During this six-part course, we will trace the human story from its earliest beginnings over three million years ago in Africa to the foundation of the first civilizations. Our understanding of what happened in our collective past is at crossroads with new discoveries and insights.
Key questions we'll explore together include: Who were the first people who looked like us? How come that we have Neanderthal genes? Did the first farmers emerge due to global warming at the end of the last Ice Age? Why and where did early civilizations emerge, with leaders seen as living gods? Everyone should know how humans came to dominate this planet.
Led by an expert on world prehistory, Charles Higham, this Course will give a personal view of how humanity has come to dominate this planet. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the human past as our ancestors have evolved over the past 15 million generations.
Lecture 1: How, Where, and When Did Humans Evolve?
Against a backdrop of environmental changes over a period of three million years in Africa, we will examine and try and interpret the evolutionary pathway of our remote ancestors. There were successes and extinctions along the way but by 300,000 years ago, hominins whom we can recognize as our remote ancestors were in being.
Lecture 2: Out of Africa
Who were the first humans to colonize the planet? Where did they end up? We will find that humans were reaching out into Eurasia and Southeast Asia well over a million years ago. What did they look like? What happened to them?
Lecture 3: The Planet is Taken Over by Anatomically Modern Humans
From about 60,000 years ago, people with bodies resembling modern humans began to migrate across the world. We will follow them along the warm coasts of South Asia into Australia, across the Bering Land Bridge in America, and in how they populated Europe. What happened when they met Neanderthals and Denisovans? Who was responsible for the first art?
Lecture 4: The Neolithic Revolution
After about 300,000 human generations, as the earth warmed and glaciers melted, crucial innovations changed the world: the domestication of plants and animals. There were several key regions. In the Near East, it was wheat and barley, sheep and goats. In East Asia rice and millet, pigs and cattle, and in the Americas it was maize and beans.
Lecture 5: The First Population Explosion
Farming is people producing. There was an explosion of the population as farming communities proliferated and spread. Progressively much of the world bent to the new immigrants, but not all. Hunters and gatherers survive in Australia, the Andaman Islands, the Amazon, and the Philippines.
Lecture 6: The Foundations of the Modern World
We turn to a question that has taxed specialists for centuries: how did the first civilizations come to be? Why does the majority tolerate social inequality and rule from the few? How did early states happen? How is it that dynastic elites were often worshipped as gods? What causes civilizations to collapse? What lessons are there for us?
About Your Expert
Charles Higham is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He is an archaeologist with a particular interest in the origins of Southeast Asian civilizations. His excavations in Thailand and Cambodia have greatly increased our understanding of how the great Kingdom of Angkor began, how God-Kings were revered, and with a climatic deterioration, how it came to an end.
How does it work?
This is a six-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.
Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.
How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 60 minutes long with time for Q&A.
How much is the course?
The course is $210 for six lectures.
Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording within 24 hours of each session's conclusion. The recordings are available to re-watch at leisure until 30 days after the course's conclusion.
This conversation is suitable for all ages.
90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.