Ancient Civilizations of North America

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great way to spend twelve hours Three things about this course especially impressed me. Dr Barnhart is an engaging lecturer with an obvious enthusiasm for his subject matter. He is careful to demonstrate his respect for the peoples and cultures he discusses. And he explains that experts often disagree on matters of dates, places, events, and their significance. (When discussing these controversies he makes his own opinions clear, while dispassionately summarising opposing viewpoints.) He uses maps, plans, pictures, and other visual aids to help viewers follow the complex interactions among cultures in ancient North America, and his photographs of their surviving structures and ruins will kindle a desire to visit these places.
Date published: 2021-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation and information Ed did a wonderful job presenting the information in this course. He was knowledgeable and it was extremely interesting hearing so much of the cultures across North America!
Date published: 2021-02-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome and thorough coverage! Professor Edward Barnhart has to be congratulated with his accomplishment in this Great Course: "Ancient Civilations of North America" I am currently about half way through this course. Mr Barnhart must be commended for his unrivaled knowledge and experience on the subject, and his non-biased comments and the overall thorough exposure to us on the subject only adds to the quality of this course. I have also purchased Dr. Barnhart's course - "The Lost Worlds of South America" course, and will investigate any other topics that he has covered in the The Great Courses, and I highly recommend anything that Professor Edward Barnhart covers here at The Great Courses, you will not be disappointed!
Date published: 2021-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and enjoyable. I recommend this lecture series. It was fascinating, educational, engaging, and enjoyable. I look forward to purchasing Dr. Barnhart's other lectures when they are at a good sale price.
Date published: 2021-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent information and delivery! I thought I had a lot of previous knowledge but there is still so much left to learn!
Date published: 2021-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bravo Barnhart! Purchased this from Great Courses after discovering it elsewhere. Dr. Barnhart made me convert to his lectures almost immediately. His presentation is earthy, yet engaging. He does not let his obvious command of the material create any distance between himself and the listener. On the contrary, he quite naturally brings the student up to his level and by sharing his personal enthusiasm for the topic makes one feel a part of the discussion. Dr. Barnhart approaches his subject with honesty that sometimes flies in the face of accepted theories; but, he does so without taking a particularly contrary position to academia. He injects just enough humor and candor into his lectures that one really gets to know him as an individual. He is not afraid to inform the listener that there are some things in archaeology with just don't have answers to as of yet. Very engaging, have collected his other two series as well. Grateful to Great Courses for introducing me to Dr. Ed Barnhart!
Date published: 2021-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed. Ep 1 sucked. Actual archeology very good. I watched about 10 episodes when this was available on Amazon Prime. I first watched the episodes dealing with my particular curiosities: Adena, Mississippean, archaeo-astronomy in Chaco. Those were very good and gave information that is difficult for the layman to find. I have visited Cahokia twice, Etowah once, and Serpent Mound once; I found these presentations to be superior to the visitor centers (though Cahokia's was fun). Luckily, I didn't watch Episode 1 first. If I had, I would not have looked at any other episodes, and I would be giving a 1 star review. Episode 1 was so bad, it knocked down a 3.5-4 star to 1 star. Truly outstanding wokism on display in Episode 1. Let's see what I remember (because I am *not* wasting my time on a re-watch). He strongly suggests that interest in indigenous North American archeology lags interest in archeology of the Old World or Central or South American cultures for chauvinistic reasons. BOGUS! As a near 70-year old North American, I can attest that popular interest in indigenous cultures since 1960s has been as high or higher than interest in Egypt, Greece etc. There simply was NO SIGNIFICANT work done in North America. Were the archeologists chauvinistic, lazy, or maybe they just naturally preferred to work on more accessible evidence? Was the lack of preserved writing and records perhaps worth more than one mention by the lecturer? How about the fact that North Americans did not build monumental structures (pyramids, statuary, etc) out of stone? The problem was not lack of popular interest -- it was lack of professional study and field-work. Then European migration to North American is termed "a hostile take-over". But, of course, the *second* large-scale migration from Berengia was not a hostile take-over -- because why not? It was the same thing, wasn't it: new wave of people over-running earlier established populations. Then there was a long discourse on how use of BC/AD tacitly confers an endorsement of Christianity -- so he's going to use BCE/CE to show "respect". And what is the 0-point of BCE/CE? It's birth of Jesus. The BC/AD pearl-clutching is an artifact of who started the science of archeology as Westerners know it. Hint: we use BC/AD for exactly the same reasons archeologists largely publish in English, German or French. Stay away, far away, from Episode 1. I haven't watched the episode where he talks about DeSoto "rampaging" through North America. Maybe tonight. Probably not. By way of establishing my bona fides, I have been a Teaching Company student for a couple decades -- only recently getting rid of two banker's boxes of VHS tapes.
Date published: 2021-01-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Mostly Unoriginal and Incomplete I really wanted to enjoy this lecture series but in the end there was very little information I found new or revealing and the large gaps and somewhat wrong information regarding the various subgroups that make up the Algonquin language people's at the end of the series was puzzling and disappointing. He incorrectly summarize them as patrilineal, places them in an incomplete map and never even begins to discuss their subgroups or culture. Very frustrated that he couldn't take a few minutes to even mention the Lenape, Munsee and Nanticoke people among others.
Date published: 2021-01-27
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Ancient Civilizations of North America
Course Trailer
The Unknown Story of Ancient North America
1: The Unknown Story of Ancient North America

