Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates

Course No. 1612
Professor John Hawks, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
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Course No. 1612
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Course Overview

Trying to understand our human origins has always been a fundamental part of who we are. One of the core things we want to know is how we came to be. Thousands of years ago, human civilizations developed elaborate stories to explain the origins of humans. But today, with the help of dramatic archaeological discoveries and groundbreaking advancements in technology and scientific understanding, we are closer than ever before to learning the true story. In recent decades, paleoanthropology has exploded, bringing us closer than ever before to making sense of this controversial subject and providing us with a richer understanding of our origins. It's also sparked continued debate among the greatest minds in the field and prompted anthropologists to revise, update, and even, in some cases, overturn ideas and theories about key issues in human evolution.

  • Was Australopithecus afarensis really our earliest ancestor?
  • Did early humans evolve in Africa alone, or in regions throughout the world?
  • Do Neandertals play an important role in our genetic heritage and, if so, how?
  • Why did prehistoric humans form cooperative communities and create art?

Complete your understanding of the most up-to-date science behind our origins with The Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates. Delivered by expert paleoanthropologist and professor John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, these 24 lectures bring you to the forefront of scientific arguments and questions that will become more important in the coming years. Surveying both the questions that continue to rile the world's greatest minds in anthropology and the cutting-edge science responsible for them, this course is an expert guide to the wide-ranging debates over the most essential questions we can ask. Meticulously crafted and packed with insights, this rewarding and sometimes even provocative course is a fascinating investigation of the branches, trunk, and roots of the greatest family tree there is.

Profound Answers to Questions about Your Origins

Each lecture of The Rise of Humans focuses on a single profound question about human origins and the sometimes surprising, sometimes fierce, and always illuminating debates surrounding them. You'll learn how paleoanthropologists have used everything from the tiniest fossil remains (such as teeth and fragments of jawbones) and stone tools to DNA sequencing and genetic mapping in an effort to definitively determine how we got to be the way we are today.

Here are just four of the many exciting debates Professor Hawks describes in this masterful course.

  • Was Africa or Asia more central to human origins? Charles Darwin believed that Africa was the most likely place for humans to have originated because of our relationship to African apes. Other scientists, such as Ernst Haeckel, argued that Southeast Asia was the most likely site of human origins because geography would have differentiated us from African apes. While it's now clear that early hominins were all found in Africa, debate continues over whether our genus Homo might have involved a time of evolution in Asia.
  • What did prehistoric cultural groups look like? Early archaeologists systematized the stone tool traditions in prehistory by recognizing types of artifacts that might be found in one tradition and not others. The debate over two different perspectives on differences in stone tools—that they reflect different traditions or that they reflect the tasks a single group of prehistoric people performed—has deepened our understanding of rich archaeological sites.
  • How long ago did humans reach the New World? Scrutiny over archaeological discoveries in the United States led to the "Clovis first" hypothesis, which held that the first humans to enter the New World came over ice sheets that once covered northern North America about 12,000 years ago. Yet during the 1990s, geneticists began to contribute to the debate, tracing the origins of today's American Indians to a small population that left Asia sometime closer to 15,000 years ago.
  • How important was symbolic representation to modern humans? Prehistoric art found in caves throughout France and Spain show a growing interest among our ancestors for artistically representing the world. Anthropologists still debate the importance of this kind of representation to our evolution; some argue that prehistoric art is fundamental to our cultural abilities, while others posit that it's merely a side effect of human intelligence.

Reunite with Some of Your Earliest Ancestors

With these lectures, you'll travel across time and around the world, from Ethiopia and Tanzania to Pakistan and Java to Sumatra and North America. You'll peer over the shoulders of archaeologists as they unearth fossils, tools, and other artifacts from the earth and reconstruct the bodies and lives of our earliest ancestors. You'll follow geneticists as they use mitochondrial DNA to draw startling connections between prehistoric human populations from around the world. And you'll encounter some of our most intriguing distant relatives.

