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Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival

Experience 2.5 million years of history as you discover what life was like for early humans.
Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival is rated 3.5 out of 5 by 37.
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Rated 1 out of 5 by from Nothing but disappointment If I were associated with The Great Courses, I would be embarrassed to claim "Early Humans" as one of our offerings. The instructor seemed more interested reading a script out loud than in communicating content to an audience; all the while I was ducking names and dates that were being thrown around willy nilly. Cluttered graphics were of little use because they were not designed to communicate information in the Great Courses' format. Perhaps the instructor could learn something about communicating to an audience by viewing John McWhorter's Great Courses.
Date published: 2023-11-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing This is the 2nd course in a row that I have ordered from The Great Courses where the professor doesn't teach, but rather stands there and reads a teleprompter. I don't recall any course that I ever took in college where the instructor stood there and read his lecture. Very disappointing. I will give it a great deal of thought before I ever order any more courses from The Great Courses. They used to be good. How do these courses get approved? For me it's a mystery.
Date published: 2023-11-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Great Content, Poor Delivery I really enjoyed the updated content in this series because it's been awhile since I formally studied the topic. However, the professor's robotic reading of the transcript made it unbearable to watch. So, I mostly listened during my workouts at the gym.
Date published: 2023-11-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from For Novices Only If you are new to paleoanthropology and/or paleogenetics and want to know more about the subject, this course is for you. If, however, you work in the field or, like myself, are an informed layperson who keeps up with the latest news and findings from this rapidly changing field, do yourself a favor and pass on this course. This is a bare bones introduction to the study of the evolution of early to modern humans. I won't comment on the production values (similarly bare bones) of the series and presentation skills of the instructor as it would be a rehash of what other reviewers wrote. There are other, better Great Course choices but sadly they are moving more and more out date due to the continuous and rapid discoveries in the field of paleoanthropology and paleogenetics. Presenters Gregory Aldrete, Edwin Barnhart, Barbara King, and John Hawks are all experts in the field who deliver superbly organized lectures with excellent supporting graphics and charts. It would be great if the G.C. would invite these experts back to update their earlier works. I would love to watch the 2nd editions of Ancient Civilizations of North America, Major Transitions in Evolution, and The Rise of Humans.
Date published: 2023-10-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Reading not lecturing I really wanted to learn from this course. I gave it 6 “lectures” but couldn’t finish. Watching someone just read rather than teach was too much. I felt we weren’t getting a true educational experience. No one was teaching. A person off the street could stand and read text. I even tried it on audio only but then I wasn’t getting the visual aids. In the end, it was just too frustrating to watch.
Date published: 2023-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful romp through early human history I enjoyed this series so much. I knew a little bit about much of the material, but my knowledge had become somewhat dated. She does a wonderful job of describing how modern scientific methods work and how they have shaped our thinking on early humans. Some of the reviewers seem to be quite irritated by her delivery which does seem to come off the teleprompter probably a bit more than it should. I was too fascinated by the clearly presented content to find fault in that.
Date published: 2023-08-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poorly Organized Course This was one of the more disappointing courses I've watched through Great Courses/Wondrium. The lecturer is clearly knowledgeable and passionate about the topic, but she just reads very quickly off the teleprompter. The organization of the lectures is poor. She does not define terms clearly, assumes significant prior knowledge of the subject and the lectures seem to jump around without a clear chronological pattern. For an excellent course on similar subject matter, I'd recommend Barbara King's Biological Anthropology Great Course, which is first rate.
Date published: 2023-08-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Misleading title This course focused more on explaining archeological methods as opposed to the incredible story of human evolution. So boring and hard to finish watching but I pushed through.
Date published: 2023-08-04
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You and the other 8 billion humans alive today are members of the only species that has survived in the genus Homo since its 2.5-million-year evolutionary journey began. Many other species we know of and perhaps dozens yet to be discovered have all come and gone. Who were these long-ago ancestors? Where and how did they live and die? And how are we even able to learn about these humans, some of whom became extinct millions of years ago? In 20 captivating lectures, Professor Suzanne Pilaar Birch shares her expertise and passion for discovery as she peels back the years to expose the emergence and lives of early humans in Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival.


