illustrates how families lived in a settlement with little communal activity. x
  • 5
    Stepping Stones to Civilization
    Explore the four stages of political and social organization developed by American anthropologists in the 1960s and 1970s: the band, the tribe, the chiefdom, and the state. Also, explore some of the complexities behind identifying these stages with a look at the precolonial state of Wandala in central Africa. x
  • 6
    Trajectories of Cultural Development
    Examine the details of some evolutionary schemes of cultural development that were popular and influential in the 19th and 20th centuries. While they may not explain the growth of states and civilizations everywhere, these schemes are nevertheless extremely productive ways to think about issues of civilization. x
  • 7
    When Is a State a State?
    In this lecture, consider the debates in archaeology about how and when we can detect the initial appearance of states in the archaeological record—and what their characteristics may be. Also, debunk some common myths about what the archetypal ancient state looked like. x
  • 8
    A Complex Neolithic—Halafian and Samarran
    Focus now on what specific archaeological cases reveal about the origin of human civilizations. Start with this look at three farming communities that flourished in Mesopotamia between 6250 and 5000 B.C.: the Hassunan, Halafian, and Samarran traditions. x
  • 9
    Hierarchy and Urbanism—'Ubaid Mesopotamia
    Turn south and explore the 'Ubaid tradition of southern Mesopotamia, with a focus on the 'Ubaid peoples' rapid development into a classic settlement hierarchy. What brought this about? Was it simply a population increase? Did it require increased levels of production and an expanding labor force? Find out possible answers here. x
  • 10
    The Uruk World System
    Study the era that succeeds the 'Ubaid period in Mesopotamia, called the Uruk period. Dating from about 4000 to 3000 B.C., these transformative centuries led to irrigation canal systems, long-distance trade, larger walled communities, complex recording systems, and the separation of rural and urban life. x
  • 11
    Sumer and Afterward
    The Early Dynastic period, which spanned from roughly 2900 to 2400 B.C., is best associated with the Sumerians. Here, explore Sumerian city-states and their role in the emergence of secular rule, increased militarization and fortifications, hyperurbanism (the massive influx of people from rural areas to cities), and much more. x
  • 12
    Civilization and Pastoralism in Mesopotamia
    Investigate the pastoralist, nomadic population of the Amorites, who roamed the boundaries of Mesopotamian city-states. Although difficult to study from an archaeological view, societies like theirs were nevertheless important in shaping cultural and political developments throughout much of the Old World. x
  • 13
    The Development of Writing in Mesopotamia
    The invention of writing; it's the most epochal moment in the history of civilization and made possible economic, social, and political systems that had before seemed unimaginable. So how did writing begin? Did it evolve from more ancient recording systems? Or was it a unique invention with no real precursor? x
  • 14
    The Gift of the Nile
    Begin your look at the development of classical Egyptian civilization with this focus on the dramatic importance of the Nile River in supporting small farming communities. These communities would set the stage for the Predynastic period that would emerge between 4000 and 3000 B.C. x
  • 15
    The Egyptian Predynastic Period
    Venture into the heart of the Predynastic Egyptian world, a period of quite radical change for Nile Valley societies. It was this era that saw steadily increasing population densities, larger settlements along the Nile, the rise of copper as a prestigious material, and political competition among the expanding chiefdoms. x
  • 16
    The Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt
    Unpack the mysteries of the so-called Palette of Narmer, a carved stone tablet that has provided archaeologists with insight into the unification of the upper and lower kingdoms of ancient Egypt. This momentous event, which occurred around 3100 B.C., resulted in the creation of an Egyptian territorial state. x
  • 17
    Divinity and Display in Dynastic Egypt
    The center of dynastic Egypt was undoubtedly the pharaoh. Learn how the unification of Egypt gave rise to an ideology of rule that linked the social and spiritual health of the Nile valley and its inhabitants with these fascinating rulers. x
  • 18
    Why So Different? Mesopotamia and the Nile
    One of the characteristics of archaeology as a science is its comparative approach. With this in mind, delve into the differences between the simultaneous growth of Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilization, and discover the factors behind the development of civilizations that often led to totally dissimilar results. x
  • 19
    Borders and Territories of Ancient States
    Rethink your assumptions on how ancient states functioned and controlled their territories. Unlike our conception of modern states (with neat borders and clearly defined territories), the earliest states were often composed of concentric "zones" of influence centered on their capitals. x
  • 20
    The Levantine Copper and Early Bronze Ages
    Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia are not the only ways to think about the origins of civilization. Case in point: the Levant (now the area in and around Israel). Learn about the agricultural practices of the Ghassulian communities, how the Bronze Age began to sweep the region in 3500 B.C., and more. x
  • 21
    Hierarchy and Society in the Aegean
    Expand your sense of ancient states with the first in a series of lectures on those that sprouted on islands along the eastern Mediterranean. Also, focus on what the ruins of administrative centers and tombs reveal about increases in social hierarchy and political centralization in this region. x
  • 22
    Early Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations
    Examine the remarkable development of both Mycenaean civilization and the political and cultural life that flourished on Crete between 2100 and 1450 B.C.—a time known as the Palatial period. Then, look closer at three different writing systems from this era: Cretan hieroglyphics, Linear A script, and symbols written on the mysterious Phaistos Disc. x
  • 23
    Palace and Countryside on Crete
    Elaborate palaces were the most striking archaeological features of Minoan civilization. Here, learn about the various roles these palaces played—as administrative, religious, and storage centers—and how excavations at palaces like Knossos help illuminate our understanding of life in the ancient eastern Mediterranean. x
  • 24
