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Sioux Falls Scientists endorse The Origin of Civilization for taking us from the
earliest civilizations through the more complex civilizations that followed.

The Origin of Civilization
Lectures by Professor Scott MacEachern

The Origin of Civilization (2010) - 48 lectures, 24 hours
The Origin of Civilization at TheGreatCourses.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Comparative Point of View

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

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

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

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

Professor Scott MacEachern is professor of Anthropology at Bowdoin College. He received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Prince Edward Island and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Calgary. An archaeologist with field experience in Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Canada, and the United States, he recently received National Science Foundation funding for research in the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon.

48 Lectures - 30 minutes each

1: Ancient States and Civilizations 25: First Farmers in the Indus Valley
2: The History of Archaeological Research 26: Cities along the Indus
3: Studying the Origins of States 27: Seeing What We Expect - Power and Display
4: Archaeological Interpretation - Çatalhöyük 28: Sedentism and Agriculture in Early China
5: Stepping Stones to Civilization 29: State Formation in Ancient China
6: Trajectories of Cultural Development 30: Origins of the Chinese Writing System
7: When Is a State a State? 31: From Human Sacrifice to the Tao of Politics
8: A Complex Neolithic - Halafian and Samarran 32: Spread of States in Mainland Southeast Asia
9: Hierarchy and Urbanism - 'Ubaid Mesopotamia 33: Axumite Civilization in Ethiopia
10: The Uruk World System 34: Inland Niger Delta - Hierarchy and Heterarchy
11: Sumer and Afterward 35: Lake Chad Basin - Settlement and Complexity
12: Civilization and Pastoralism in Mesopotamia 36: Great Zimbabwe and Its Successors
13: The Development of Writing in Mesopotamia 37: Sedentism and Agriculture in Mesoamerica
14: The Gift of the Nile 38: The Olmec of Lowland Mexico
15: The Egyptian Predynastic Period 39: Teotihuacán - The First American City
16: The Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt 40: Beginnings of States in Lowland Mesoamerica
17: Divinity and Display in Dynastic Egypt 41: The Great Maya City-States
18:Why So Different? Mesopotamia and the Nile 42: Epigraphy - Changing Views of the Maya
19: Borders and Territories of Ancient States 43: Was There a Maya Collapse?
20: The Levantine Copper and Early Bronze Ages 44: Adaptations in Pacific South America
21: Hierarchy and Society in the Aegean 45: Pyramids and Precocity in Coastal Peru
22: Early Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations 46: Andean Civilization - Chav'n to Chimú
23: Palace and Countryside on Crete 47: The Florescence of the Inka Empire
24: How Things Fall Apart - The Greek Dark Ages 48: Ancient States - Unity and Diversity?


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The Origin of Civilization
Lectures by Professor Scott MacEachern

Sioux Falls Scientists endorse The Origin of Civilization for taking us from the
earliest civilizations through the more complex civilizations that followed.