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 55.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have finished this course and feel ready to report on it. I was initially intrigued by the title of this course but was put off by the fact that there were so many negative reviews. Specialists in Customer Service persuaded me to give it a try. I have ordered 25 courses from The Teaching Company and have found this to be one of the best. It is true that Scott's delivery is halting--if you get the impression that he is weighing every word I think he is. He is sifting through the evidence very carefully like the good scholar that he is. Does he make frequent references to what he has said in previous lectures and what he is going to say in future lectures. Yes and I call that good organization. He does make simple points over and over again. I think that is a very useful didactic device that helps listeners like myself who don't know archaeology very well. If Dr. Hale is a great storyteller and Stephen Tuck views things with a keen artistic eye then Scott MacEachern is a rigorous scientist. The only complaint I have against his very interesting course is that he is politically correct. But that's OK. As an Africanist you probably have to be very careful what you say.
Date published: 2010-08-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from This is a very complicated course and it was presented in a very straightforward and understandable way. It was a little short on pictures of artifacts recovered and sites. I really enjoyed each DVD. However I always buy the transcript books together with the DVD as I find it helpful to read through these first. In this instance they were torturuos. Instead of good short sentences there was a profusion of punctuation. When I eventually reached the end of a very long sentence, sometime one sentence paragraphs, I had lost the thread. As an retired lecturer I know the value of relatively short sentences. You cannot wait until the end of a very long sentence with dashes, colons, semi colons etc etc before getting to the punch line. My students were always told 'no one sentence paragraphs' please!
Date published: 2010-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly global perspective I purchased this course in spite of the (at the time mostly) negative reviews because I liked its agenda and could not believe that, given the Teaching Company’s “quality control”, its delivery would be as awful as some of the reviewers felt it to be. It was not. Given the complexity of the subject and my basic unfamiliarity with it – as well as the fact that I listened to the audio version on my iPod while commuting or walking - I found Professor McEachern’s deliberate presentation style conducive to understanding and was infected by his genuine passion for the subject. The course aims at a global survey of the origin of civilization / state formation and in this it succeeds nicely. In particular, I found the inclusion of African archaeological sites a welcome addition. I also appreciated the “foundational” discussions of the introductory lectures setting the stage for later critical examinations of how to interpret the archaeological data. Given the paucity of evidence and the inherent difficulty, if not near-impossibility, of coming up with truly falsifiable hypotheses much of the discussion is by necessity speculative but Professor McEachern does a fine job identifying what seems to be reasonably certain while critically examining the ambiguous or even fanciful. That this leads to a narrative devoid of certainty and full of qualifications is not the professor’s fault but is inherent in the subject (archaeology is not a “hard” science after all) and in the end leaves the listener with a more accurate and honest picture of our current knowledge of state formation. I recommend this course to anyone seeking an introduction to the subject. I would like to close with a comment on the audio vs. dvd question. I agree that my understanding would probably have benefitted to a certain degree from the dvd version. However, this would have come at the price of spending 24 hours in front of a screen. There are certainly courses where this is inevitable (any visual arts course for example) but I can think of other areas where much could be done descriptively to make the subject matter intelligible to the audio-only student and thus offer a useful option for those of us who would like to keep multi-tasking while learning; a prime example of a successful audio presentation of an almost really-not-intelligible-without-graphics subject is Professor Sapolsky’s outstanding The Neurological Origins of Individuality. I would encourage the Teaching Company to make more such really-better-suited-for-dvd courses available as audio downloads, with the appropriate caveats (“at your own risk”), but including extensive graphic material in the guidebook (for which I may even be prepared to pay a small premium over the standard audio download price).
Date published: 2010-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent learning experience I just finished the CD course for the second time. I love this course.The professor concentrates on the origin of civilizations around the world, and particularly the question of what defines a state in each case. He reviews previous material in each lecture and returns repeatedly to the basic ideas. Unlike other TC courses on similar material, this course does not cover early human evolution, and it covers ancient history only where it applies to an understanding of the development of the state. I recommend this course to anyone who wants to gain a solid understanding about what is known and debated by archaeologists about early state formation around the world.
