Rise of Humans: Great Scientific Debates

Course No. 1612
Professor John Hawks, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin, Madison
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92% of reviewers would recommend this product
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 53.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Detailed I really liked this course. It might be a little too much detail for some people but if you want an in depth review, done very well, by an interesting and well informed instructor, this is the course for you.
Date published: 2019-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good professor The professor is excellent. The material is a bit dry at times but I still found it interesting as I knew nothing about it before.
Date published: 2018-10-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Important Questions, All Answers Not In Yet This course brings to mind so many important issues concerning human evolution it is a must "read". I would like to give this course a 4.5 but the system does not allow it. I've taken many of TGC's with many real 5.0 presentations. This course is really good but I thought the presentation and explanations of the professor just were not up to the 5.0 level of many other TGC's. What is great about this course is it will get you thinking about just what is a human and, when and where did we get to the point that "we" were human and the previous version was not a "human". The professor does a good job of explaining how genetics are now being used to refine our knowledge of evolution. But, as the professor points out at the beginning, as many new questions arise as answers. From Darwin onward the earliest anthropologist and archaeologists were looking for a rather simple answer. This course points out the answer is not simple and many factors such as diet, climate, migration, genetics, and possible interactions of various "pre-humans" all could have an effect on our evolution. At some point, not clearly defined, "we" acquired a brain that was capable of what some scientist call "collective and continuous learning" (not this professor's term) which allowed "us" to innovate, invent, build on each new piece of knowledge, and pass on that knowledge continuously to future generations in large social groups. This course is well worth taking to understand the complications in getting to "the definitive" answers of human evolution.
Date published: 2018-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Professor Professor Hawks is a very gifted teacher who is an expert in his field. His enthusiasm for the subject is obvious, and I was impressed with the clarity of his lectures. The course is quite comprehensive and will be be best appreciated by students with a genuine interest in paleoanthropology.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Teaching at its best Professor Hawks makes an interesting subject--paleoanthropology--fascinating. He combines great knowledge with excellent organization, clear illustrations, and the ability to simplify complexity. Highly recommend this valuable video course.
Date published: 2017-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! Awesome course! One of my favorites! Definitely recommended.
Date published: 2017-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great in both audio and video I've watched and listened to this course at least 10 times since I got it. Very enjoyable.
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Invitation to assess Messr. Hawks presentation of human development? Alright, I’ll bite. First, the aural ambient speaks of someone with unique memory. Not anything developmentally or summarily evident, just the procedural coherent content of delivery. Wish I had that. Well, at least the top of his head seems to be the clone of mine. Something came along and pushed the follicles to the side. Maybe we’re in the same phylum at least. Something that blew me away is accentuation in a skull 1.9 million years old; indication of a developed Broca’s area of the brain. These people had a developing capacitance of speech!? What took so long for it to become evident in picture and writing? But… A word so often invoked that said the professor was skeptical of the findings now extant. Nonetheless, he got through a course that said there were elements of advancement toward humanity – humans do have ancestry. The intermix of it all is a bit enthralling, and disconcerting. Humanity progenated from something, mostly everything, now no longer evident in meristematic evidence. Then where is humanity headed (not anthropology’s domain). Question that speaks of a course that has half the answer. Merely my concern that robotics promises to become the dynamo of world animation. So, I am left in quandary of a question whose answer Is insoluble in the sea of its occupation: What is a human being?
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting and worth buying I enjoyed the course and learned some new things about the evolution of humans. I will admit that I could not keep up with all the names of different species, but have a better understanding, as an overview, of human evolution. The audio download was fine for this course, in my opinion. The professor describes what he is showing; I don't think the video is essential.