  • Australopithecus afarensis: In the 1970s, paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey uncovered evidence for the earliest known hominin in Tanzania, at a site that preserved not only the jaws and teeth of this prehistoric species but also fossil footprints showing its adaptation to upright walking. Paleoanthropologists still argue over whether better evidence for the ancestry of Homo will come from A. afarensis or some earlier, as-yet-unknown species.
  • Homo habilis: A series of skulls dating back to around 2 million years, with larger brains than other species, was described by paleoanthropologist Philip Tobias as the earliest members of our genus Homo. With a body like Australopithecus and a meat-based diet, H. habilis could be part of our genus; although with some evidence of Homo erectus dating back to the same age as these fossils, it could be a totally different kind of hominin.
  • Homo floresiensis: A recent burning debate in paleoanthropology is over the identity of Homo floresiensis. A fossil skull found on the island of Flores suggests an extremely small-bodied population with individuals about three to four feet tall. Found together with indigenous animals such as pygmy mastodons and giant storks, these "hobbits" could represent a unique population of humans isolated from the rest of humanity.
  • Neandertals: Neandertals were the earliest fossil humans to have been found and, at the time of their discovery, there was debate over whether they were our ancestors or part of a much less specialized population. We now understand that humans and Neandertals trace a common ancestry to sometime before 250,000 years ago and that the early population of Europe may reflect the emerging Neandertal population. In fact, people of European descent can have up to 4% of Neandertal genes in their DNA.

Your Guide to Human Evolutionary History

What makes The Rise of Humans so unique is the approach Professor Hawks brings toward explaining the field's hottest debates. One of the first paleoanthropologists to study fossil evidence and genetic information together in order to test hypotheses about human prehistory, Professor Hawks is adept at looking at human origins not just with one lens, but with two.

He has traveled around the world to examine delicate skeletal remains and pore over the complex results of genetic testing. His research and scholarship on human evolutionary history has been featured in a variety of publications, including Science, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Slate, and Journal of Human Evolution.

But more than that, Professor Hawks has crafted a course that demonstrates the passion and excitement involved in the field of paleoanthropology. With his engaging lecturing style and his use of fossil finds taken from his personal collection, Professor Hawks will capture your attention and show you all the drama and excitement to be found in eavesdropping on the latest debates about human evolutionary history.