    How Things Fall Apart—The Greek Dark Ages
    Around 1500 B.C., a wave of destruction swept through the palace system of Crete and resulted in a takeover by overlords from mainland Greece. What was responsible for the fall of Minoan and Mycenaean civilization? Was it the result of foreign invasion? Natural disasters? Or something else entirely? x
  • 25
    First Farmers in the Indus Valley
    Move away from the Near East and over to the Indus Valley, the region that is now modern India and Pakistan. This lecture is your introduction to the Harappan civilization, a sophisticated but unfamiliar urban culture as important to the development of human civilizations as the ancient Egyptians and Minoans. x
  • 26
    Cities along the Indus
    Harappa. Mohenjo-daro. Dholavira. Discover how the ruins of these and other sites reveal intriguing aspects of life during the mature period of civilization in the Indus Valley, including its preoccupation with water management, its lack of great social and economic differences, and its complex symbolic script. x
  • 27
    Seeing What We Expect—Power and Display
    Harappan civilization—which occupied a region almost three times the size of Mesopotamia—consisted of a diversity of urban centers; so many that it was impossible to be ruled as a single territorial state. So how were these cities, towns, and settlements ruled? Investigate possible answers to this important question. x
  • 28
    Sedentism and Agriculture in Early China
    Shift your attention further east and explore the development of cities and states in central China. Start with a look at the initial development of agriculture in a succession of two farming cultures: the Yangshao (which primarily grew foxtail millet) and the Longshan (which primarily grew rice). x
  • 29
    State Formation in Ancient China
    Chart the evolution of ancient Chinese states from the end of the Longshan culture to the semilegendary Xia dynasty to the well-known Shang dynasty. In each case, the details about these periods are revealed through findings at archaeological sites, including a massive urban center, a capital city, and a burial complex. x
  • 30
    Origins of the Chinese Writing System
    Focus here on the development of Chinese writing systems; specifically, ancient characters written on oracle bones excavated from the last capital of the Shang dynasty. Information provided by these inscriptions has given archaeologists invaluable clues into the structure of the Shang court, the nature of its divination rituals, and more. x
  • 31
    From Human Sacrifice to the Tao of Politics
    In the mid-11th century B.C., the Shang dynasty was overcome by the Zhou dynasty, which would thrive for almost 800 years. Using both the historical record and archaeological resources, examine how this transition took place and learn how the Zhou period continued the development of ancient Chinese civilization. x
  • 32
    Spread of States in Mainland Southeast Asia
    How do states develop in areas where they're subject to contact with existing states? What balance, if any, can we see between indigenous cultural dynamics and external influences? Find out in this lecture on Vietnam, Cambodia, and other areas of Southeast Asia where state formation fused Chinese and Indian culture and ideology. x
  • 33
    Axumite Civilization in Ethiopia
    Professor MacEachern takes you to the Ethiopian plateau in the first of four lectures highlighting state formation in ancient Africa—a subject often ignored in surveys of the origins of civilizations. Here, focus on the development of the Axumite state: its extensive trade networks, its effective use of coinage, and more. x
  • 34
    Inland Niger Delta—Hierarchy and Heterarchy
    The Inland Niger Delta (part of Mali in West Africa) is an extraordinary area in the development of agriculture, trade, and more. Find out why with this look at important Inland Niger Delta sites such as Jenné-jeno—an important urban center that housed more than 25,000 people at its height. x
  • 35
    Lake Chad Basin—Settlement and Complexity
    Professor MacEachern guides you through the ruins of settlements in the Lake Chad Basin—the region of Africa where he does most of his research. Recent work in the area, you discover, has revealed that the population densities and sociocultural systems here were much more complex than archaeologists once thought. x
  • 36
    Great Zimbabwe and Its Successors
    Few archaeological sites have been subjected to the degree of abuse and misrepresentation sustained by Great Zimbabwe in southeastern Africa. Nevertheless, this lecture unpacks the intriguing history of this urban center and the insights it can provide into the development of the elite. x
  • 37
    Sedentism and Agriculture in Mesoamerica
    Travel now to the New World and explore the rise of civilizations in Mesoamerica and South America. Here, focus on the domestication of corn, the great cereal crop of the New World, and the sedentary farming communities that arose in late 3rd-millennium B.C. Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. x
  • 38
    The Olmec of Lowland Mexico
    Found along the Gulf Coast of Mexico between about 1300 and 300 B.C., the Olmecs were the most spectacular manifestation of social hierarchy in early Mesoamerica. Investigate the sophistication and inventiveness of this civilization through its ideologies, its ceremonies, and its architecture (including the famed colossal Olmec heads). x
  • 39
    Teotihuacán—The First American City
    At its height, between A.D. 150 and 400, Teotihuacán was one of the largest cities in the world. Walk the streets of this great Mesoamerican city, explore the tombs and pyramids lining the Avenue of the Dead, and uncover the reasons why this city rose—and why it eventually fell. x
  • 40
    Beginnings of States in Lowland Mesoamerica
    A counterpoint to contemporary Teotihuacán is the development of states and civilization among Maya populations in what is now modern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Learn what three spectacular archaeological sites in this region reveal about early Maya farming communities. x
  • 41
    The Great Maya City-States
    Between A.D. 250 and 800, the geographical spread of Maya urbanism and political complexity reached its peak, epitomized by a series of Maya city-states. What were these diverse city-states like? Find out by exploring the history and characteristics of two unique sites: Tikal and Palenque. x
  • 42
    Epigraphy—Changing Views of the Maya
    Transformations in archaeological views of the Maya over the last few decades are the result of advancements in understanding Maya script. This lecture focuses on the development of Maya writing systems and how inscriptions on stone monuments have clarified our understanding of this civilization's political history. x
  • 43
    Was There a Maya Collapse?