Suzanne Pilaar Birch

The story of early humans is a triumph of adaptability and ingenuity in challenging environments.


University of Georgia

Suzanne Pilaar Birch is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the University of Georgia. She earned a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge. She is an experienced field archaeologist, the editor of the book Multispecies Archaeology, and the author of more than 30 scholarly articles and book chapters. She is also a cofounder of TrowelBlazers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to highlighting women in archaeology, paleontology, and geology. Her research has been funded by the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, and the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council.

By This Professor

Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival
Early Humans: Ice, Stone, and Survival


What Does It Mean to Be Human?

01: What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Discover when humans developed and consider the questions we need to ask to explore early life. In setting the framework for our species’ development, you’ll learn about some of the large-scale changes in Earth’s climate, sea level, and land masses in the past several million years.

25 min
Stones and Bones: The First Fossil Families

02: Stones and Bones: The First Fossil Families

Meet Homo habilis, the earliest known species of our genus. Discovered in 1960, at that time it was the first species known to have used tools. We have since discovered tool use in many animal species. But what does distinguish H. habilis from all previously evolved organisms? It’s the brain that allowed them to survive in a variety of locations, navigating different environmental conditions and climate shifts.

26 min
Bio-Cultural Adaptation and Homo erectus

03: Bio-Cultural Adaptation and Homo erectus

Meet Homo erectus, the first of our genus to walk completely upright. Being one of the longest-lasting hominin species—more than 1.5 million years—H. erectus learned to adapt to a wide range of environmental challenges. But how did H. erectus get all the way from Africa, where they most likely originated, to Java, where their remains were first discovered?

27 min
How Homo sapiens Left Africa

04: How Homo sapiens Left Africa

How did H. sapiens adapt to new environments by changing our diet and using technology as we spread across the Old World? Learn how the study of prehistory through molecular genetics has both transformed and confounded our understanding of the human fossil record. Explore the roles of gene flow, and the exchanges of artifacts, ideas, territory, and social structure as populations ebbed and flowed out of Africa.

26 min
X-Woman! Meet Our Ancient Relatives

05: X-Woman! Meet Our Ancient Relatives

Discover the complexity of early human history by meeting “Denny”—a female specimen whose mother was an H. neanderthalensis and whose father was an H. denisova. We also now know that early H. sapiens also interbred with H. neanderthalensis and produced fertile offspring. In fact, both Denisovan and Neanderthal DNA have been found to be present in modern human populations.

24 min
Did the Neanderthals Really Go Extinct?

06: Did the Neanderthals Really Go Extinct?

Explore the culture-rich lives of the Neanderthals, who existed for more than 300,000 years across a vast geographic space—from Siberia and Central Asia to westernmost Europe and the Near East. They thrived with multifaceted lives in a time of massive climate change with multiple ice ages, both before and after the arrival of modern humans in Europe. Why did they go extinct … or did they?

25 min
Sailing to Australia 60,000-Plus Years Ago

07: Sailing to Australia 60,000-Plus Years Ago

How were Homo sapiens able to get to Australia 60,000-plus years ago without a land bridge to travel? Discover the evidence that exists for their travel by water and the scientific methods used to date the earliest H. sapiens discovered in Australia. To what extent were the First Australians responsible for the extinction of the continent’s megafauna?

27 min
The Origins of Language and Music

08: The Origins of Language and Music

Learn about the combination of fossil and DNA evidence that have helped us understand when and how human language evolved. But what about the full range of human communications—including music and singing? Explore the difficulties archaeologists have in trying to discover whether or not our predecessors developed music and how and when it shows up in our own past.

22 min
Handprints in Time: Early Art and Objects

09: Handprints in Time: Early Art and Objects

Consider the earliest evidence for human modification of physical material for aesthetic purposes: art. What can we learn from the fact that artwork surfaced everywhere early humans were found, not just in one region? From cave paintings to rock art and figurines to human-made pigments, who were the people who created these artifacts and what were they wanting to accomplish?