Date published: 2010-08-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from okay for archaeology buffs This long lecture series is exceedingly slow. You will notice endless time-wasting phrases, such as "as I have said in an earlier lecture" or "as I will elaborate in future lectures" in nearly every sentence. Professor MacEachern is an enthusiastic archaeologist who I personally like. I would like to meet him and talk to him. He is not a great lecturer. He does a great job explaining what archaeologists don't know and and the things they wonder about. I was looking for the other side--what we DO know about pre-history. If that's what you're after, skip this lecture series.
Date published: 2010-07-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Refreshing Change in the Delivery of Material This course on the Origin of Civilizations by Scott MacEachern, seemed to click with me. I can certainly understand if the style I will describe is not for everyone, but it did appeal to me in some unique respects. The approach here is one of asking questions, far too many in fact, than can be answered, even in 48 lectures. Perhaps that is the very point of the approach itself, one of thinking about the right questions to ask in the first place. It reminds me of the Socratic approach, where the questions themselves are not necessarily answered (some even can't be), but the questions are all-important. Instead, the approach "jump-starts" one's thought process in a new and intriguing way, which other courses simply don't have the time for, or don't even bother trying to stimulate. Yes, some old-school theories are debunked and questioned to death, but then some not-so-obviously-wrong concepts are also analyzed, which makes one realize that far too many basic assumptions have been made, without really examining them in the critical ways they deserve. So perhaps once this is done, a genuinely improved understanding of the subject can be grasped, one that you never thought was possible before this point? We aren't just memorizing a barrage of names and dates here (though this does take place), but we are thinking about the high-level questions, sort of like an intellectual history approach towards ancient civilizations. Granted, Scott's delivery can be somewhat disjointed and hard to follow at times, including many dramatic pauses. Yet to me, this shows that the lecturer is actually thinking about what they are saying. This is something that for me has always been the reason for viewing TTC courses in the first place, since they excelled in making the lecturer appear as someone like ourselves, as far as making an effort to follow the lecture. Well, in this case, the lecture is thinking in real-time, how to best convey these concepts, according to what he has previously said. So there is a thought process involved here, not just a presentation of massive amounts of data to be ingested and memorized. In fact, MacEachern's delivery is demonstrating to me that the subject of ancient archaeology is just that, a struggle in itself! It's not easy, and we shouldn't expect to really learn, without a lot of good old-fashioned hard work from the lecturer and ourselves. So I see this course as a welcome relief, and approaching from the old-school way of Socratic questioning. I only wish I could be in his class, and participate in some dialectic! Now unless a view has similar opinions as mine here, the course will be far too long. The 48 lectures cover much territory, so a previous interest in the subject will help you to finish it. This is a lot to take-in all at once, so it seems perfectly fine to view specific sections of it that interest you at the time, according to the individual regions it covers. Yet there are overall themes presented, that require you to have viewed the entire course in order to fully understand.
Date published: 2010-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Very Well-Done Bird's Eye View of Early Civs Holy Cow, Batman - I apparently was sent a different course than the one discussed by the earlier reviewers! The course I saw was a fascinating if fast-paced overview of the beginnings of major civilizations in all parts of the world. It is excellent as an intro and for background before delving more deeply. Of course, whole courses could be built around each of the civilizations whose beginnings are chronicled here (and they should be! A few are available, such as China and Egypt, but even these deserve much more detailed exposition.) But for a survey, this was very well done. I do agree with a few negatives - the occasional emphasis on what passes for "theory" could have been skipped. It adds little, except the impression that there isn't much beyond the obvious in this area. And with all due respect to Prof. MacEachern, archeology is not a "science" by any standard use of that term, any more than history or politics is. Also, Prof. MacEachern, while organized and clearly passionate about his field, speaks slowly and adds so many long and random pauses to his sentences that I listened to the entire course on fast-forward. (Really! This was extremely helpful, and I recommend it. TC, does this mean I get half-price back??) Having said that, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I highly recommend this course for what it is - a well-done introductory survery of the beginnings of human civilization. It is not deep or detailed, but wasn't meant to be. This big picture provides an excellent summary view, and a start for more detailed studies.