So join him for this engrossing and eye-opening learning experience—one that will bring you to the cusp of our 21st-century knowledge about the origin of humans, that will fill in critical gaps in your understanding of where we come from, and that will better prepare you for the great discoveries and fresh debates of tomorrow.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 32 minutes each
  • 1
    Ramapithecus—Ape Man
    There’s no better illustration of scientific debates over the rise of humans than the story of how Ramapithecus was cast out of our ancestry. In this first lecture, witness how fossil evidence and molecular evidence—working both together and independently—can help explain some of anthropology’s most complex issues. x
  • 2
    Australopithecus afarensis—Ancestor or Not?
    One of the most famous scientific debates in anthropology took place in the 1970s, with the discovery of fossil remains of a possible Homo ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis. Where exactly did Homo come from? Follow this highly public story from the perspective of the key personalities involved: scientists Don Johanson and Richard Leakey. x
  • 3
    Ardipithecus—Hominin or Not?
    In 1994, paleontologists discovered the 4.4-million-year-old remains of Ardipithecus ramidus. Is it a true hominin? What skeletal features suggest the tradeoffs between being an effective climber and walking bipedally? Answer these and other questions by closely examining the fossil and genetic evidence of this fascinating “ground ape.” x
  • 4
    Brain Structure versus Brain Size
    Your brain separates you more from apes than any other anatomical feature. Investigate the gradual increase in hominid brain size in the fossil record. Looking at what fossil skulls (such as the Taung skull) reveal about blood circulation and cooling, you’ll shed new light on brain size and skull structure. x
  • 5
    The Dietary Hypothesis
    Explore the relationship between diet and morphology in this lecture on Australopithecus robustus and Australopithecus africanus. The teeth and jaws of these two species, you’ll discover, offer intriguing windows into the fierce debate surrounding the dietary hypothesis and the true adaptive differences between robust and gracile hominids. x
  • 6
    Africa or Asia?
    Was Africa or Asia more central to human origins? How can we tell? Drawing on the ideas and theories of prominent scientists, including Charles Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, and Louis Leakey, learn how we found the truth about where our genus Homo came from—and where it evolved. x
  • 7
    An Ape’s View of the Oldowan
    Tool use marks a tremendously important step in evolution. But how important is it really, considering chimpanzees can also make and use tools? Professor Martin offers you a detailed picture of what early stone toolmakers were like, as well as some of the primitive tools found in parts of Africa. x
  • 8
    Who Was Homo habilis?
    Examine what the fossil record reveals about Homo habilis, a species that serves as a transitional marker between Australopithecines and the rest of the genus Homo. A key mystery in this lecture: how Homo habilis can have the anatomy to be our ancestor yet not exist at the right time in evolutionary history. x
  • 9
    How Big Was Homo erectus?
    Using a magnificent find of the skeleton of a 1.5-million-year-old boy (known as the Nariokotome skeleton), delve into the issue of how important size was to becoming human. Recent discoveries of Homo erectus remains, as you’ll discover, have led to a reevaluation of the growth process of these hunters and gatherers. x
  • 10
    The Movius Line
    Professor Hawks explains the complexities of the Movius Line, a fairly clear line that separates the Western distribution of hand axes from areas in the East where they were rarely made. Central to this constant puzzler in the story of evolution are the more than 500,000-year-old remains of the Peking Man. x
  • 11
    The Hobbits of Flores
    The identity of Homo floresiensis, a species of small-brained humans that averaged a height of 3.5 feet, is the most burning debate in paleoanthropology. Investigate the origins of these mysterious “hobbits” and whether they represented a new species of human or were merely the remains of abnormally developed modern humans. x
  • 12
    Archaeology and Cooperation
    Explore what archaeology tells us about cooperation and compassion in prehistoric people with this insightful lecture. Professor Hawks reveals how archaeological remains and other kinds of evidence offer intriguing clues about how prehistoric people worked together to make tools, hunt animals, share meals, and even take care of their injured. x
  • 13
    Presapiens or Preneandertal?
    Working with the European fossil record, examine the debate over whether Neandertals were our true ancestors, or simply a much less specialized population. Along the way, you’ll comb through remains from Spanish caves in Atapuerca and encounter the notorious evolutionary forgery known as the Piltdown Man. x
  • 14
    What Do Stone Tools Reveal about Early Man?
    French archaeologist Francois Bordes interpreted variations in stone tool remains as evidence of different groups of people who existed in the past. American archaeologist Lewis Binford, however, believed these variations reflected different activities. Who was right? Find out in this lecture on the way scientists interpret the archaeological record. x
  • 15
    Did Neandertals Speak?
    How important was language to shaping human evolution? Discover the answer to this question by studying the skeletal remains of Neandertals discovered in the late 20th century. Learn how anthropologists, with the help of a specific bone and a key language gene, determined that Neandertals could—contrary to earlier beliefs—talk. x
  • 16
    Neandertals—Extinct or Ancestors?
    Follow along as scientists examine Neandertal genes to determine just how close our ties are to this primitive species, which disappeared about 30,000 years ago. What scientists found when the entire genome sequence of Neandertals was reconstructed in 2010—and what it reveals about the true fate of Neandertals—may surprise you. x
  • 17
    Is Our Neandertal Heritage Important?
    Are there behaviors we can trace back to our Neandertal heritage by closely studying mitochondrial DNA? If so, what’s useful? What isn’t? It’s a debate nearly as old as anthropology itself—and Professor Hawks’s explanation of how it works forms the subject of this provocative and insightful lecture. x
  • 18
    Multiregional Evolution versus Out of Africa
    Did modern humans emerge from Africa? Or did they evolve in regions around the world? These two competing questions became the most persistent debate in anthropology in the late 20th century. Consider evidence for either scenario and learn how scientists reached their current understanding of the dispersal of modern humans. x
  • 19
    Climate’s Impact on Our Evolution
    Investigate the important role of climate change events—specifically the catastrophic eruption of Mount Toba around 74,000 years ago—in shaping the rise of man. Did this event cause a population crash among prehistoric humans, finishing off some populations and paving the way for the spread of modern humanity? x
  • 20
    Language—Adaptation or Spandrel?
    For decades, scientists debated over whether language was a target of natural selection in evolution or merely a side effect. Blending anthropology and linguistics, Professor Hawks helps you make sense of what Charles Darwin, Noam Chomsky, and others had to say about evolution’s role in the development of human language. x
  • 21
    Why Did Humans Start Creating Art?
    Is prehistoric art just a side-effect of our intelligence, or is it somehow fundamental to our cultural abilities? Explore this perplexing question by closely examining beads, utilitarian tools, decorative objects, rock art, and other primitive art forms unearthed at archaeological sites in Europe, Africa, and Australia. x
  • 22
    Clovis or Pre-Clovis?
    Professor Hawks discusses the continuing debate over the arrival of humans in the New World. Some anthropologists believe that the Clovis culture was the first to spread south across North America about 12,000 years ago. Others believe there may have been even earlier migrations to the Americas. x
  • 23
    Farming—Migration or Diffusion?
    In this lecture, investigate the relationship between agriculture and the spread of early human societies throughout Europe. Central to this is the argument over whether agriculture spread through population movements into widespread areas, or whether adjacent populations simply adopted farming practices (as well as new languages) without mass migration. x
  • 24
    Are Humans Still Evolving?
    To conclude the course, Professor Hawks addresses some of 21st-century anthropology’s most important questions. Are we still evolving? Is human evolution slowing down or speeding up? What are we going to look like in the future? And is it possible for us to actually bring evolution under our control? x

