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Publisher's Summary

For the past few hundred years, most of what we’ve been taught about the native cultures of North America came from reports authored by the conquerors and colonizers who destroyed them. Now - with the technological advances of modern archaeology and a new perspective on world history - we are finally able to piece together their compelling true stories. In Ancient Civilizations of North America, Professor Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center, will open your eyes to a fascinating world you never knew existed - even though you’ve been living right next to it, or even on top of it, for as long as you’ve been on the continent. 

The peoples of ancient North America were exceptionally knowledgeable about their environment, but their intellectual and artistic curiosity went much beyond the immediate need for food and safety. Beginning thousands of years ago, and without benefit of written language, native peoples became mathematicians, construction and soil engineers, astronomers, urban planners, and more. They developed thriving cities, extensive trade routes, canals to bring water to the desert, and earthworks we still marvel over today. 

In 24 exciting lectures, you’ll learn about the vibrant cities of Poverty Point, the first city in North America, built about 3,500 years ago, and Cahokia, the largest city of ancient North America. You’ll explore the many ways in which the Chacoan environment provided cultural and religious focus for peoples of the southwest. And you’ll learn about the Iroquoian source of some of our most basic “American” values. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2018 The Great Courses (P)2018 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about Ancient Civilizations of North America

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Required listening

I was worried a little that this would be a white-wash (heh) of indigenous history. Thankfully it was not. While this is coming from a settler perspective, it is far superior to any other takes on indigenous history from a Western perspective I've heard before, and the lecturer seems keenly aware of that.

9 people found this helpful

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The world needs more REAL stories like this

Great information and a terrific storyteller. Enjoyed every word. Being Canadian, It would be great to hear sililar depth about the east coast Canada first Nations. Thanks for opening my eyes.

5 people found this helpful

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Most of Canada is left out, as usual

I really enjoyed this lecture series, learning lots, and up until the last two lectures was thinking how in depth and thoughtful the research was. I kept waiting for anywhere east or north of Ontario to get mentioned, but aside from lumping everyone together as "Algonquin" and mispronouncing Newfoundland, there was nothing. Yes, the Mi’kmaq and Métis may be part of the same broad language group, but they also have their own distinct cultures and languages, cover huge areas, and are still prevalent today.

My biggest issue though, is that not once did he mention the Inuit. Nunavut makes up roughly 1/3 of Canada, and almost 90% of people living there today are Inuk. The Inuit peoples had, and still have, a large presence from Alaska all the way to Greenland. One would think, since many Americans love to picture Canadians in general as arctic "Eskimos" with igloos and dog sleds, that Mr. Barnhart might think them worth mentioning.

He made a solid effort to be respectful and up to date with his terms, but First Nations is the accepted term ONLY for those nations who have been called "Indians". First Peoples is the contemporary term for those who have been called "Eskimos". Aboriginal and Indigenous are terms that can be used to describe all First Nations/First Peoples in Canada.

Last thing: corn can and does grow north of the Dakotas. Even the "tropical" sweet corn is grown all through the Canadian provinces, and is one of our main crops.

Overall an excellent story of the southern US, but definitely not North America as a whole.

3 people found this helpful

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  • MTC
  • 2022-07-29

Up to date, perfect delivery, listen here and

Wonderful! Up to date ,perfect delivery. Listen here and again. You will find yourself putting together, in history, bits of knowledge you acquired over the years.

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enjoyable telling of North America History!!!

Edwin Barnhart's historical knowledge of this subject is awesome. The way he explains the possible misunderstanding of some of the past makes the story even better to believe because there are some discrepancies of how the sites were possibly disturbed. He explains why the belief in Christopher Columbus being the first to "discover" the New World is obviously not true.
Anyway, I highly recommend The Great Courses. It makes learning history fun!!!

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Not a course on ancient civilizations. But a lecture on tribal history

I read this book to understand civilizations instead I heard about tribes and tribal communities I was really hoping for some indication of other than societies and tribes to learn about civilizations I think the major flaw of this book is that it never really defines what a civilization is

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You are not new here

this was a great intro to the fact we have been fed a bunch of bunk regarding civiluzation in NA. well worth the time as all these courses are!