Pyramids. State-of-the-art highways. Productive scientists, artists, and engineers. These, and much more, were ancient North America. But having left no written record, and considered of no value by European conquerors many centuries later, these societies seemed destined to remain a mystery. Now, we are finally able to reveal their fascinating truths.

34 min
 The First Human Migrations to the Americas
2: The First Human Migrations to the Americas

DNA evidence points to Asia, and only Asia, as the origin of all human migration to North America. While there were many migration episodes, each episode involved passage across the Bering Strait. Sites of ancient habitation have been found all across the continent, under water and on dry land. See why, even with current technologies, scientists cannot yet agree on the ages of these sites.

36 min
 Clovis Man: America’s First Culture
3: Clovis Man: America’s First Culture

Explore Clovis, the very first American culture, which is identified by the Clovis point, a specialized megafauna-hunting tool that became the most widespread technology in the paleo-world. The Clovis populated the Americas from coast to coast, from Alaska to South America. Although the culture became extinct around 12,000 years ago, you will see how some of the Clovis people evolved into the last Paleo-Indians, the Folsom.

38 min
The Archaic Period: Diversity Begins
4: The Archaic Period: Diversity Begins

When the megafauna died out across the continent about 10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indian culture began to diversify regionally. Better understand why some groups developed hunting and gathering culture in a seasonal round pattern, while others fished from temporary camps. Also, see what DNA research reveals about one ancient sedentary people with resources plentiful enough to support 350 generations of habitation.

36 min
Late Archaic Innovations
5: Late Archaic Innovations

In this lecture you will see how, about 5,000 years ago, the creative, yet disparate, peoples of North America developed corn agriculture, permanent houses with storage and cooking pits, religion, art, pottery, ceramics, metallurgy, and basket weaving. Further explore the only innovation common to these many different cultures: an increase in cemetery sites and formalized treatment of bodies in burials.

32 min
Poverty Point: North America’s First City
6: Poverty Point: North America’s First City

About 3,500 years ago, while most North Americans were still nomadic, see how one group of ancient people developed a planned community on more than 900 acres to accommodate 4,000 to 5,000 inhabitants. Designed with exceptional engineering skills, the fascinating city of Poverty Point functioned for 1,000 years and included one of the oldest pyramids ever built on Earth.

30 min
Medicine Wheels of the Great Plains
7: Medicine Wheels of the Great Plains

Medicine wheels—wagon-wheel type arrangements of stones on the ground—vary in their number of spokes and size; are difficult to date; and although some are precisely aligned to the solstices, the majority have no known astronomical significance. Survey what we do know about their function and meaning, which almost certainly changed over time, just like the human populations who built them.