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Your professor

John Hawks

About Your Professor

John Hawks, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. John Hawks is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of WisconsinñMadison, where he has taught courses ranging from biological anthropology to brain evolution since 2002. He earned his B.S. in Anthropology from Kansas State University and M.S. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Early in his career, Dr. Hawks focused on fossil and archaeological evidence for human evolution....
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Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 61.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging course-why I recommend I am a neophyte to this subject matter and I loved the course. I was a bit lost the first lecture but by the second lecture I became totally engrossed. The course is well named because in each lecture the Prof deals with an unresolved scientific debate. I found myself not only interested in the lectures but eager to read and learn more about the subject matter. Really a fine course
Date published: 2013-08-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow. Possibly the Best Course so far. I love to watch selections from the Great Courses. It's fun to refresh old memories of topics learned in college years ago and sometimes learn new things I haven't been exposed to before. This course is the best one I've seen so far out of nearly a dozen. The topic is not just interesting, it's captivating. The organization is straightforward, concise and precise with only a few tangents and unnecessary repetitions here and there. And Professor Hawks' presentation is very well executed. I dinged him a star because he can't seem to keep his hands still when he speaks and it was distracting at times, but overall this is an A+ course. Thanks to all who made it happen.
Date published: 2013-03-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ambivalent Prof. Hawks is so focused on the structure of "debate" by which he means unresolved theories that confusion reigns particularly in the first half . Given the relative dearth of evidence of early hominids no single theory is likely to be absolutely confirmable, but I did not get a sense of which theory is currently predominant . Its like one gets a fully & equal explication of the heliocentric theory along with the Copernican one . Confusing . Once Hawks gets to the Neolithic he is on familiar ground & is very affirmative , clear & much more precise -all to the benefit of the listener .
Date published: 2012-07-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too much handwaving Prof. Hawks is interesting to listen to and he obviously has a real feel for the subject. The problem with this lecture series is that there is too much talking and hand-waving and not enough pictures and diagrams. Much of what he talks about he attempts to illustrate by gesturing, shrugging, wiggling his fingers and waving his arms. And these vaporous illustrations in the air don't leave any lasting impression. Where are the diagrams? These lectures should be mostly photographs, diagrams and bulleted notes. (Not that I like powerpoint, but powerpoint would have been better.) The lecture about the prehistoric cave paintings showed 1 (one!) painting. But the Prof. talked a lot about his 'impressions' of his visit. Well, it's nice to add some human interest, but that ought to be the add-on not the main feature of the visit. In this same lecture the prof. mentions he is an artist. Really?? For someone who has an interest in visual arts his lectures have a depressing lack of visual illustrations. This lecture might as well have been on a CD instead of a DVD.
Date published: 2012-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good for the already initiated Professor Hawkes has no glaring flaws as a lecturer but neither does he excite or inspire. This course is very good as an update; bringing the already intitiated current on all the supposed "new findings" and supposed controversies. After years of avid readings on the topic where no link with Neaderthals could be seen in our biology, I was very, very surprized to hear of genetic/DNA proofs of such a link. The course generally covers all the subject areas of this field; i.e., brain development, tools, human population movements, points of origin, homo-species linkage, dentition, likely cutural affectations etc. The organization is somewhat splattery but it generally manages to touch all the bases. As previously stated, this course serves well as an update for those well versed students but as a starter course, or even survey course, the neophyte should first select other TTC courses more introductory in nature. Then, the viewing of this course will be more rewarding.
Date published: 2012-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is an excellent series of lectures. I have read numerous books and papers on human evolution and am quite familiar with all the topics discussed by Professor Hawks. Nonetheless, I found new and interesting material in every one of the lectures. In some cases, the material was new evidence, in others it was a new and better organization of evidence that I had encountered before. A particular strength is Professor Hawks’ expertise in both paleontology and genetics. Professor Hawks’ delivery is clear, straightforward, and easy to follow. Above all he is open-minded and respectful of different points of view, thus creating trust in his exposition of the subject: There does not appear to be any selection or manipulation of evidence in favor of one theory rather than another. I have one minor carp: A greater use of visual aids would have been been helpful. I can imagine that these lectures might present difficulties if this is your first encounter with the paleontology and genetics of human evolution but if you have background in these areas, this is a most rewarding course with insights that I have not found elsewhere.