Date published: 2017-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Speaking of the hyoid bone... This course is not for everyone, yet everyone should be interested in the substance of the course...it's about us, after all. This is a course in Paleoanthropology, tracing the origins of Homo sapiens back nearly 7 million years in Africa, and is a college-level survey course that requires a bit of background and a willingness to research for yourself outside the video and guidebook. Dr Hawks, for me, represents the newest generation of scientists, looking to merge different disciplines to solve some of the 'debates' of the older generations of scientist. OK, back to the review. For those considering purchasing, please get a video version...unless you are listening with an internet connection close at hand. I usually prefer audio...but you need to see this stuff. You should have some background understanding of biology, geology (especially the law of superposition), chemistry, geography and anthropology...it's not that you have to be an expert, just aware. This is probably considered as an upper-level survey course that needs some introduction...Barbara King's course is probably a good one (almost always on sale). There are a lot of names...you will forget them, just like the names of all your classmates taking Anthro 101 your freshman year. But you will remember the progression from simple primate to cave-art makers to farmers with the ability to grow the makings of a crude beer. And keep in mind how quickly (geologically speaking) all this happened. Highly recommended course...I've watched it twice, as well as read most of Hawks' online comments. Pretty soon you'll be well on your way to getting that junior paleoanthropologist ring you've always wanted. Get it on sale during TGC's half-off promo (have I mentioned that before?)
Date published: 2016-10-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Man and Mankind. An interesting and entertaining course expertly taught and presented with some quite good visuals. I would recommend these set of lectures.
Date published: 2016-09-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Bit Disjointed Version: Audio. Much like the fossils discussed in this course, there are many pieces missing. But the pieces that are there are interesting, fascinating, and well-presented. Professor Hawks is great -- very clear in his presentations of sometimes complex theories, very knowledgeable, and very articulate. All of the material presented in all of the lectures has been really, really good. The only issue I have with the course is that it feels like a "tasting" event -- I'm getting lots of samples of a variety of really delicious foods, but not enough of each one to be satisfying, and certainly not a complete meal. Of course, the subject area of "The Rise of Humans" is far too vast for a single course, even if it were twice as long as this 24-lecture series. At the same time, the course does not seem focused on the "Great Scientific Debates" either. Some of the lectures are informational: Here's a bit of history about how this area of paleontology developed, or here's what we know about this species. Some lectures do discuss scientific debates about certain topics. Some lectures just present theories about certain topics that don't really rise to the level of great scientific debates. And there seems to be a lot about very early hominid species, then a lot about Neanderthals, but not an overview showing the progression. Bottom line -- great course, well worth it, but it leaves me wanting more. That's not a bad thing!
Date published: 2016-07-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not up to par This is a low rating for me. I've listened to several dozen of the courses and rate most of them as 4s or 5s. I should say that I listened to these lectures on CD, and it is the first time I feel I've been misled about the information that the course is fine in this format. There were many references to visual material, the absence of which undercut my appreciation for the lectures. The separate lectures are not well related to each other. The first one dives in without any overview or larger framework, and the relationship between the parts never gets much clearer. Perhaps this course would be better appreciated by someone who already had a better--or more recent--knowledge of human evolution and who was approaching this one as an "advanced topics" course. (Just a guess.) Having presented these complaints, I'll say that there was much material I found interesting, even without having a good sense of the overall context. The ways DNA analysis have changed interpretations of evidence and some discussions about early art are two examples.
Date published: 2016-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course! I have been purchasing The Great Courses since at least 2006. That was when the courses were sold in audio cassettes. I was working then and listened to them walking before work, at lunch, and walking after work. I am not an intellectual like most of the course evaluators here seem to be, but i do have a college degree, not that it should matter. A lot of life learners don't have a lot of formal education, but just a lot of interest and curiosity in learning about all subject matters, which is why The Great Courses is such a wonderful venue, Anyhow, to get back to the subject of The Rise of Humans, I just find this course so helpful in what I've been trying to understand about how we came to be us. Prof. Hawks is great. I've been interested in the origin of humans for some time now. I've started reading Harari's "Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind" but stopped to listen to this course so that I can better understand the book. There's nothing greater than life-long learning. And I am so grateful for The Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-07-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best course I've listened to so far I adore Robert Sapolsky and have all his lectures. I would have easily said his courses were the best hands down until I listened to this one. My graduate degree is in Biological Anthropology and this course did a wonderful job of updating my knowledge of paleoanthropology. If someone does not have a good working knowledge of anatomy, the DVD (which I assume has visuals when he is discussing skull features, etc) might be a better choice but the audio is certainly well worth the time if anyone, like me, uses these courses during lengthy commutes. I'd like to see the professor update this course with the new fossils recently discovered.
