Summary

Where do we come from? How did our ancestors settle this planet? How did the great historic civilizations of the world develop? How does a past so shadowy that it has to be painstakingly reconstructed from fragmentary, largely unwritten records nonetheless make us who and what we are?
These 36 lectures bring you the answers that the latest scientific and archaeological research and theorizing suggest about human origins, how populations developed, and the ways in which civilizations spread throughout the globe. It's a narrative of the story of human origins and the many ties that still bind us deeply to the world before writing. And it's a world tour of prehistory with profound links to who we are and how we live today.
Woven through this narrative is a set of pervasive themes: emerging human biological and cultural diversity (as well as our remarkable similarities across surprising expanses of time and space); the impact of human adaptations to climatic and environmental change; and the importance of seeing prehistory not merely as a chronicle of archaeological sites and artifacts, but of people behaving with the extraordinary intellectual, spiritual, and emotional dynamism that distinguish the human. Among the corners of our mysterious past you'll explore: human prehistory from Australopithecus africanus through Homo habilis and Homo erectus; the beginnings of agriculture and animal domestication; theories behind the appearance of urban civilization and overall attributes of preindustrial civilizations; the maritime trading revolutions in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia; and much more.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.
©2003 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2003 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Unique Pseudonym on 15-10-15

Interesting but a little dated

This is a good whistle-stop tour of world prehistory. The narrator stumbles occasionally but his enthusiasm comes across well and he holds attention. A couple of assertions (such as 'We know that modern humans did not interbreed with Neanderthals') now thought to be false, beg the question of what else is out of date now but I don't think that detracts too much from the purpose of the course: to give a general overview.

One other bugbear. Some of the pronunciations of Chinese words were bizarrely wrong. It does seem a shame that the pronunciations weren't looked up beforehand but again, this isn't a big deal in what is essentially a big picture course.

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7 of 8 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By C. Goodall on 30-12-17

Little information & often wrong or misleading

Any additional comments?

I'm not sure what I was hoping for but this course is so lacking in information, The lecturer will say we've analysed when in fact ideas were mentioned and very briefly looked into.

The section on neolithic art was risible. No mention that the venus figures exist & only mentioning animal figures, No mention that the earliest art is pre-homo sapiens sapiens & says that art is a development of homo sapiens sapiens, No mention of musical instruments at all.

I'm surprised that the statement that Neanderthals & modern humans didn't interbreed is being stated in something that came out in 2013 was as early as 2010 that findings have appeared that they did. Has this lecturer not bothered keeping up with the latest finding and delivered an old lecture anyway?

I'm not going to criticise that needles have been found in the Denisovan caves used by non homo sapians sapiens as that's very recent but his talk of layering of clothing being an old idea that was lost until recently is very odd too. Yes how clothing layers work has changed but there have always been layers.

Not impressed by the lecturer's delivery either.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 25-09-13

Great Conceptually But Becoming Dated

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Although this is a course rather than a book, I would recommend it with reservation.

Would you recommend Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations to your friends? Why or why not?

On the upside, it paints human history in broad strokes and provides significant food for thought regarding what impacted early human development. On the flip side recent data is making some very significant points obsolete. The professor asserts that humans and Neanderthals did not interbreed, that Neanderthals did not produce art or have higher reasoning on par with homo sapiens sapiens. In 2003 when this course was first given this might have been the prevailing belief. Modern DNA research now shows that most of humanity outside of Africa is likely to have some Neanderthal DNA in our genetic make-up. Additionally, Neanderthals have been shown to make clothes, and use pigments at least for application on their body if not to create art on cave walls. Although there is still much to decipher and the final verdict is still out on how similar these two branches of humanity's tree were, the professors absolute statements regarding Neanderthals ring a bit hollow now with the passage of time coupled with recent developments. Still a good course overall.

What about Professor Brian M. Fagan’s performance did you like?

Concise. Despite reservations noted above, he still seems quite knowledgeable and has a great deal to offer.

Did Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations inspire you to do anything?

Yes. I went out and read more on the subject. Very interesting.

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58 of 58 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Mike on 10-12-13

Excellent!!! A Must Listen for Interested Readers

Any additional comments?

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this series. It is one of the best Great Courses I have listened to so far. For those who may not be familiar, the Great courses are a series of lectures by distinguished professors, not necessarily an audiobook per se.

This would be an excellent introduction for most into the topics of Prehistory and the first civilizations. I enjoy learning about history and have more prior knowledge than many would going into this book, but I still learned a great deal and think it would be appropriate for most who are interested in learning more. I was skeptical at first about cramming both topics listed in the title into a single series, but, to my joy and astonishment, the lecturer managed to fit both topics in and still manage to be thorough, detailed, and comprehensive in a relative sense. The series goes from discussion of man's earliest ancestors, through archaic humans and neanderthals, to modern humans, and then covers the development of the earliest civilizations all over the world, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Europe, India, Africa, China, and the Americas. Roughly half of the course covers prehistory and half of it covers the first civilizations, but, believe me, you will leave this course feeling that you have had a thorough introduction to both. The professor is very knowledgeable, articulate, and organized and he proceeds through the material in a roughly chronological manner. The material may be dry for some who aren't used to historical content, but I think the professor did a good job of keeping you engaged with the material and making it comprehensible.

Just as an inside joke to those who have already listened to this, two unforgettable phrases you will hear time and time again are, "We don't really know," and "How did they do this?"

If you are at all interested in the topic, I can't recommend this more. My guess is that you won't be disappointed.

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14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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