    The Maya collapse, which occurred at the start of the 8th century A.D., is often conceived of as an event equivalent to the fall of ancient Rome. Here, delve into the possible causes of this decline, which signaled the end of this particular form of Mesoamerican urbanism. x
  • 44
    Adaptations in Pacific South America
    Move now to the last great cultural region in this course: the Pacific coast of South America. In this lecture, discover the role played by different resources—including fish, shellfish, cotton, and corn—in establishing various kinds of economies in ancient regions around Peru and Chile. x
  • 45
    Pyramids and Precocity in Coastal Peru
    Travel through the Norte Chico area of Peru and investigate some of its ritual and settlement sites. Your particular focus is Caral—an amazing 160-acre site whose pyramids, mounds, and residential plazas reflect larger cultural trends that flourished in 3rd millennium B.C. Peru. x
  • 46
    Andean Civilization—Chav'n to Chimú
    The late 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. were a period of astounding economic and cultural change along the Pacific coast of Peru. Professor MacEachern examines the iconography and artwork found at Chav'n de Huántar, then guides you through a series of states, including Tiwanaku, Wari, and Chimú. x
  • 47
    The Florescence of the Inka Empire
    The Inka Empire was the culmination of state development in Pacific South America. Survey the various political, cultural, and religious factors responsible for the rise, expansion, and fall of this famed empire. x
  • 48
    Ancient States—Unity and Diversity?
    In this final lecture, consider the many themes and insights found during this comparative approach to the origin of civilizations and states. What conclusions can archaeologists come to about the development of states throughout the world? What additional questions and issues need to be addressed? x

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Your professor

Scott MacEachern

About Your Professor

Scott MacEachern, Ph.D.
Bowdoin College
Dr. Scott MacEachern is Professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. He earned his B.A. with Honours in Anthropology from the University of Prince Edward Island and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Calgary. Professor MacEachern is also an Adjunct Professor of Archaeology at the University of Calgary and has been a Visiting Researcher at UniversitÈ Laval in QuÈbec. An...
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Origin of Civilization is rated 3.4 out of 5 by 56.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Origin, not History of Civilization I purchased this course without spending much time reading the reviews or even the course overview in much detail. As I have an interest in history and the course was on a deep discount, I just plunged in. Along with a few other reviewers, I was (mildly) surprised at the approach taken by Professor MacEachern, as I expected a bit more of an historical approach. The, “this King conquered these peoples and then this temple was built” approach. But Dr. MacEachern, does not (as he mentions) the “Great Man” approach, or even very much of the historical approach, but as a practicing anthropologist, is interested in how societies and cultures change and develop. This means that we get quite a bit of anthropological theory both past and current. His approach (disliked by quite a few reviewers) is to spend the first several lectures making sure that his audience has a foundation for what is to come. Pretty much the standard academic approach of defining objectives and terms, setting up the course direction, explaining anthropology and really zeroing in on what he considers the difference between “States” and other cultural organizations. The course covers several different early cultures, beginning with one in Turkey (with which I was unfamiliar) that did not develop into a State. Before plunging into a few of the usual early civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Indus Valley, the course uses a few lectures in early Neolithic times and how that moves forward, all from an anthropological perspective. Professor MacEachern does not name many Kings, conquerors or Pharaohs, but spends his time on what kind of crops are grown, the development and types of irrigation. And why these kinds of things result in the movement to States and civilization. Then the course moves to the examination of specific cultures and how they grew and why. After the usual near-East suspects, a treat for me was the discussion of the Minoan civilization, about which I knew little other than from mythology. Similarly the lectures on Africa filled gaps in my knowledge. For me, the four lectures on China and the one on SE Asia could have been expanded. The section on Mesoamerica was well done and as a comment to those reviewers who thought that he missed the Aztecs. That civilization did not evolve but rather supplemented already existing civilizations, which were covered in the course. Finally the section on the development of civilization in the Pacific coast of South America was well done and here I learned quite a bit during the lectures devoted to the pre-Inca period, especially on the diet (who knew about the problems with a marine only diet?) On the downside, I must agree with many other reviewers on the deficiencies with Professor MacEachen’s delivery. I was not bothered by the speed of his delivery or his occasional pause for emphasis. But too many times a pause or hesitation happened for no stylistic reason. I am not sure that this course will appeal to those who want a history of the aforementioned cultures, but then again, “who among us did not want at some time to be an anthropologist?” For those who did, this is a very fine course.
Date published: 2017-07-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst course ever I have 'read' The Great Course on numerous topics for many years and I consider this the worst course ever. The Professor's speech was halting and it significantly distracted from the topic. The information was obscure, rambling, disjointed and actually contained NO information. I absolutely could not get through it.
Date published: 2017-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting I really enjoyed this course. Other reviewers have complained about the professor's pauses but they didn't bother me. Then again, others LOVE Kenneth Harl and I just can't stand his voice and over use of "um." Give this course a shot if you're really interested in the subject.
Date published: 2017-01-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Bit of a Slog With 48 lectures, this course seems almost a way of life. Yet, the scope and comprehensiveness of the lectures make it worth the time. Contributing to the length of the course is the teacher;s halting cadence and spending most of the first three lectures on methodology including his own digs. Nonetheless, the course is very enlightening and raises fascinating questions.