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Ancient Civilizations In My Backyard

February 2022 | 4/5
This was fascinating and the author kept the content engaging and easy to digest. I found the companion guide to be incredibly useful in understanding the locations and technologies being discussed - and Holy moly is it thick. Easily a course in its own.

Generally when I'm learning about ancient cultures, the material is focused on sites in Europe or Africa, but this course opens my eyes to ancient civilizations that left their mark on the earth in my own back yard.

Super cool read and listen.

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  • SD
  • 2022-03-07

Course review

Lots of good information. I liked the professor, he did a great job of presenting the information in an audio performance. I will listen again to pick up more of the content.

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Comparatively Disappointing

The information in this lecture series is fascinating. Ancient Civilizations like the Egyptians, Aztecs, Incas, Mayans, Mesopotamians, Indus, and Zhou are well-studied.. and Native American civilizations like those discussed in this course are largely ignored. Archeologist Edwin Barnhart leads an effective discussion on some fascinating little-known history topics that definitely piques interest. Unfortunately, this recording doesn't stand up to the exemplary standards I have come to expect from 'The Great Courses'.

To start with, Barnhart's narration reveals that he's clearly reading directly from his notes. His diction, timbre, and cadence are fine, but he reads too slowly (I found 1.25X was the optimal playback speed) and with a moderately mechanical tone (despite trying to sound conversational, the listener can picture Barnhart huddling over a tablet.. not looking up from his reading).
On top of that, the Production Standards are noticeably different from what I'm used to:
On the good side, the appended PDF is *Fantastic*.. much better than those attached to other courses (including photographs and color emphasis).
On the bad side, they replaced the 'Brandenburg Concerto' musical introductions at the head of each lecture with a modern 'Muzak'-y intro.
The format is fine - it's just not of the same quality we get with other courses.

Altogether, I learned some very interesting information, but this presentation lacks the enjoyable "Lecture Hall" feel of other offerings. It merits 5 stars out of 10. I got the audiobook as part of the 'Plus' initiative (and it was a great edifying option for free), but if they ask for a Credit, you could spend it better elsewhere.

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  • James Tighe
  • 2019-01-30

Where Was This Guy When I Was In College?

Great lectures! Dr. Barnhart provides pertinent information, lots of meaningful details, and he keeps it interesting 100% of the time! At the end of the course, he invites the reader to visit the places he's discussed, and that's exactly what the course makes me want to do.

When a topic has not been completely proven, and remains theoretical, Dr. Barnhart presents all the known potential explanations, along with sensible reasons for each, and encourages the listener to think and draw their own conclusions.

His knowledge and experience are strongly apparent, yet he comes across more like you were sitting on the patio drinking beer with him and listening to him talk, than as if he were in an auditorium delivering a lecture. I wish I'd had professors like him 30 years ago in college!

I will listen to this book/course again!

I just located all of Dr. Barnhart's courses that I could find in Audible, and added them to my wish list!

41 people found this helpful

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  • Jill Brim
  • 2019-01-31

Not as advertised

This was much more of an overview of archeological methods and a listing of historical sites than a review of the civilizations. This course reviews the methods of discovery and doesn’t piece together what the discoveries tell us.

49 people found this helpful

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  • Steve Goppert
  • 2018-07-26

A different perspective - civilizations not tribes

The perspective of thinking of the civilizations and nations rather “tribes” of North America is what prompted me to listen to this course. I have been to many of the locations mentioned in the course, particularly in the Southwest, and had managed a small contract archelogy/environmental company for a bit. So, considered myself somewhat conversant. vis a vie educated, in native or first people cultures. I now realize I missed so much on my brief project reviews and visits to some wonderful National Monuments and other historic sites.

