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Publisher's 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.
©2003 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2003 The Great Courses
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

By Amazon Customer on 09-25-13

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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50 of 50 people found this review helpful

By Aaron on 09-22-13

Dull delivery, some interesting facts.

First, I am a college professor, so it pains me to give this lecture series anything but the highest praise. But I feel like they pick people who don't get the basic need for storytelling in the lecture format, and instead go with people with a professorial flair in the delivery. This lecture is the third in this series that I have attempted to plod through, and I am stopping at hour 7 even though the subject is of great interest to me. It may just be me, but I find nothing particularly compelling about this lecture- it's just okay. Most of the time I realize that even if I am listening intently, most of the information is just deserting me and I am needing to go back and listen again, as my mind seems to be completely uninterested in what Professor Fagan is saying. This lecture may work well in a room where you can see his gestures and visual aids, but in this format I find that I am retaining little and enjoying less.

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22 of 24 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Unique Pseudonym on 10-15-15

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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6 of 7 people found this review helpful

By MR on 07-06-17

entertaining and informative.

I could feel Fagan's excitement about his subject throughout the series. Pleasant listening too. The newer discoveries Fagan includes make this course particularly thrilling, as well as the interconnectedness in the world he shows his listeners

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Anonymous User on 11-07-17

A bit dated

Too much has happened since 2003 regarding genetics. The guy knows his stuff but its just too old.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

By Adam on 08-25-17


one of the best lecture series on the topic do you ever hear absolutely brilliant highly recommended

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