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Lost Worlds of South America

Trek through the lost worlds of South America and discover exotic civilizations in this course on the culture, architecture, and history of these ancient peoples.
Lost Worlds of South America is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 237.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating look at lesser known cultures I find Barnhart to be a pleasant listen. He clearly knows his subjects and his passion shines throughout. The course deals with South American civilizations going back up to 4000 years ago. This includes a lot of lesser known civilizations (as opposed to the Inca) and gives great insight into what the cultures were like in war and peace. The last few lectures focus on the Inca. Overall, probably the best of his courses on the ancient America's, and that is saying something
Date published: 2023-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent instructor The instructor of this course is excellent. I found the information to be even more interesting than I thought it would be, and I learned a lot. Now I want to know more about new discoveries that have been made since the course was released. I am glad I purchased this one.
Date published: 2023-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and coherent Ed Barnhart does a wonderful job of not only explaining individual "lost worlds of South America," but of tying these worlds together into a cohesive whole. These lectures helped guide me in deciding on interesting places to visit in Peru and I wish I had found this class prior to other trips I've taken to South America. I now plan to take Dr. Barnhart's other classes as well.
Date published: 2023-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation This course indicates how much our understanding of the Andean culture has changed over the past few decades. Dr. Barnhart is particularly good at providing alternative theories and credit to other researchers. It is a true continuing education experience. The course guide is well prepared.
Date published: 2023-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from pandemic savior I live in a seniors community and acquired a digital TV just before the pandemic hit and was introduced to streaming channels. I did not know how long I'd be in isolation nor how the programs would keep me sane. I discovered the True History channel and the videos of Dr Barnhart on the archaeology of both Americas. The series on South America was a revelation. It led me to watch all the others.
Date published: 2023-03-25
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Fascinating, But Deeply Flawed Course I love this course, and find Dr. Barnhart's presentation style to be enjoyable and engaging. I've listened to this course multiple times, and it was even one of my favorites for a long time! Despite all of this, and despite being very sad to do so, I'm afraid I have to leave a bad review of this course. The first time I listened to this course, it was incredible! I learned so much about the cultures of South America that I'd never known. But after listening to a number of other historical and archaeological courses, I found I had a lot more trouble with this course. There's still a lot of good information in here, but it suffers from three issues, which become quite major when taken together: 1) Unsubstantiated Theories. 2) Poor Differentiation Between Theory and Fact. 3) Lack of Consensus Viewpoints. Unsubstantiated Theories: Dr. Barnhart, who is a fantastic Mayanist, is not an expert in Andean civilization. However, in this introductory course to Andean civilization, he chooses not to teach the consensus view, and instead teaches his own theories. I'm not against professors teaching their own theories, and in fact I quite enjoy it! However, doing so in an area outside of the professor's specialty is risky. Poor Differentiation Between Theory and Fact: With unsubstantiated theories, it is especially important to make clear when what is being taught is the speaker's personal theory, and when it is the consensus view. Dr. Barnhart does often make it clear when he is presenting his own theories, but he does not always do so, and I've often found myself searching for subjects from the lectures, only to find that they do not exist. For example, one of Dr. Barnhart's primary focuses in this series is on a figure known as "The Fanged Deity". I encourage you to google that for yourself -- the top results are three links to the same podcast by Dr. Barnhart, a Pintrest link, and a link back to this course. Despite focusing heavily on this figure, it does not appear that "The Fanged Deity" is recognized by anyone other than Dr. Barnhart himself! But if you only listen to this course, even if you disagreed with him about it representing a monotheistic god, you would almost certainly come away mistakenly assuming that it was a common figure in Andean art. Lack of Consensus Viewpoints: This is the most egregious one, in my opinion. I think that someone should be able to watch a Great Courses course, and come away with a reliable understanding of the subjects discussed. Additional theories can be interesting, but should not come at the expense of teaching the standard view of the material. Sadly, in this course it very much does. This is most notable in religion, due again to Dr. Barnhart's theory regarding "The Fanged Deity". Religion is a central aspect of history and archaeology, yet after listening to this course I know next to nothing about what the consensus view on Andean religious beliefs are, because Dr. Barnhart only talks about evidence for his monotheistic Fanged Deity hypothesis! As a result, an entire category of knowledge about these people is simply absent from this course. Perhaps Dr. Barnhart is right about the Fanged Deity, but until that position is widely accepted it is irresponsible not to teach the consensus view, since that will be what people are expected to know in all other contexts. I'm quite sad to have to leave such a negative review, as I truly to enjoy Dr. Barnhart's courses, and his Mesoamerican and North American ones remain some of my favorite courses, but this course is badly flawed by his overuse of personal theorizing. I still love learning about Andean civilizations, and I hope that some day we'll get a Great Courses series from an Andean specialist!