Date published: 2012-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! If you want to know up to date recent fossil findings and how our ancestors lived and survived then this is the course for you. Professor Hawks takes you through not only fossil finds but also how dating techniques are used and the Genetic record on neanderthals and why we are part neanderthal. Professor Hawks also tells the story on how climate change made humans evolve and adapt to the environment and the migration of humans through thousands of years. Overall great experience.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Poor format+mediocre presentation=disappointment Let me start by saying that I’ve read all the other reviews and don’t believe my reaction to be totally different from several others. It seems to me that several reviewers had similar problems with the course that I did but are being too generous in their evaluation. First, I should acknowledge the good parts of the course. Much of the information is extremely interesting. Professor Hawks obviously knows his topic and is an expert in the area. The information is remarkably up-to-date and Professor Hawks generally does a good job of presenting it. This is also a topic for which there is a gap in the Teaching Company’s offerings. The TC needs a course on paleoanthropology and an overview of human origins. Unfortunately, this course is not it. This course is hampered by two+ issues: first, the format for the course is more of a hinderance than a help, second, professor Hawks presentation style left me foundering, wondering where I was and what I was supposed to be understanding. The “+” refers to the audio format, which is what I listened to. I don’t think the course should even be offered in audio, as it is too reliant on visual concepts. The format of the course: “Great Scientific Debates” Each lecture in the course is centered on discussion of a topic of debate in paleoanthropology. Did Neandertal speak? Out of Africa or multi-regional evolution? Ardipithicus: homonin or not? The problem with this approach is that these debates are only really comprehensible to those with a strong background in the area. Before we, as listeners, can appreciate the Aridipithicus question, we first need to understand Australopithecus (both Africanus and Afarensis). How do these two relate to homo habilis and homo erectus? And how did h. habilis and h. erecuts relate to us? Before listeners can appreciate the great debates, we first need to understand the overall structure of our evolutionary tree. To appreciate this course, one needs first to understand the (admittedly tentative) relationships between the various genera and species. One also needs to understand the temporal relationship between all these primates. Professor Hawks just embarks on his discussions without laying the groundwork for us to understand them. Professor Hawks does seem to appreciate the problem, but I get the impression that he believes that we can catch up just by his quickly referencing the timelines. It seems clear to me (though he never says this explicitly) that the reason he doesn’t delve into the evolutionary relationships among the homonins is that he may believe that the evolutionary relationship is only tentative, or even that the old understanding of it is completely wrong. (For example, I always understood that a. Afarensis evolved into a. Africanis, which evolved into h. Habilis, which evolved into h. Erecuts, which evolved into h. Sapiens. It’s clear to me now that this relationship is too simple, and may well be wrong.) It would have made the course much easier to appreciate if Prof. Hawks had taken an entire lecture to go into these five species (plus a couple of others that have prominent roles in the lectures) and established what the current thinking is about their relationships. After listening to this course, I don’t have any idea what the current thinking is, even though I have the strong impression that my old understanding was wrong. By the same token, it would have been much easier to appreciate this course if Prof. Hawks had taken a second lecture to outline the major homonin sites around the world and which species are found there and what periods they represent. Prof. Hawks frequently refers to specific sites and seems to suggest that they are important to understanding the fossils found there. That may be true, but I don’t think we got the necessary foundation to pick up the implications of the sites as he was going through the substantive issues in each lecture. Knowing where the sites are geographically, and what periods they represent temporally, would have been highly helpful. The other problem that this format creates is that it is highly artificial. There are several topics that felt forced into a “debate” format. The lectures on climate, neandertal heritage, stone tools, and others, felt like he was creating a dispute where there was none to begin with. Or even if there was a dispute at some point, that dispute is not of interest to us, as neophyte students of the topic. The focus of these lectures should have been on the foundational information, not on the relatively arcane disputes at the margins. To be fair, though, Professor Hawks understands this and generally focuses on the information that we’re more interested in. But the format forces him to spend time better spend elsewhere on this artificial (or arcane depending on the topic) “debate”. Let me vote firmly against further offerings structured around a “Great Debates” format. Presentation style Unlike almost all the other reviewers, I did not find professor Hawks style to be that engaging. Unfortunately, my expectations are high when it comes to TC courses. Prof. Hawks style is somewhat halting and not as smooth as many other professors I’ve listened to. That alone, however, is not enough to knock a teacher. I also fault him, though, for