28 min
Adena Culture and the Early Woodlands Period
8: Adena Culture and the Early Woodlands Period

In modern-day Ohio, the continent’s first coherent civilizations evolved about 3,000 years ago, bringing together previously far-flung Archaic practices. Meet the Adena, the first ancient American culture with wide-ranging influence. Known for their conical burial mounds and shared concept of an afterlife, they also might have been the continent’s first habitual tobacco smokers.

27 min
The Hopewell and Their Massive Earthworks
9: The Hopewell and Their Massive Earthworks

Here Professor Barnhart introduces you to the Hopewell culture, a civilization that thrived for over 700 years.  You will see how they influenced all the peoples of eastern North America with trade networks, an art tradition, and the practice of burying their most important dead in earthen mounds. Their knowledge of mathematics and astronomy allowed them to build massive earthwork complexes in sophisticated geometric patterns in present-day Ohio.

33 min
The Origins of Mississippian Culture
10: The Origins of Mississippian Culture

About 1,200 years ago in eastern North America, populations gathered their farms and living structures behind defensive walls. Explore Mississippian culture and see how it introduced an increased use of the bow and arrow along with a large body of art, extensive trade networks, and mythological creation stories remembered today in bits and pieces by a multitude of surviving indigenous nations.

31 min
The Mississippian City of Cahokia
11: The Mississippian City of Cahokia

Covering more than 3,000 acres and with an associated population of about 50,000, understand why Cahokia, the largest ancient city in what is now the US and Canada, became a model for the region. Its fascinating and complex life included stratified social organization, burial mounds, deeply held religious beliefs, sophisticated artwork, woodhenges to mark the solstices and equinoxes—and ritual human sacrifice.

31 min
The Wider Mississippian World
12: The Wider Mississippian World

After the fall of Cahokia, witness how Mississippian civilization flourished across eastern North America with tens of thousands of pyramid-building communities and a population in the millions. Look at the ways they were connected through their commonly held belief in a three-tiered world, as reflected in their artwork. Major sites like Spiro, Moundville, and Etowah all faded out just around 100 years before European contact, obscuring our understanding.

33 min
De Soto versus the Mississippians
13: De Soto versus the Mississippians

In 1539, Hernando de Soto of Spain landed seven ships with 600 men and hundreds of animals in present-day Florida. Follow his fruitless search for another Inca or Aztec Empire, as he instead encounters hundreds of Mississippian cities through which he led a three-year reign of terror across the land—looting, raping, disfiguring, murdering, and enslaving native peoples by the thousands.

32 min
The Ancient Southwest: Discovering Diversity
14: The Ancient Southwest: Discovering Diversity

Uncover what archaeology has revealed about the ancient peoples of the southwestern deserts. Survey the  variety of strategies they used depending on their specific locale—from farming in flood plains to building elaborate irrigation canals—and how they developed into multiple distinct, but not isolated, cultures. See why today we recognize three core, and two peripheral, ancient cultures of the area.

28 min
The Basketmaker Culture
15: The Basketmaker Culture

Once natural selection produced a strain of drought-resistant corn, the peoples of the desert gave up their nomadic existence and began to build more permanent structures. Examine the first sedentary cultures of the American Southwest—the possible precursors to the Pueblo—and understand why baskets, which had been invented many thousands of years earlier, significantly increased in importance as the only portable storage solution before the advent of pottery.

25 min
The Mogollon Culture
16: The Mogollon Culture

As the Mogollon people increased reliance on agriculture, the size and density of their villages also grew, the largest having more than 100 pit houses arranged around multiple kivas. But as you will discover, they’re probably best known for their exquisite pottery bowls. Take a look at how, while neighboring cultures were still experimenting with geometric designs, the Mogollon painted sophisticated scenes of animals, humans, and supernatural creatures.

27 min
The Hohokam: Masters of the Desert
17: The Hohokam: Masters of the Desert

Learn about the Hohokam, a people who made beautiful art, employed cooperative decision making with strong centralized leadership, and developed extensive public architecture. But see why their real claim to fame was building more than 700 miles of sophisticated irrigation canals—the largest and most highly-engineered irrigation system constructed in the Pre-Columbian New World—segments of which are still visible today.