Date published: 2023-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not A Yes Man Professor Barnhart is an observant, independent thinker who has done the necessary legwork to be credible. His visuals are excellent. He carefully distinguishes between the merits of other's research and his own conclusions. He has two challenging themes. THEME #1: South American inhabitants reached many civilization milestones long before the Egyptians - leading Barnhart to posit that N. Americans did NOT initially arrive via the Bering Straits 11,500 years ago (as presumed by the Clovis, N.M. mastodon kill site); Thor Heyerdahl (Lecture 12 = L12) proved that early man could reach South American from Oceania. The Atacama Desert's 1500 mummies (L3) include many 2000 years older than Egypt’s oldest. The oldest inland CITY in all of the Americas is Caral (L2) with pottery from 3200 BC. Brazilian pottery at Pedra Pintada (L13) extends back to 6000 B.C. (vs. N.American pottery to 2000 B.C.). (L3) 14,900 year-old Monte Verde’s 12 huts, fire pit and tool site predate Clovis. L12 states that the highest capital city in the world, Tiwanaku (in the region of Lake Titicaca) “is felt by some to be 15,000 years old". THEME #2: The world’s first monotheism centered about a (L4) humanoid ‘fanged deity’. L11 describes the elements of shamanism and its new iteration of the ‘fanged deity’. L12 introduces the Inca creation story at Lake Titicaca. L17 describes how the Inca creator deity Viracocha created people OUT OF CLAY – resembling other creation stories from geographically disconnected regions. Viracocha first created the giants who angered him and whom he destroyed by flood - again reminiscence of the Biblical event, though from impossibly separated peoples. Viracocha then made another human race from clay, painted them different colors, gave them different languages, and sent them across the earth “to be the nations of the Andes". L13 relates how, despite ancient Amazonian cities being built with perishable materials, petroleum engineer flyovers have located enormous man-made cities and causeways, suggesting that perhaps 15 million people may have lived in “the cradle of the Americas". With the Inca, another ‘‘fanged deity’' iteration occurs. In L17 a former Inca prince wrote of five 1000-year world ages: 1.) People originally wore only leaves, worshiped God but then turned to the Andean gods; 2.) The Llama people who were wiped out by flood; 3.) The Wild People who became rich and began wars; 4.) People began living in forts, built roads, adopted the decimal system and advanced metallurgy; 5.) The Inca worshipped "the "demons of Cuzco" until the Spanish arrived. ANECDOTAL STORIES: the Peru coastal population inland movements caused by El Nino’s destruction required change from fishing to terraced agriculture (L4, L15, L16), and the transition (L6) from cooperative farm life to violence as cities grew larger around 500 B.C. Headhunting (L7) brought an enemy's head’s spirit into servitude and apparently persists in the Amazon. The Andean thought that the "spirits of the dead...use their mummified bodies as touch points" with the living. L10 describes the "richest tombs in the New World". THE INCA STORY: begins with the Wari (L15) who built state sponsored roads with rest houses, rectilinear urban grids, sunken wells, citadels, and other features that remind one of Roman systems. L18-20 describe the Inca "capital" of Cuzco as so well made that a dime can't be placed between its' stones. Barnhart believes that a desert bird's acid feces fused the stones together. Beneath large buildings, beds of small stone allow earthquakes shift without harm - despite countless modern losses, "not a single Inca construction has fallen". He discusses the Inca invention of freeze-drying potatoes (L20). Inca army intimidation techniques to bloodlessly incorporate villages led to subsequent bureaucratic evaluation of each villager for the ability to contribute. Production requirements: (1/3 went to the capital at Cuzco, 1/3 for the village and 1/3 for villager) are counterbalanced with rewards: (security, land upon marriage, surplus food, and monthly festivals). Perhaps it was a better solution than the modern WELFARE STATE of Lloyd George (see Great Course: European History by Steinberg L36). L23 covers how Pizarro's 168 men conquered 10 million organized Inca. CONCLUSION: A marvelous course that opens an amazing re-write of what we “knew” about everything from the timeline/routes of human occupation of the Americas to previously poorly recognized parallels in man’s search for God. L23 on the Spanish capture of Cuzco is the subject of one G.A. Henty’s 19th century historical novels. I had read it prior to the course and wondered about its exceedingly fantastic imagery. No longer.
Date published: 2023-03-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The photography and illustrations were very helpful, providing solid information on the Incas and their way of life. That part I really enjoyed. The factual elements were well presented. However, I sometimes had difficulty with the manner in which the professor presented his point of view by criticizing/ridiculing earlier scholars. That seemed harsh and demeaning. It could have been presented differently,..
Date published: 2023-02-07
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As one of only six places on earth where civilization arose spontaneously, South America offers a fresh and revelatory look at how human societies formed, from the earliest organized communities to cultures of huge complexity. They paralleled, yet were absolutely different from, the ancient cultures of Greece, Egypt, and others that we know so much better. In these sites you witness the unfolding of one of the true cradles of civilization. In Lost Worlds of South America, Professor Edwin Barnhart, director of the Maya Exploration Center, leads you on an adventurous trek of discovery through the emerging finds and archaeological knowledge of more than 12 seminal civilizations, giving you rich insight into the creative vision and monumental achievements of these wellsprings of human life.