This course has provided me with a bit of education and a very different perspective. Barnhart presents history from the arrival of the first peoples across the Bering land bridge to first European contact. The course proceeds through cultural history in a logical manner of regions of North America. Where I saw ruins and interesting mounds, I now see the rise and fall of civilizations just like those of western and eastern world history. He presented broad interconnected picture of pre-contact life in North America.

I see first contact as another period of change and upheaval no more brutal than Alexander’s conquest of Persia, the Saxon conquest of England and so many other conquests from China to Egypt. I’m sure some reading this may disagree; that just fine with me. Perhaps, as I enter my eighth decade of my cycle of life, I see a different perspective. The culture and nation we live in will end at some time just as it did for those who were here long before us. My lens is not so much one of good and bad as it is a lens of that is how things are. This course reinforced that worldview.

The course also made places I have visited like Chaco Canyon come alive. The mystery of roads, equivalent to Roman roads, that lead to nowhere we can understand is fascinating. The accurate astronomical alignments throughout the Chaco region are impressive. particularly since the Chaco nation had no writing language we know of to record decades or even centuries of observations. I want to revisit Chaco Canyon, the Aztec Ruins, and other places.

In summary, the course was interesting, informative, transformative and well worth time to listen to. Barnhart states that was part of his goal in designing the course. Well done, sir.

156 people found this helpful

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  • Jessica Anderson
  • 2018-10-31

This guy is amazing

this is the third one of his that I finished, it was great. His courses on Central and South America were all so wonderful. Highly recommended!

32 people found this helpful

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  • Matthew Dennis
  • 2018-10-29

Left me wanting more in the best possible way.

There are only a couple audiobooks on Audible on the topic of Native American history. Most of those seem to explicitly dwell on the poor treatment of natives in the post-contact world. But I already knew that contact was not just hugs and puppies for the natives after Columbus; what I wanted to know was: who was here before us, and what did they do? This audiobook more than delivers. I just wish it was longer, but I left these lectures with the distinct impression that the archaeology just isn't there yet, due to e.g. modern cities existing on top of the most interesting sites. Still, the first thing I did after finishing these lectures was make a list of friends who live near some of these sites, and start planning some visits. Tl;dr excellent set of lectures, recommend it to anyone with an interest in ancient North America.

106 people found this helpful

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  • Mike
  • 2018-07-05

Exceptional Science; Exceptional Subject

Dr Barnhart is an archaeologist by trade, and a story-teller by nature - the perfect person to deliver Great Courses material that is utterly empirical yet still comes to life. I personally could never get enough of his nuanced yet compelling treatment of First Nations / European contact, whether it's his courses on the Aztec, Inca, or here with the Mississippian cultures and de Soto. But the focus here on pre-contact lifeways is even more fascinating, as the stories of cities like BCE Poverty Point and CE Cahokia deserve their rightful pedestals in the halls of history.

24 people found this helpful

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  • K. Gentry
  • 2019-01-28

More Entertaining than Fiction

I loved these lectures. These were so full of information that I will listen again, and take notes of all the sites to visit. Edwin Barnhart pulls you into the story, and makes you share his interest. These are not distant removed peoples, but just humanity.

10 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Richard G. Schuette
  • 2018-09-07

Fascinating

This is a great, substantive as possible overview of native north America mostly before contact with Europeans. The narrator is easy to understand with a speech pattern that is not a monotone nor sing song. I loved it and plan on listening over and over.

19 people found this helpful

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  • IG-88
  • 2018-08-07

SketchPro

This was absolutely outstanding. I loved this course, I wish there was more to listen to I hope they develop a number of other courses focusing on other tribes and even natives of Canada, and the Caribbean. Or state by state. This was wonderful. Get it already.

36 people found this helpful

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  • Mark
  • 2019-01-10

I learned a lot of ancient North American history

I learned a lot in this Great Courses audiobook. Parts were interesting; other parts were a little slow. Because this is an academic lecture, there was a lot of background on how things were learned. It was good, but I was hoping to have those civilizations come more alive to me. Still, I am glad that I listened.

13 people found this helpful