28 min
The Ancestral Pueblo
18: The Ancestral Pueblo

The dominant culture of the southwest was the Ancestral Pueblo. For the past 1,300 years, their settlements have exhibited an apartment-like room block pattern, from small farmsteads to cities with thousands of people. Examine how both the architecture and the short lifespans of earlier villages reflected the reality of the area’s scarce resource base, promoting cultural traditions born of environmental adaptation.

28 min
The Chaco Phenomenon
19: The Chaco Phenomenon

Chaco Canyon contains the most sophisticated architecture ever built in ancient North America—14 Great Houses, four Great Kivas, hundreds of smaller settlements, an extensive road system, and a massive trade network. But who led these great building projects? And why do we find so little evidence of human habitation in what seems to be a major center of culture? Answer these questions and more.

30 min
Archaeoastronomy in the Ancient Southwest
20: Archaeoastronomy in the Ancient Southwest

The people of the ancient Southwest were skilled astronomers, incorporating astronomical alignments in their architecture with impressive displays of light and shadow. Learn how discoveries of the Sun Dagger and the Chimney Rock lunar observatory—as well as the alignment of Great Houses miles apart along lunar maximum lines—could help reveal the true purpose of Chaco Canyon.

26 min
The Periphery of the Ancient Southwest
21: The Periphery of the Ancient Southwest

As you delve further into the ancient Southwest, you will see why the ancient farming cultures of the region did not spread into surrounding areas where farming was either unnecessary or impossible. Instead, nearby groups lived a more nomadic life, relying on hunting and gathering, and minimal occasional farming. Over time, each group developed its unique artwork, perhaps none as fascinating as the desert Intaglios of the Patayan.

27 min
Late Period Cultures of the Pacific Coast
22: Late Period Cultures of the Pacific Coast

From southern California to Alaska, witness a vast array of complex hunter-gatherer cultures that thrived along the Pacific Coast for centuries before European contact. In this most densely populated area of the continent—and its most culturally and linguistically diverse—peoples developed highly stratified societies, sophisticated systems of resource distribution and trade, advanced methods of food storage, and unique artwork.

35 min
Late Period Cultures of the Great Plains
23: Late Period Cultures of the Great Plains

The peoples of the Great Plains were broadly divided into the bison hunters in the west and the semi-sedentary farmers in the east. But with the European introduction of the horse, gun, and new diseases, you will shift your attention to how each of five main culture areas began to transform and how these changes shaped the homogenized, oversimplified view of American Indian cultures.

31 min
 The Iroquois and Algonquians before Contact
24: The Iroquois and Algonquians before Contact

At the time of European contact, two main groups existed in the northeast—the hunter-gatherer Algonquian and the agrarian Iroquois. Delve into how the Iroquois created the first North American democracy as a solution to their increasing internal conflicts. Today, we know much of the U.S. Constitution is modeled on the Iroquois’ “Great League of Peace” and its 117 articles of confederation, as formally acknowledged by the U.S. in 1988.

37 min
Edwin Barnhart

In my own experience as an explorer, it's almost always the case that the locals knew where lost places were all along. The discoverer is just the first person to ask the right questions.


University of Texas, Austin


Maya Exploration Center

About Edwin Barnhart

Dr. Edwin Barnhart is director of the Maya Exploration Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has over 20 years of experience in North, Central, and South America as an archaeologist, explorer, and instructor. In 1994, Professor Barnhart discovered the ancient city of Maax Na (Spider-Monkey House), a major center of the Classic Maya period in northwestern Belize. In 1998 he was invited by the Mexican government to direct the Palenque Mapping Project, a three-year effort to survey and map the unknown sections of Palenque's ruins. The resultant map has been celebrated as one of the most detailed and accurate ever made of a Maya ruin. In 2003, he became the director of Maya Exploration Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of ancient Maya civilization. The center leads study-abroad courses for college students and tours for the general public in the ruins of the ancient Americas, among its other research and educational activities. Professor Barnhart has taught archaeology and anthropology at Southwest Texas State University, and currently teaches University of Texas travel courses for college professors on ancient Andean and Mesoamerican astronomy, mathematics, and culture. Over the last 10 years, he has appeared multiple times on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese NHK Public Television. He has published over a dozen papers and given presentations at eight international conferences.

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