Edwin Barnhart

In my own experience as an explorer, it's almost always the case that the locals knew where lost places were all along. The discoverer is just the first person to ask the right questions.


Maya Exploration Center

Dr. Edwin Barnhart is director of the Maya Exploration Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has over 20 years of experience in North, Central, and South America as an archaeologist, explorer, and instructor. In 1994, Professor Barnhart discovered the ancient city of Maax Na (Spider-Monkey House), a major center of the Classic Maya period in northwestern Belize. In 1998 he was invited by the Mexican government to direct the Palenque Mapping Project, a three-year effort to survey and map the unknown sections of Palenque's ruins. The resultant map has been celebrated as one of the most detailed and accurate ever made of a Maya ruin. In 2003, he became the director of Maya Exploration Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of ancient Maya civilization. The center leads study-abroad courses for college students and tours for the general public in the ruins of the ancient Americas, among its other research and educational activities. Professor Barnhart has taught archaeology and anthropology at Southwest Texas State University, and currently teaches University of Texas travel courses for college professors on ancient Andean and Mesoamerican astronomy, mathematics, and culture. Over the last 10 years, he has appeared multiple times on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese NHK Public Television. He has published over a dozen papers and given presentations at eight international conferences.

By This Expert

Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed
Ancient Civilizations of North America
Exploring the Mayan World
Lost Worlds of South America
Lost Worlds of South America


South America's Lost Cradle of Civilization

01: South America's Lost Cradle of Civilization

Consider the remarkable evidence for South America as one of the true wellsprings of human civilization. Grasp the diversity of early South American cultures, from the Andean civilizations to the desert and Amazon regions; what these cultures shared; and their extraordinary innovations in agriculture, architecture, handcrafts, social organization, and religion.

30 min
Discovering Peru's Earliest Cities

02: Discovering Peru's Earliest Cities

The first cities in the Americas date to 3000 B.C. Investigate the means of subsistence of coastal and inland valley cities, and evidence for trade in marine and agricultural products. Learn about the sites of Kotosh, El Paraiso, and Caral and their striking features of architecture, including plazas, pyramids, and solar observatories.

30 min
South America's First People

03: South America's First People

The earliest evidence of humans in the Americas comes not from North America, but from Chile. Investigate the important Monte Verde site and its view into everyday life 15,000 years ago. Learn also about "Quilcas" cave art, the astonishing Chinchorro mummies-predating Egypt's- and evidence of early agriculture and trade at Huaca Prieta.