Date published: 2015-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent review of current issues This course provides an excellent review of current issues in physical anthropology. The lecturer does a superb job of explaining the material for the non-professional and providing the context for the issues. This is critical for those who want to get the real facts rather than the theories shown in popular educational programs because recent finds and technology (such as DNA analysis, have changed and continue to change our understanding of human evolution. For example, I was totally unaware that all of the Neanderthal remains found to date were from females. This means that nothing is known about the Neanderthal Y-chromosome and how it may have influenced their ability to adapt to the environment. Those who want to update their understanding of the scientific debate in this field will find this course fascinating and exceptionally well presented.
Date published: 2015-10-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rise of Humans:Great Scientific Debates Excellent course for anyone interested in Human Evolution and Anthropology.Professor Hawks presents many different ancient relatives and ancestors to modern man as well as explaining theories on Brain size,Diet,climate impact on evolution,language and theories on how it came to be.Thought it was a great course and very interesting.Would also recommend Major Transitions in Evolution which Professor Hawks shares with Professor Anthony Martin.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Hawks is the best Professor Hawks' knowledge and enthusiasm make his lectures engaging and easily understood by people who are outside his field. He manages to explain simple concepts without ever seeming condescending, and complicated ones without ever being inaccessible. He has a very pleasant speaking voice.
Date published: 2015-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! Knowing close to nothing about paleoanthropology before I watched this course, I won't presume to comment on any technical issues. I will say only that Professor Hawks is a great lecturer; his understanding of and enthusiasm for the subject matter is inspiring; the subject is fascinating; the format (great debates) is original; and of the many Great Courses I've watched or listened to, this clearly is one of the best - on a par with the courses given by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver. I would hope that Professor Hawks can be persuaded to do another one.
Date published: 2014-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! I loved this course! I had many questions going into it, and he managed to answer all of them! I loved the format. The instructor did a great job of explaining both sides of these scientific debates and made it so much easier to understand and appreciate the process scientists go through before they say "we now know..." Other reviewers have criticized his hand movements. I didn't find anything objectionable about his presentation. His enthusiasm was contagious. Loved the course.
Date published: 2014-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fsacinating survey course of human evolution Prior to hearing this course, I heard another TGC course in which twelve lectures (a third of the full course) were on the subject of early human evolution: "human prehistory and the first civilizations" by professor Fagan. After finishing the course, I felt that I was not satisfied with the extent to which this topic was covered, and found this course on the topic. This is one of the courses that I had enjoyed most so far in the TGC. Professor Hawks describes in some detail current understandings of the field, and how firm these understandings are. This is usually done by presenting in some detail the scientific techniques used in arriving at some of the conclusions; what other evidence can support the theory and what evidence weakens the theory or even invalidates it. He takes great care that at the end of each lecture, the listener has a pretty good idea of how firm the theory is on the specific aspect that was discussed. Some of the techniques described were extremely interesting within themselves, such as using differences in neutral regions of genomes (non functional regions), in order to date a divergence in evolution of two related species or populations. The field appears to be extremely multidisciplinary, involving research from as diverse fields as biology, linguistics, archeology and genetics (to name just a few). The way in which all of these different fields of research are harnessed in order to substantiate or invalidate a particular theory (or even one tiny aspect of a particular theory) is fascsinating, and all of this is presented in profound detail and talent by professor Hawks. Wonderful course...
Date published: 2013-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from How we got to be human I found all of the information interesting, but what I enjoyed most was the description of how paleoanthropologists work with other scientists to advance knowledge in their field. Anthropology, archaeology, biology, genetics, geology,and other fields are combined to give us a window into ancient hominid history.
Date published: 2013-11-20
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
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