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from horrible presentation The lectures are pedantic and boring. The "professor" has even a speech impediment and cannot easily and coherently finish a sentence. Some reviewers suggested that the lectures after the tenth were better. I tried: "some of the same!!!" Drop it from your list to protect your reputation! I returned it, to clean my library, that contains several dozen of professional courses. i tried, but
Date published: 2016-06-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Only if you like watching paint dry I am a longtime subscriber to the teaching company. I also consider myself quite a historian, I'm one of the few people you might know who's read the entire six-volume set of the "the history of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire". I wanted to put that in perspective, because there are some raving reviews of this course. But please consider, if you go to Netflix and pull up the movie dumb and dumber, you will see raving reviews. I seriously question, if some of these high ratings came from family members. Every once in a while the teaching company makes a big mistake, this is one of them. What the teaching company is supposed to do, is going great links to find the absolute best professors on a given subject for its customers. This is one of those times they failed. I should've known better; this guy probably had the weakest credentials of any professor in their repertoire. I'm not even sure he has a PhD, and he is has no teaching awards, he's in a no-name college in Maine. But I have always loved the subject, so I thought I would give it a look. My wife, who is quite an intellect herself and a lawyer, sat down with me to watch it. It was painful, and I'm not the only one that has commented on this. You found yourself trying to finish his sentences for him. Sure, he may not be an English major, but you don't have to take public speaking, to know that you shouldn't pause regularly, in the middle of a sentence. He even pauses, painful pauses, when there's no comma. Someone else commented that he looked uncomfortable. I would agree with that. But again because I love the subject matter, we trudged through the first three lectures. Oh my God, what a bizarre way to look at the subject. If you can get by the painfully slow style that Prof. MacEachern utilizes, I can only think you might enjoy this course, if you are a archaeology major, and have read 200 books on the subject, and you are looking for a weird twist on the subject. I would still suggest you have a good magazine with you if you're going to attempt to watch these lectures. I guess there is one alternative, somebody could reduce the professor to coffee, it could only help.
Date published: 2016-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An absolutely excellent course! Professor Scott MacEachern is a wonderful presenter of fascinating facts about ancient states, chieftains, tribes, etc. I have taken some previous courses in archeology and ancient history, and this is far better than many of those. The Professor does not take lightly his task of helping the student learn: he uses maps, photos, explanatory printed statements, and has a pleasing manner and demeanor throughout which makes the video a delight to watch..
Date published: 2016-04-01
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad, but could do with restructuring This is not a bad course, but it is not the best I've watched, which is a pity, because the subject should be fascinating. If you're looking for a course which paints pictures of the nature of early civilisations, then this may disappoint. The focus of this course is not descriptions of civilisations, but rather to give an account of how archaeology, both field work and archaeological theory, has gleaned on how these civilisations arose. Thus, aspects such as the frequent discussions on whether particular civilisations should be considered chiefdoms or states are given more time than, for example, current thinking on what these entities actually looked like and may have functioned. Of course, this approach is quite legitimate, but will probably interest students of archaeology more than students of the civilisations themselves. For example, Dr McEachern spends quite a lot of airtime talking about his own work in Cameroon. This is of use in illustrating the theoretical underpinnings of the course, but are not so useful in describing the rise of the more well known civilisations. I am not saying that this is not a legitimate topic to discuss in this context, but mention to illustrate how theoretical matters are prominent. Thus, the course may feel, to the lay person, quite heavy on theory and perhaps too light on practical matters. This is a matter of taste on the part of the watcher. I must admit that I am used to a wide variety of presenters, and yes, some are better than others, but generally, I prefer to concentrate on the message, not the method. Having said that, Dr McEachern did not come across as one of the first rank of lecturers, and in part this may have been because, in my view, 48 lectures may have been too long for the content. Condensing to 36 may have been uncomfortably short, but there is a bit of repetition, which does not help to maintain a logical flow to the lectures. Overall, I think the course is OK, but intending purchasers should understand its aim. Those looking for more descriptive accounts might prefer Dr Brian Fagan's Human Prehistory and the First Civilisations, which I am currently halfway through and am enjoying more. This is not to say that Origin of Civilization is not a great learning experience. It is, but it does require concentration and perseverance, hence the higher scores for course value than the other ratings.
Date published: 2015-11-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Origin of Civilization In a word -- terrific. A little humbling, in that it made clear my near total ignorance of archaeology. But over-all, 'twas first rate. That said, I'd make three further points: 1. I broadly agree with others who found a little too much archeology and not enough history. It didn't really hurt, but I often wished for the occasional piece of simple narrative history to afford context -- who defeated whom when and where, etc. Shouldn't be too hard; five or six sentences here and there would suffice in most cases. Plus: A small graphic in the upper corner of the screen could keep the time train on trtack. 2. Unlike some others, I found Scott MacEachern's delivery top notch. He uses an approach much favored by television reporters. I'm biased, I suppose, because I spent much of my career with these types, but -- it worked for me, admirably. 3. Echoing at least one other -- how about those Aztecs? Bob Parkins Ottawa
Date published: 2015-06-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from High value despite some presentation issues During the two decades I've been a customer of the Great Courses (GC) it has become apparent an individual's evaluation , including my own, depends on their expectations. It could be that the course overview provided by GC is at times a bit inflated or misleading. In addition I agree this course started very slowly and the professor's presentation is at times slow. However overall I consider this course to be of high value. It must be remembered this course is based on available archaeological evidence, for the most part, before written historical evidence was available. In my opinion it provides valuable insight into the difficulties scientists face trying to draw conclusions from a limited amount of information. It also provides valuable insight into the varieties of ways the very first human communities organized, or may have organized, themselves. Unless the student has a very good historical atlas of the ancient world available to them I recommend the DVD version. For the new customer of the GC who is interested in pursing the GC's entire library of ancient history courses: I suggest they do this course and Professor Dise's course 'Ancient Empires before Alexander' to get a good overview before pursuing the GC's more detailed and extensive courses on specific ancient civilizations/empires.