30 min
Ceramics, Textiles, and Organized States

04: Ceramics, Textiles, and Organized States

Observe pivotal changes in northern Peruvian societies in 1800-900 B.C., such as the architectural styles of the southern and northern valleys, which indicate the rise of a state identity. Note the area's earliest evidence of metallurgy and weaving, and stone sculptures reflecting the first warlike violence seen in South America.

28 min
Chavin and the Rise of Religious Authority

05: Chavin and the Rise of Religious Authority

The Peruvian site of Chavín marks the emergence of religion as the focus of public art. Study Chavín's distinctive architecture, with images of its characteristic "fanged deity." Learn about later religious iconography and artifacts at Chavín suggesting that it was the center of a cult that spread to other sites in the region.

28 min
Cupisnique to Salinar-Elite Rulers and War

06: Cupisnique to Salinar-Elite Rulers and War

With the waning of Chavín's culture, striking new elements appear in the region's archaeological record. Here, encounter the Salinar culture, a new settlement pattern showing no ceremonial architecture and the first "elite" housing. Examine the evidence of defensive citadels and what may have triggered warfare and emerging social hierarchy.

27 min
Paracas-Mummies, Shamans, and Severed Heads

07: Paracas-Mummies, Shamans, and Severed Heads

Investigate the fascinating Paracas tombs of the 1st millennium B.C., which contain richly adorned mummies, and grasp the significance of mummification. Study the elaborate iconography of Paracas textiles, the meaning of the supernatural beings they depict, and the practice of head hunting as a means to control the spirits of the dead.

29 min
The Nazca Lines and Underground Channels

08: The Nazca Lines and Underground Channels

The Nazca are yet another South American people of striking accomplishments. Learn about their remarkable irrigation system of underground aquifers, aqueducts, and wells, and their fine polychrome pottery and textiles. Penetrate the mystery of the "Nazca Lines," massive geoglyphs scratched into the earth, which may be the result of ritual pilgrimage.

30 min
The Moche-Pyramids, Gold, and Warriors

09: The Moche-Pyramids, Gold, and Warriors

In the first of three lectures on the Andean Moche culture, chart this civilization's outstanding features. Discover the immense pyramids, adorned with brilliant color murals, road systems, and sophisticated art. Examine the evidence of extensive warfare, both in the art and in excavated weaponry and sacrificial victims.

28 min
The Moche-Richest Tombs in the New World

10: The Moche-Richest Tombs in the New World

The Moche tombs offer compelling evidence of the culture's social structure and cosmology. Investigate the sumptuous contents of the three principal tombs of Sipan-the enigmatic buried figures and dazzling costumes, jewelry, and surrounding objects. Contemplate who these buried people might have been, with relation to imagery in Moche art.

28 min
The Moche-Drugs, Sex, Music, and Puppies

11: The Moche-Drugs, Sex, Music, and Puppies

This lecture investigates the dramatic iconography seen on Moche ceramics. First, learn about the complex rituals and practices of modern South American shamanism. Then study images on Moche pottery usually interpreted as depicting victory in war, and indications that they actually describe an elaborate culture of shamanic healing.

35 min
Enigmatic Tiwanaku by Lake Titicaca

12: Enigmatic Tiwanaku by Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the site of one of South America's most impressive civilizations. Discover the huge urban complex of Tiwanaku and its cultural connections to Chavín de Huantar. Explore Tiwanaku's mysterious architecture and its "raised field" agriculture, an engineering feat that allowed for the support of a large population.

33 min
The Amazon-Civilization Lost in the Jungle

13: The Amazon-Civilization Lost in the Jungle

Recent discoveries indicate the presence of massive ancient civilizations in the Amazon. Survey the evidence, starting with the Beni region's elaborate systems of mounds, causeways, and canals. Continue with the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, noting wide areas of human-enriched soil, towns ringed by moats, geoglyphs, and pottery dating to 6000 B.C.

28 min
The Wari-Foundations of the Inca Empire?