the lack of organization in the course. (In part, this is due to the “debates” structure, but I assume he had some input into that decision.) He does not clearly lay the foundations of the topic before diving right in. My other complaint is that he uses the technical jargon too freely. Although he does generally explain which specimen is which when he first introduces it, he frequently resorts to referring to particular specimens and particular dig locations as though we are as familiar with them as he is. I wish he would have instead (again) laid more foundation, if the particular specimen or site is significant. He needed to explain why I should care whether a particular Australopithecine is from the East side of Lake Turkana. Is there a relationship between Australopithecus specimens at that site and Homo specimens at the same site? If so, he never laid that out. Similarly, he also throws around the names of paleoanthropologists as significant. I found this to be more distracting than helpful. He could have just added a lecture on the history of paleoanthropology and gone through the various players all at once. Although I would not have been particularly interested in that particular topic, it would have been much easier to digest that way than as infrequent short stories peppered throughout the course. Audio format I ordered the course on CD because I prefer the audio format for ease. I like to listen to courses in the car as I’m commuting. I’m always disappointed when a course that sounds interesting to me is not offered in audio CD. However, I think this was a course that the TC should have limited to DVD. Prof. Hawks reference to anatomical features of fossils, his references to the geographic locations of sites, and the geographic locations of various species throughout prehistory are virtually impossible to follow on audio. This may be one of the principal reasons I found the course to be so disappointing. Overall, I find that while I enjoyed certain aspects of the course, and did learn a lot of discrete bits of information, I cannot recommend the course. I recognize that I am alone in not recommending it, but the difficulties in putting all the information together into a coherent whole make it impossible for me to recommend. I’m afraid that, without an overall structured understanding, in a year’s time, I won’t be able to recall a single thing from the course. Therefore, a three star rating (good, but certainly not great) without a recommendation for others.
Date published: 2012-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, could have been even better Dr Hawks is an excellent teacher, and the material should be of interest to almost anyone. The course is presented as a series of current debates in anthropology : "Did Neandertals speak", "How long ago did people come to the Americas", "Was Ramapithecus a human ancestor. However as a previous reviewer wrote, it would have improved the course to have some overview of the materials. The course is strongest in the 2nd half, with info on Neandertals (Dr Hawks forte), and more current topics with genetic information available. A definite buy for those with any interest in this area.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Debates, not basics Due to the nature of the subject, its hard to concoct a course on anthropology that the target audience of The Teaching Company won't appreciate. That said, a few things are worth mentioning about Rise of Humans: -It is different in one major respect from other courses of this ilk: as its name implies, it focuses on current debates, hence it is a refreshingly up-to-date survey of the most important discussions going on in the field, even incorporating evidence that was unearthed in 2011. -The downside of focusing too much on current debates however, is that the course fails to provide a systematic overview. My presumptions about the course content before beginning it, included an organized summary (either chronologically, or genealogically, etc. of the populations, species, tools, periods, etc.) I regret to say Dr. Hawks failed to do that, so for instance he talks about different technologies in different time periods for several lectures but his presentations are mostly anecdotal, never providing any basic, organized background info about how these tools are classified. By the end of the course, you have a clear understanding of what the paleoanthropology community is actively pursuing, but little basic knowledge about the foundations and workings of the field. -The lack of any systematic organization is hardly ameliorated by the new format The Teaching Company has been adapting for its guidebooks, providing plot summaries instead of lecture highlights. -If you are contemplating taking this course, I have to suggestions: First, check out Dr. King's Biological Anthropology if you have no prior background in anthropology. That fills some, but not all, of the conceptual holes that you'll come across here. Second, watch it in video. Due to its experimental nature, the visuals are not mere luxuries here.