Date published: 2015-06-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not your typical ancient history course The key to appreciating this course is to see that this is not a typical straight forward dry lecture on ancient history. The professor really tries to represent how little farming communities 6000 years ago transformed into the first true states throughout the world. To do this he teaches about how very early vestiges of ideology, politics and economics were crucial components of this period. Constantly he compares one area to another for both similarities and differences. I really did enjoy this course and I recommend it in a visual format due to all the maps and photographs.
Date published: 2015-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Origin of Civilization For anyone interested in history, this course will be invaluable in seeing each era with a connecting background. There are 48 half hour lectures going from region to region over the development of civilization. Prof. Scott MacEachern's lecturing style is focused and direct. As the course comes together, the skeletal background to history becomes obvious. I can highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very underrated, but remember 2 things This course is very good, underrated I believe, but two important Caveats, First this is a long (24 hr) and intense course. Much of the material is of a postgraduate level, so not for those with mild interest or who want an introduction to Archaeology. Second Dr Maceachern is much better discussing sites, and cultures than he is discussing theory. Because of this the first 6-7 lectures are weak. He is uncomfortable and seems to (fight) these lectures. As the course moves on to specific sites he is quite good. I almost gave up on this course initially, but it ultimately repaid my time and efforts quite well.
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Origin of Civilization almost makes it. The content of the course appears to be adequate and well though out. We were a little disappointed in the quantity of visual images shown during each lesson. This is a subject that pleads for visualization. The presentation by the instructor was distracting at the very least. Frequent pauses and groping for words cried out for teleprompters and cue cards. He was reasonably personable, but it was hard to get past the pauses ... we kept wanting to supply a word for him.
Date published: 2014-12-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from OK But Not Great This was not my favorite course. The presentation was dry and academic, and the visuals were not inspiring. If you want to go with this one, maybe consider audio-only format. In terms of content I found it largely covers material that you can find in other courses, but with a comparative perspective from different cultures, and an emphasis on early state formation. That point of view is different from the typical history course, and was the most valuable aspect of this course for me.
Date published: 2014-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much better than 3.3 Stars! Thank you for the few positive reviews, which I read carefully over and over again and which finally persuaded me to buy this course as video download for a bargain price yesterday. And today I´ve already watched 8 lectures and I don´t think it´s boring at all. Ok, Prof. MacEachern is not as entertaining as Prof Hale or Harl, but he knows his stuff and presents it in a serious way and his slow speaking, often searching for words and asking questions style I like much more than a too smoothed teleprompter read. He presents a goldmine for history/archaeology buffs about the origin of civilization: the rare lectures about africa and the indus valley alone! I recommend the video version, because there are good maps and essential photos of pottery etc. Forgive me for writing this review so soon, after watching only 8 lectures, but I had to share my point of view, that this intellectually stimulating course is totally underestimated!
Date published: 2014-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Valuable from an Archaeological Perspective As a fan of both ancient history and archaeology, this course appeared to be a must for me. Though surprised and discouraged by the multiple negative reviews, I decided to take advantage of the temporary heavily-discounted sale price and purchased the video download for streaming on my iPad. I began by selectively viewing several representative lectures throughout the course, enough to convince me that the entire course was indeed well worthwhile and then proceeded systematically from there. Given that Professor MacEachern is a practicing archaeologist, it is no surprise that the course’s emphasis is more on archaeology than history, especially as much of the coverage relates to prehistoric (i.e. pre-writing) cultures. That focus is fine with me, since the only dedicated course on archaeology (stressing theory, methodology and techniques) offered by the Teaching Company/Great Courses was way back in 1998 by Professor Susan McCarter’s informative “Introduction to Archaeology”, apparently no longer available in any format. Ancient history courses by professors Hale, Harl, Aldrete and others draw on archaeological discoveries to supplement the written record or in discussing pre-writing cultures, but they emphasize findings rather than process. As for Professor MacEachern’s reputedly bland speaking style, I agree that he is not as engaging or animated as the three lecturers I cited above, among others, but I firmly disagree that words like “slow, halting and dull” fairly describe his delivery. He does occasionally repeat himself and at times offers descriptive detail beyond what is necessary to make his point, but for the most part his narrative should hold the attention of the majority of his audience, and to his credit he speaks without notes or use of a teleprompter. The first seven lectures deal mainly with concepts and classifications of both archaeology and anthropology, some outdated, which may be of only marginal interest to students not active in these fields. Unfortunately, several of the negative reviewers acknowledge that they did not venture beyond this phase of the course. Had they done so, they would have encountered case studies of early civilizations undoubtedly more to their liking. The video version of this course is clearly preferable, as there are many useful maps, drawings and photographs to re-enforce the narrative, especially in the later lectures, where Dr. MacEachern’s delivery also seems faster-paced and livelier. The lectures on various ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia and the Aegean emphasize the development of the earliest forms of written language and archaeological dating techniques. For example, although reference to kings and specific historical events is almost entirely absent, his explanations for the rise and fall of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are, nevertheless, very illuminating. His approach to the ancient civilizations of India, China and Southeast Asia is similar, with emphasis on archaeologically-based insights. As a self-declared Africanist, Dr. MacEachern’s analysis of Great Zimbabwe (lecture 36), a relatively short-lived society from AD 1300-1450, is the only thorough treatment of what is arguably the most important and imposing precolonial, indigenous monumental architecture in sub-Saharan Africa that I have found in any of the Great Courses. Well into the 20th century there was widespread denial among Europeans that structures of this magnitude and sophistication could have been built by Africans. The final quarter of the course is devoted to precolumbian civilizations and empires in Mesoamerica and South America, again addressing the rise and fall of those cultures based on archaeological evidence, since except for the Maya, there is no decipherable writing in those societies. For me, the most important and interesting of the cultures described are Teotihuacan in Mexico (lecture 39), the Maya city-states (lectures 41-43) and the Inca Empire in western South America (lecture 47). My main critical observation is that despite its global coverage, the course’s substantive content could have been presented effectively in fewer than 48 lectures, or alternatively, to fill that number, greater use of relevant historical material might have been added, wherever available and appropriate, to meet the expectations of some of the course’s critics. Nevertheless, I would recommend this course to those who wish to learn more about how early civilizations evolved, developed and ultimately collapsed, as revealed mainly by archaeological methods.