14: The Wari-Foundations of the Inca Empire?

Here, track the remarkable innovations of the Wari culture, highlighting its walled cities, paved road systems, large-scale livestock herding, and ingenious form of terraced agriculture. Examine the evidence of satellite communities of the Wari and the question of whether Wari expansion constituted empire building or a more benign diffusion of culture.

29 min
The Chimu-Empire of the Northern Coast

15: The Chimu-Empire of the Northern Coast

This lecture introduces a culture of warrior kings who became conquerors, second in influence only to the Inca. Learn about the Chimú's extraordinary royal citadels, urban organization, and intervalley irrigation technology. Investigate their subjugation of neighboring cultures, their imperial administration centers, and what may have motivated their conquest.

29 min
The Sican-Goldsmiths of the Northern Coast

16: The Sican-Goldsmiths of the Northern Coast

Contrasting with the Chimú, Sican civilization comprised a confederation of equal and independent city-states. Study the apparent Moche influence in Sican pyramid building, elaborate burial styles, and extensive human sacrifice. Observe the unique qualities of Sican art in the mastery of metallurgy and stunning ritual objects in ceramic, gold, and copper.

30 min
The Inca Origins-Mythology v. Archaeology

17: The Inca Origins-Mythology v. Archaeology

Begin your study of the great Inca civilization by tracing the culture's origin myth, featuring a creator deity who made the cosmos and charged the Inca to found a kingdom in a fertile valley. Compare the mythology with archaeological evidence that suggests that the myths were based in part on historical truths.

30 min
Cuzco and the Tawantinsuyu Empire

18: Cuzco and the Tawantinsuyu Empire

The city of Cuzco stands as the supreme achievement in architecture and aesthetics of pre-Columbian South America. Study the city's astounding features, such as its hydraulic engineering, anti-seismic construction, and its perfectly fitting stonework that defies explanation. Learn also about the culture of ancestral mummies, the golden Coricancha temple, and other architectural marvels.

31 min
The Inca-From Raiders to Empire

19: The Inca-From Raiders to Empire

In charting the rise of Inca civilization, follow the pivotal reign of Pachacuti, the 9th Inca, whose vision to unify the Andes led to large-scale conquest. Learn how his heir, Tupac, doubled the imperial territories, and how the empire was ultimately torn apart by civil war and disease.

29 min
The Inca-Gifts of the Empire

20: The Inca-Gifts of the Empire

As a glimpse into how the empire functioned so effectively, learn about the Mit'a, a system of labor taxation, noting the services subjects provided to the empire and how they benefited in return. Grasp the Inca's ingenious technology of road building, suspension bridges, and freeze-drying vegetables, and how they eliminated hunger.

28 min
The Khipu-Language Hidden in Knots

21: The Khipu-Language Hidden in Knots

The Inca used a complex system of records encoded on knotted strings. Study what is known of the khipu, starting with Spanish accounts of their use and the "khipucamayuq" who recorded and read them. Learn how numbers were encoded, and review evidence suggesting that the khipu may contain a form of writing.

34 min
Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

22: Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley

The mountainside complex of Machu Picchu was a royal estate of Pachacuti, the 9th Inca. Walk the site, entering at the Sun Gate, and explore the causeways, terraces, and many rooms of undetermined function. Study the solar-aligned Torreon and other astronomical structures of the site, and their significance in Inca cosmology.

30 min
Spanish Contact-Pizarro Conquers the Inca

23: Spanish Contact-Pizarro Conquers the Inca

In one of history's most unusual incidents, the Inca empire was defeated by a Spanish force of 168 men. Study the events surrounding the capture and demise of Atahualpa-the last true Inca ruler-the destructive conquest by Francisco Pizarro, and the following struggle within the empire against Spanish rule.

29 min
Remnants of the Past-Andean Culture Today

24: Remnants of the Past-Andean Culture Today

The Andean civilizations have left a remarkable legacy in the modern world. Investigate the many ways in which contemporary peoples in South America maintain ancient ways of life, seen in agriculture, community organization, traditional lifestyles, and astronomical and religious observances, and contemplate what these practices mean in our own time.

31 min