Date published: 2012-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Who am I and where did I come from? Video download review. Because of the helpful graphics, video will definitely be more enriching than audio. By all means, go ahead and splurge! Great job by Dr Hawks—again. It’s all very fascinating stuff and pertinent to us if we are to consider ourselves informed and educated. This course, which easily could have been expanded to a longer one, was useful and interesting. In my case I have no scientific background, but I do enjoy reading Scientific American and Discover Magazine. There I find that articles on paleoanthropology often get published, but only when new research or archeological finds shed light on controversies or debates. And that’s exactly what this course entails. It’s a long series of debates. The debates themselves are not all conclusive and settled by any means. But archeological data, genetics, molecular biology, linguistics, climate science, and other sources have contributed to an emerging picture. These 24 lectures have given me a better understanding of the concepts of evolution and culture, and they’ve also made me more aware of the tools and research methods that scientists use in their studies. The material, I think, is dense enough to warrant additional viewings if you really want to come to grips with the concepts and terminology. You may like this course if you are interested in the origins of mankind and evolution, if you wonder about your genetic makeup and have thought about getting a DNA test, if you’re curious about the spread of humans out of Africa and out to the New World, if archeology intrigues you, or if you tend to ruminate on creativity, art, language, and culture. Dr Hawks comes across as a gifted, logical scientist. I’m impressed by his knowledge and ability to communicate a sense of wonder. He’s not a lab wonk in a white coat—he actually travels extensively and gets out and about to do fieldwork. His hobby with art and his blog are also commendable. So, I find it easy to recommend this course to my friends and likeminded TGC customers.
Date published: 2011-12-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great intro to paleoanthropology I really enjoyed Prof. Hawks course, both for its overview of our evolution from early pre-hominids to modern Homo sapiens sapiens, and for its in-depth treatment of the real debates that paleontologists continue to have as new evidence emerges. I also found quite compelling the discussion of just how much data archaeologists and paleontologists can get from the paucity of evidence that remains in the fossil record. A good example is the discussion of how to reconstruct a lot of the context of early stone tool making from the debris that remains at several sites. Hawks is an extremely effective and enthusiastic lecturer. He clearly loves the material and is on the cutting edge of research in the field. I took this course on audio CD, but this is one where the DVD would be way more appealing given the visual nature of the subject(seeing photos of fossils, etc).
Date published: 2011-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome class I was an archaeology major for a time in the 1970's and have always been interested but I had NO idea how much I'd missed. Dr. Hawks presentation is friendly, accessible and not at all condescending (an occupational hazard of lecturers, I believe). He is obviously in the forefront of his profession and personally involved in much that he discussed. He explains both sides of the debates he covers with excellent information and NO snarkiness. Great class - wish I could take a college class from him.
Date published: 2011-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Say Hello to the Relatives Professor Hawks does an admirable job in opening up to us vast chunks of evolutionary time. In his easy-going way, he introduces us to our distant relatives, their strengths and their limitations. I was fascinated by this series. So will you.
Date published: 2011-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating info This is not a compendium of species and dates, rather as the title suggests a series of controversies in the field. I never would have thought to use the words, "acrimonious", and "paleontologist", in the same sentence, but Prof. Hawks demonstrates just how controversial some of the topics are. His presentation is coherent and the accompanying photos and maps are helpful. Some of the timelines need to stay on the screen just a little longer for me to absorb them without having to rewind and freeze frame. My only real criticism is that the 'presapiens or preneandertal' lecture #13 suffers from inadequate groundwork (as it were) because Prof. Hawks starts talking about mastoid processes and occiputs before the overall skeleton is put in context, which inexplicably doesn't happen until lecture #16.
Date published: 2011-09-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Course of Debates The Course was good at information of the scientific debates of human origins. However, the debate on the size of Homoerectus is a fruitless one. The answer to this question is that Homoerectus got to the size as necessary to fit in it's envirnoment, the same as humans. Humans range is sizes from Pygmies, to the Watsui tribe in Africa along with Europeans, American Indians, Eskimos all varying is size as dictated by the environment. Let's drop this debate and get on with more important ones. The Multievolution concept seems to violate Darwin's Evolution that "Species have a common Ancestor", which is singular not plural. What would be the probability of a single species evolving from two separate species at two different locations? It would be eminencely against it . Race of humans is based on the environment and the availability of characteristics in the gene pool. The equatorial African got black because protecting the body from harmful effects from radiation was more important than the benefits from radiation. The Northern races got white because getting benefits from radiation is more important than the harmful effects.