Date published: 2014-08-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much anthropological theory,not enough history I’m afraid I have to agree with the many reviewers who have complained about the excess concern with anthropological theory in this course. While discussing whether the origin of a civilization matches Professor MacEachern’s preferred theory may be a useful device for structuring the narrative, too often he speaks as though it’s the _only_ important point, whereas for the intended audience it’s often the least important point. For some of the most important of these cultures, particularly Sumer, a great deal of historical detail is known, though not easily available to the non-specialist. Instead we get extended and repetitive comments on what we _don’t_ know, and the details of our ignorance—or ideas unsupported by the available evidence, and why they’re not supported, when simply listing the dumb ideas, or even omitting them, would have more than sufficed.     For Sumer in particular, he spends far too much time on the theory of pastoralists versus city dwellers, and discussing the types of written texts, and far too little on actual content. On pre-dynastic Egypt, he spends a great deal of time discussing the uncertainty (especially about dating), when he could have presented a great deal of actual information, with a brief proviso noting the uncertainty. On Chinese writing he discusses “People A, people B”, and “such and-such official” rather than providing specific examples. He spends a fair amount of time stressing the importance of our knowledge of Mayan writing, which he should have spent on the writing system itself (I had to look elsewhere to learn that it was a mixed logographic and syllabic system), and what we have learned from it. He does provide some welcome detail on his area of specialization, but for the other civilizations, he presents less actual knowledge than Professor Harl did in his “Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations,” which is only a quarter the length.
Date published: 2013-12-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just What I Wanted! In my view some reviewers have given this course an unjustified bad rap. I read those reviews and hesitated before buying. I'm so glad I went ahead! My bias: An undergrad degree in archaeology and a lifelong interest in the subject. I grant you Scott MacEachern is not the most entertaining speaker. He's awkward, slow and repetitive. But we're not watching prime time TV here - we're learning, not being entertained. Frankly, I found his pace gave me time to think about what he was saying. Some reviewers objected to the time spent on archaeological theory. But you have to understand that to understand how we know what we know and why we don't know what we don't. And MacEachern is passionate about his subject, in his awkward way. And what a subject! Where else are you going to learn about the Harappans, the Khmers, Axum, the Olmecs, the Chavin? MacEachern's fundamental point is important - the last 10,000 years has not been some kind of inevitable evolution from band to tribe to chiefdom to state to...us. Rather our ancestors displayed an incredible variety of adaptations to different environmental and social situations around the world, many of which don't fall into any of our simplistic categories. And - surprise - once you get outside our culture, much of that incredible variety is still here. As the wise man said "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." So buy this course, settle in, listen up, and get ready to learn about some of the incredible variety of the human experience!
Date published: 2013-05-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Doen't come up to the bar This course has a very interesting perspective that compliments some of the other courses on ancient history and archaeology. However, this professor is no Dr. Bob (Brier), Hale, or Harl, so don't get your hopes up! As many others have pointed out, the Prof. is pretty droll and not too energetic. I did not, however, see that as lack of interest in his subject-just as a personality and style of teaching and speaking. One other person thought this was an in-depth course; I didn't find it so. I found it a good overview of the development of generic civilizations around the world. In fact, I thought one thing that would have helped the course would have been more references to well-known persons or events in history (he does this a little bit in talking about Egypt). I think it would have helped a great deal to more clearly fix in my head what time frame he is talking about (just knowing the time span in years BC is sometimes not very helpful). He should have anchored the time frames with known people, events, or other historical things to which the listener could relate.
Date published: 2013-03-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Origin of Civilization This was essentially my initial introduction to the study of archiology. I have viewed possibly one hundred of the Great Course courses and this is one of only two which disappointed me. I was almost put to sleep by the professor's lack-luster style of presenting the information. It's as if this were a distasteful task for him, but he didn't care enough to end it mercifully. If a professor does not show enthusiasm for his topic that suggests the topic itself is of little value. I didn't want to write such a review but this is honest and might help the professor improve his technique. I do not question his knowledge of the subject, only his presentation.
Date published: 2012-10-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too academic for the title I got the course expecting to learn some interesting ancient history. Instead I got a course heavy on archeological theory with history thrown in. And unfortunately the theory is dryly presented. Another problem is that Professor MacEachern pauses a lot, which is very distracting. I got to about lecture 11 and gave up. At best the course might be good for someone interested in academic archaeology, but that's not how the course is presented. For that I would recommend the excellent course "History of the Ancient World: A Global Perspective" by Gregory Aldrete.