23 min
Ancient Jewelry as Extensions of the Mind

10: Ancient Jewelry as Extensions of the Mind

We might not like to think about body lice as a source of information about our history, but it is genetic evidence from this insect that points to humans wearing clothes as early as 170,000 years ago. Discover what we can learn about our early cognition by exploring the ways we adorned ourselves, from clothing to jewelry to tattoos.

25 min
Death and Burial in the Prehistoric World

11: Death and Burial in the Prehistoric World

When did people first start to bury their dead and grapple with the meaning of death? Explore the many varied burial practices of our ancestors and how those practices reveal their social structures and relationships with their environment. Was H. sapiens the only species to use ritual burials long ago, or did the Neanderthals also develop this practice?

25 min
Feast or Famine? The Paleolithic Diet

12: Feast or Famine? The Paleolithic Diet

Explore the varied human diet that existed even before the domestication of plants and animals. Learn about the research tools—including proteomics and DNA analysis—that have allowed us to not just generate lists of the species our ancestors ate, but to reconstruct entire ancient economies.

25 min
Why There’s No Such Thing as Cavemen

13: Why There’s No Such Thing as Cavemen

While our ancestors did utilize caves in some capacity—as we know from cave paintings and multiple artifacts—there’s little evidence that they lived in caves, contrary to the ideas that have been popularized in our culture. Instead, discover the earliest evidence for built structures and the materials early humans used for bedding.

23 min
Early Technology: Axes, Harpoons, and Hooks

14: Early Technology: Axes, Harpoons, and Hooks

Changes in tool form and function are among the foremost markers of the arrival of the modern mind. Explore the materials used and the many new tool forms that appeared tens of thousands of years ago. From fishing hooks to sewing needles to the use of natural poisons for hunting, evidence shows an explosion of new technologies developed by our ancestors well before the appearance of agriculture.

23 min
Coming to the Americas 20,000-Plus Years Ago

15: Coming to the Americas 20,000-Plus Years Ago

The Bering Land Bridge between modern-day Russia and Canada, also called Beringia, was a temporary 240,000 square miles of land that allowed the first people to enter the North American continent. Not covered in ice, the land supported steppe vegetation and fauna. But when did early humans arrive? Discover the fascinating scientific journey archaeologists have taken to try to answer that question.

26 min
Living Dangerously as the Last Ice Age Ended

16: Living Dangerously as the Last Ice Age Ended

Explore the world of 15,000 years ago as the last ice age ended, and the vast ice sheets began to melt. Discover the scientific advances that have allowed us to describe that world in detail, a world with H. sapiens living on every continent except Antarctica. How did those people—very much like us today in appearance and thought—cope with such drastic change in their environment?

22 min
Brewing Beer and Baking Bread in the Levant

17: Brewing Beer and Baking Bread in the Levant

About 15,000 years ago, people began to settle down and adopt certain aspects of sedentary agricultural lifestyles in the eastern Mediterranean region. Explore the exciting discoveries of this time period, including the purposeful brewing of beer; possibly some of the earliest human efforts at written record-keeping; and other developments of the Natufian people, including the domestication of dogs.

20 min
The Hunter-Gatherers Begin to Settle Down

18: The Hunter-Gatherers Begin to Settle Down

As the world began to warm and vegetation changed, people turned to new dietary options instead of having to follow large migratory herds across the landscape. Discover the scientific methods used to reveal exactly what our ancestors ate during this period—including evidence that we might have turned away from gathering food from the sea and quite possibly farmed snails in addition to plant crops.

17 min
Secrets of Cave Art, Ceramics, and Cattle

19: Secrets of Cave Art, Ceramics, and Cattle

Explore the recent scientific discoveries that have revealed more nuanced lifeways about the last Ice Age than were previously known. Learn why the narrative about life in North Africa has also shifted. Learn about the ritual practice of dental evulsion that seems to reveal population and cultural exchanges between North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean, the Levant, throughout this period.

18 min
Was Agriculture a Revolution or an Accident?

20: Was Agriculture a Revolution or an Accident?

Although agriculture was historically framed as a “revolution,” we now know it was the result of thousands of years of process. Learn about the recent archaeological evidence showing that the phenomenon of domestication occurred independently in many places around the world, unfolding sometimes with and sometimes without accompanying Neolithic cultural shifts.

23 min