Date published: 2011-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Trees; A Bit Hard To See Forest This course delivers a vast amount of information about a fascinating subject - the evolution, geographical spread, and early cultural development of humans. Further, within this broad area, it covers an extraordinary diversity of topics, from our non-human forebears and cousins, to comparative anatomy, to tool use and language development and early art and farming and more, before ending with a consideration of whether we are still evolving (yes). And the breadth and depth of Prof. Hawks' knowledge is truly impressive, as is his ability to convey his passion for this field. He is clear and articulate, an accomplished speaker. He does a fine job pointing out what is known, what is controversial, and what remains shrouded in ignorance. Plus, the visuals - too often a weak point of these courses - are excellent. So why not 5 stars? The one weakness of the course, for me, was major: too little effort at tying the mass of information together to provide a big picture, an overarching synthesis, to help a neophyte like me gain an appreciation for the major conclusions and directions of scholarship. I am not saying this remarkable array of facts could possibly be all tied up in a neat package. But at the end of almost every lecture I was left without a clear indication of the major points of scholarly consensus, and of what the most important conclusions and future directions might be. Beginning public speakers are often given an excellent piece of advice: Start by telling your audience what you are going to say; say it; then tell them what you have said.Prof. Hawks' lectures would benefit greatly from this approach. Instead, he treats his story as a detective drama, giving us the many (and truly fascinating) clues, but without indicating as he goes what has and has not turned out to be vital information, what is and is not a red herring. Eventually we are provided with a bit of what passes for conclusions in this understandably tentative field, but this is done in cursory fashion in just a few sentences. So - this is very definitely a worthwhile course for any with an interest in this intriguing subject. You will come away with a broad range of knowledge and an appreciation for the difficult but engrossing work of the scholars who are writing the story of our prehistory. You will have to put in your own efforts, though, to better organize and understand the story line itself.
Date published: 2011-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting, informative, extremely well done. This is one of the best Teaching Co courses that I have seen/listened to. Both Professors Martin and Hawks are well organized, have clear speaking styles, and present the information at a comfortable pace. Professor Martin has a great sense of humour which he uses very skillfully to connect with the audience. I was never bored, I learned a great deal about evolution that has been discovered since my BA in Anthropology back in '68. I enjoyed this so much that I have ordered Hawks' series on human evolution. This probably works best as a DVD because of the pictures and charts, however with the booklet it would be fine as a CD.
Date published: 2011-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Cover of Paleoanthropology & Human Evolution This is the course I've been waiting for the Great Courses to offer; a comprehensive review of current topics and news in the field of paleoanthropology - the study of ancient humans - and current topic in human evolution. I first viewed Dr. Hawks in the G.C. offering "Major Transitions in Evolution." His mastery of the topic continues in this course as he leads the student through the history of human evolution, starting with the earliest purported ancestors living ~ 6 million years ago, up to and including modern humans. The course is so topical that it includes a discussion of the discovery of admixture of Neanderal genes in the modern human gene pool as well as the very recent discovery of a potential third humanoid that lived only tens of thousands of years ago in Siberia - the Denovisians. This course is not just about "stones and bones." Dr. Hawks is very familiar with population genetics and genetic research conducted around the world. He covers topics on the evolution of language, how evolution influenced art (and vice versa) , the effect that climate may have had on our development as a species, and finally, whether or not the human species is still evolving (we are). I highly reommend this course to anyone who is interested in human origins and the evolutionary development of our species. The pity is that, given the pace of new discoverys in the world of paleopanthropology, this course runs the risk of becoming irrelevant very quickly.
Date published: 2011-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FAR RANGING, COMPREHENSIVE, INFORMATIVE This review refers to the DVD's. They are recommended due to the extensive maps, photographs of subjects, and personalities that perform an essential adjunct to the lectures. Dr Hawks is a personable lecturer who keeps the pot boiling while he leads one through the many technical aspects of his specialty about human prehistory. He begins with various discoveries of fossils that may, or may not, be our ancestors with full explanations of the scientific opinions underlying current interpretations. He delves into the impact of such issues as brain size, diet, climate, language, agriculture, tool making, and art, among others. We learn some of the details about how science examines skull shapes and sizes to draw conclusions. He discusses the question of whether we are still evolving. I think his descriptions of the differing opinions among scientists adds a human flavor to this subject. He also adds the excitement of the discoveries of new evidence over the years that can change scientific opinions. There is a three lecture series on Neandertals. At their conclusion, he spends some time in a fascinating exploration into our relationship to the Neandertals established by the latest scientific techniques with DNA--a specialty of his. Paleoanthropology may not be on the front burner of everyone's interest, but this series of lectures is both interesting and enjoyable led by an accomplished and pleasant lecturer who obviously is knowledgeable about his field. For those experienced in this subject, it would appear this series may be of serious interest. For those of us who just enjoy acquiring general knowledge, it's a worthwhile investment to purchase the DVD's, and is recommended.
Date published: 2011-08-02
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