Date published: 2012-06-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Deathly Dull Delivery I bought this course despite having read so-so reviews as I had just thoroughly enjoyed the John Hale one on Classical Archaeology and because as I am doing an MA in Archaeology by Distance Learning, although some reviewers had complained about this course's overly archaeological bias, AND the dry delivery, I thought "well, it'll be fine with ME!" I have not then re-read those reviews before writing this one so here goes. I am afraid I have just parked this at lecture 13. The first seven lectures are not just archaeological (which would not be a problem for me) but are largely centred on archaeological THEORY, which would still not be a problem were it not for the delivery - hesitant, repetitive, slow. His favourite method of delivery is to say "where it not for the this, for the that and for the other" - repeating a point multiple times before pausing....and finally concluding, to the point where you just want to shake him! So, I skipped some of it to get to chapter 8 where the more meaty content begins and whilst that content is interesting (I watched the chapters on Mesopotamia), again the delivery kills it. Interestingly, I bought this as a pair with Gregory Aldrete's History of the Ancient World and within the first 2 minutes of Prof. Aldrete I can tell I am back to the "Great Courses" lectures that I know and love - engaging delivery on interesting topics. But back to MacEachern. I think it's very telling that of the books for the three lecture series I have in front of me at present, John Hale's book for "just" 36 lectures is 234 pages of lecture notes, Gregory Aldete's for his 48 lectures runs to 314 pages....and Scott MacEachern's runs to just 134 pages for 48 lectures. I think this is because his delivery is so slow and so repetitive that there ultimately just isn't that much material to put into the book. To be honest I am marking this UP to give it 2 stars because I feel to give it 1 star is to be direspectful to a plainly very qualified man and to some good material. But right now I am thinking, "well, THERE'S six hours of my life I won't get back!!".
Date published: 2012-05-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A real college course When I was in college, my interests were both girls and beer. The thought of sitting through a lecture delivered by a real field archaeologist would send me into a near panic. But in my dessert years, I am pulled to the topic, the lecturer and the genre. Professor McEachern presents in a halting, almost painful presentation style; with agonizing pauses to mentally select and load the correct noun, adjective or verb. And one feels the embarrassment of speaking to someone with a stutter where you want to help by offering what might be the correct word or phrase as they struggle to get it out. As mentioned, the professor is an active field archaeologist and presents this material in a new and unique way. I would heartily recommend this course but mostly for those who have a true interest in the origins of civilization all around the globe. In the end, it is fortunate that Prof. McEachern is an archaeologist, as the material is presented in a way that only a genuine archaeologist could muster. This course is very in-depth, very unique, very comprehensive and ultimately very surprising. A singular and novel way to learn about pre-history. In a word; a real college course.
Date published: 2011-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from DVD course was excellent I've read reviews by others, and feel the overall ranking was out of line with rankings of other TC courses I've taken. The instructor spent the first set of lectures defining states vs civilizations, definitions and characterizations of statehood that have changed over time, and the lack of consensus among archaeologists in many (most?) areas. While some reviewers characterize this as a weakness, I feel this was an important learning experience. Beyond the occasional article in general science magazines I had no experience w/ archeology. The instructor was also careful to point out the limits of archaeology vs written history, and the interplay between archaeology and written history when they differ--this can be very revealing. I agree with other reviewers that archaeology is a significant part of this class. Since the class deals with the origin of civilization, and oftentimes writing wasn't developed or hasn't been completely deciphered, then archaeology is the only source of information we have. Understanding the limited amount of archaeology that has been performed in many areas, and the amount that still needs to be performed is essential to understanding the limited conclusions that can be determined, and justifies the amount of debate still remaining among archaeologists and historians. I found interesting the reasons for the development of writing in different civilizations. Accoutants and religious leaders should rejoice!! The instructor laid out ways archaeology has changed over time--so if you happen to read something that has a different perspective or conclusion than that offered by the course, you will be in a better position to evaluate it. He also covered a variety of civilizations, some familar to me from other TC courses (Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt, 5000 Years of Chinese History), others much less familiar. I thought this course compared well with the other TC courses I've taken. For example, IMO, the 3.2 rating is not reflective of the difference in quality between this course and the 4.8 course by Noble's Late Antiquity course. I like them both equally, and found them equally interesting.
Date published: 2011-09-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Like a real course This is a tough course to review. I believe its strength is that it is the closest thing to a real live college course, in structure, and rigor, that I have encountered from the Teaching Company. On the other hand its biggest weakness is that it is the closest thing to a real live college course, in structure, and rigor, that I have encountered from the Teaching Company. There were parts of the course that I very much enjoyed listening to: the coverage of the development of three writing systems, a new (to me) perspective on Harappan civilization, and Prof. MacEachern's discussion of Latin American civilizations. I would put the last as the part that had the most effect on me. Previously I had a rather prejudiced view of Central and South American civilizations ... mostly consisting of images of still-beating hearts ripped from sacrificial victims. Dr. MacEachern successfully converted me to the idea that in fact these were _civilizations_. The down side of the "real live college course" aspect is that, as most of us learned as freshmen, there are lots of things you have to know to understand a subject that don't fall into the realm of entertainment. If you want to know about the origin of civilizations, you really must understand the basic concepts and theories that underlie archaeology and its description. Prof. MacEachern packs that into the first seven lectures. I don't think anyone would call those seven lectures "fun," but an understanding of the material presented there is necessary for enjoying the other 41 lectures. I answered yes to the "I would recommend this course to a friend" question above. I would qualify that by adding "if he or she were seriously, rather than superficially, interested in the topic." The only other quibble I had was that when he was discussing his beloved African civilizations, specifically Great Zimbabwe (another part of the world that he moved me from a "so what" attitude to a desire to learn more) he strongly condemned early "archeologists" for only searching for gold. I agree with his condemnation, but I wish he had said whether they found any. I believe, if the contents of this course were to be really learned, as opposed to just listened to, that a student could hold his or her own at a conference cocktail party. After eight years as a student in higher education, and 37 years as a faculty member and university administrator, I would be happy of one of our freshman could do that.