Date published: 2010-06-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Impoverished The first four lectures were devoted to stating what was going to come in the remaining lectures. I actually felt cheated paying for these 4 lectures. Don't tell me what is coming, just start with actual content and I'll listen along. I was expecting detailed stories of ancient civilizations, presenting and summarizing the facts as we know them, and indicating where there are doubts. Instead, the lectures have few facts. They are heavy on theory, and the theory is mind numbingly simplified. (I only listened to the first 8 lectures, so I can't speak for the remainder). The professor makes sure to let us know that "ancient" civilizations are in no way inferior to western civilization. I understand that he can't afford to seem racist or insensitive, but just state the apologia once. I couldn't make it past 8 lectures, so I returned the set for a refund.
Date published: 2010-04-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not quite what I expected I would concur with the comments made about the difficulties of doing this by audio. The verbal tempo of the professor's presentation made it a bit hard to listen to. In addition as a historian i found the content was much more concerned either with internal arguments in the archeological community or repetition of comments about the limitations of trying to piece together information about the lives of common people when there is very limited material available. I found the first 8 lectures sufficiently difficult (boring) that I almost gave up and sent the course back. I did learn some of what I wanted from the rest of the course and having finished feel that I have have learned more about several of the areas of the world where civilizations began.
Date published: 2010-04-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Good content, variable presentation The content of this course covered all I wanted.The DVD format was useful since many of the maps and photos were well chosen, tho often repeated. The main problem is that Prof.MacEachern is redundant frequently so that the content of each lecture is more like 15 minutes. 10 minutes of each lecture is what i told you in the last lecture and what I will tell you in the next lecture. I found myself fast forwarding frequently. The course could easily be edited down to 36 lectures.
Date published: 2010-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Criticisms of this course are overstated. Lectures 4 along with 8-48 are terrific. The course does NOT focus on individuals but on the material evidence (& implied conclusions) of State development in seven regions of the world. It is an invaluable addition to the other archaelogical courses at teachco - all of which I have monitored. The problem is that lectures 1-3 and 5-7 should have been condensed into one lecture and the extra space then devoted to Aztec and Greek state development. As it is, listen to lecture 1, 4, 8-48. If you're dedicated, then 2,3,5,6 &7 do help but are indeed painful.
Date published: 2010-02-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Origin of Civilization I was looking forward to this course but was quite disappointed. The instructor has a halting and grating pattern of speech and is prone to making the most ordinary comments with an air of breathless wonderment that becomes quite irritating. More to the point however is his endless repetitiveness and seeming inability to make any sort of point or reach any sort of conclusion without hedging round with innumerable qualifications and repetitions of the difficulties inherent in archeology Now, I know that a certain degree of repetition is inherent in teaching, but this is so extreme that it is almost stupefying. The basic ideas are beaten into the ground, and out of our interest. Furthermore, it isn't necessary to be announcing repeatedly that you've mentioned something before ir will be mentioning it again. Just do it! In summary, I found the professor so numbing that whatever actual material (very thin on the ground) was presented tended to get lost in the drone. I had the sense that the real course content could have fit on 6 CD's, rather than 24!
Date published: 2010-02-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not Effective as an Audio Course I'll preface this review by saying that I did not buy the DVD version of this course and that my experience might have been different if I had. While the subject matter is inherently fascinating, the presentation seems to require significant support from visual elements. The narrative focuses heavily on ancient sites and archaeological artifacts and assumes that you're actually able to see what's being described. Without visual imagery, the course is frequently disorienting. Furthermore, the lecturer's speaking style is slow and halting and doesn't flow naturally which makes the course that much harder to follow. Finally, (and this isn't necessarily a criticism) the course is about archaeology not history per se. For those who want a course more focused on a chronology of wars, empires and kings I'd suggest finding another lecture series taught by a traditional historian.
Date published: 2010-02-11
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