Date published: 2011-02-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Repetitive, Dull and Not on Topic... ...at least not for the first 3.5 discs, at which time I stopped the course. This was supposed to be on the Origin of Civilization, but was instead, for the first seven lectures, on the profession of archeology - its history, its mistakes in perspective, different theories (most of them later disproved) and how the profession defines things. Some of this would have been fine to support the topic, but not 90+% of the first 7 lectures, and not the same thing repeated over and over. I have not quit a course before, and have taken several of them.
Date published: 2010-12-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I was nonplussed by this course. The entire first disc was intolerably dull, and it didn't get much better in later discs. The visuals are too few and far between, for my preference, and the details in the on-screen maps were too often difficult to see (for example, lettering too small). Imo, a lot more visuals could have been used, such as in the lectures on Catal Huyuk and Harappan civilization. The professor's presentation is a bit too slow, and too often his foci are uninteresting, arcane questions. I'm pleased that others found the course valuable. For me, it was not. I guess satisfaction tends to vary among different customers. I returned the course, notwithstanding the fact I own (and find very valuable) dozens of courses by The Teaching Company.
Date published: 2010-12-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Glacially slow, pathologically abstract If this course were titled "Abstract thoughts on archaeological theory" or "Why archaeology is hard," then it might not have been such a disappointment. MacEachern's progress through the material he does present is glacial - if all his statements about what he's going to discuss later were removed, we would lose a couple of lectures entirely. It is not until lecture 8 that he actually starts discussing the course topic, and even then he constantly avoids telling us actual archaeological data and why various conclusions are reached from that data. Instead, he talks in the abstract. "This culture fluctuated between labor shortages and excesses," but no clue about how archaeologists might reach that conclusion from the data. Why couldn't he say, "I am using this definition of a state" and then get down to cases? Plenty of time to tell us later, with several cases under our collective belt, that it is not wise to assume that we can come up with a single evolutionary track that all developing civilizations follow, or that perhaps some of our assumptions about what a "state" requires may be wrong. MacEachern's credentials are excellent; he should have been able to show us again and again the process of reasoning from the data; all the abstract questions could have arisen and been dealt with in relation to concrete examples. Instead, we spend hours without any concrete data at all, and merely discuss in the abstract the kinds of things that people inside the profession of archaeology argue about. When I saw that this course had forty-eight lectures, I was thrilled - this professor will have time to get into specific details. But the time is squandered on, essentially, nothing. He even seems to know that his students hate his approach of dealing with abstractions first and keeping facts at arm's length - he talks about their relief when he finally gets to the point. His only answer to their attitude is to say, "The theory is important" - which is true, but does not remotely imply that theory is how to BEGIN such a course as this. And it hardly helps that one of his first lectures consists almost entirely of listing the names of various archaeologists who have written important work - without telling us anything about the actual work they did, ideas they propounded, or anything else that might have made those names MEAN something to us. Part of the sense of slowness comes from his frequent long pauses as he (apparently) searches for words. And it inspires little confidence when he uses the word "panoply" frequently, but never pronounces it correctly. Surely someone would have pointed this out to him. The topic of this course is a fascinating one. I am also fascinated by the theoretical issues he spends a lot of time referring to. MacEachern is actually well informed about key issues in archaeological theory, but he seems unaware of any distinction between laypeople who merely want the results of archaeological research, with whatever theory comes up along the way, professionals at a symposium who already know all the relevant case studies. I cannot recommend this course to people who actually want to know about the evolution of civilizations. You'd be better off making your own inferences from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.
Date published: 2010-12-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from CHALLENGING QUESTIONS There are several initial comments that appear necessary, although not germane to the subject matter, before one decides to purchase this course. To get the full measure of it, one would be advised to acquire the DVD version. The lecturer is personable and precise. It appears he pauses from time to time to be certain he has the exact word he desires to express his thought. He makes it clear at the beginning he intends to focus on the people and how they lived rather than a recitation of rulers, conquests, etc. The first three lectures gave me the odd sensation as if I was dean of a college listening to anthropology department head plead for a budget increase, or sitting as a member of a grant committee listening to the importance of an anthropology project. Further in the course, one recognizes Dr MacEachern was laying the groundwork for better understanding of what he intended to cover. Depending on how one watched the series, his three to four minute review of the previous lecture before beginning to dig into the current one could prove tiresome. I tend to watch these lectures two to four at a time. If one absorbs them one at a time, or perhaps with several days or more between lectures, his review could be helpful. Like most disciplined academics, Dr MacEachern begins this course with a careful definition of his terms. He raises questions such as "When is a State a State" he intends the series to answer. As one follows the course, one can pose many more questions for which there appear to be no answers. For example, when observing the beautiful structures of the Maya, in Peru or other places, one can't help but wonder how they could be built without some form of writing. How was the mobilization of manpower and material carried out? How could the measurements of the steps of the temples in one complex be so exact to one another, and so on. How was the construction knowledge transported from one site to the next? One can recognize that there is not that much known about the true master builders in charge of the actual construction of some of the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe. Still, we have some general sense of how the projects were carried out. It remains a question to ponder about other societies and times. What were the lift requirements for irrigation canals, and how was it done? What volume of water was entailed in the activity? How were the fields laid out, and ditches dug? One could go on, but to sum up, Dr MacEachern has raised a trail of items for one to reflect on as his course is digested. The course is recommended to anyone interested in history, our origins as people, where our organizational thrusts came from, and as an underpinning for other TTC courses on history.
Date published: 2010-10-21
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