Human Prehistory and Ancient Civilizations

As part of Squirelflight’s history lessons, we are beginning serious study from the evolutionary perspective.  We’ve begun with a basic overview of earth sciences, first signs of life, evolution through early human ancestors.  She’s watched the recent programs on Ardipithecus, (“Discovering Ardi”), which we can’t yet find through our local library system. We were fortunate enough to see them with me last year around the time I had started my evolutionary biology class, and I was able to share some of the interesting pieces I’d learned in connection with the discovery of a further distant ancestor than australopithecus.

Now we’re focusing on the early humans (migration, formation of civilizations) through reading selections, and videos, both in The Teaching Company (TTC) lecture series and the more layman-termed videos seen on stations like Discovery and History channels and PBS.  These, at least, we’ve been able to get from the library. Although, the dramatizations require discussion before and after with my daughter to clarify that they’ve taken research and theory and given it to the hands of artists to interpret.  It’s not guaranteed fact, but it’s the best conclusions we have at the time represented in a way that will gain emotional commitment to the educational components.  Rather like advertising.  😉

As we go, we talk about the ways people have visioned and revisioned history.  The phrase “history is written by the winners,” then requires us to look back from lesser heard perspectives.  For example, I pointed out that the Babylonian culture that viewed the goddess Tiamat as an evil dragon goddess, destructive mother, and fierce, had taken the goddess of another culture that they’d subjugated and re-envisioned her as an entity that their primary god, Marduk, had justly conquered and destroyed.  When we reach more recent history, we will look at how Columbus’ people and the coming colonialists committed acts of genocide on the Arawaks and other indigenous people in the Americas.  These are things not normally taught in U.S. schools that need to be recognized.  Columbus was only a hero from one perspective, but a monster from the views of others, and he was far from the first European to discover the people and land of these two vast continents.

For now, and likely for the rest of the school year, we’ll focus on human evolution, pre-history, and early civilizations in order to build a foundation of understanding for the shaping of modern cultures.  Though the U.S. tends to focus on the Classical period and on Kemet (ancient Egypt) most, I’ll be showing her areas of the Fertile Crescent, the Maya, Omec, and Aztec cultures, what we know about ancient indigenous peoples of the north American continent, the Celtic, Ogur, and Mongol migrations, and much more.

One of the major sites of archaeological interest, Catalhyouk in Turkey, is mentioned in the TTC video series, “The Origin of Civilization” by Scott MacEachern.  When Squirelflight finished watching that lecture, I had her look at the Mysteries of Çatalhöyük web site, which features interactive components, images, and child-friendly explanations about dig methods and what’s been learned from the site thus far.

Current and Upcoming video resources that we’ll be using:

  • TTC The Origin of Civilization (she got through the first five, but was horribly bored)
  • TTC Human Prehistory and the First Civilizations (she much prefers Brian Egan’s academic British accent, rolling–and sometimes “w”-sounding–r’s, and the way he presents his information)
  • TTC Between the Rivers: History of Ancient Mesopotamia
  • BBC Walking with Cavemen
  • Becoming Human
  • Journey to 10,000 B.C. (coinciding with explanation about the perpetuated myth of the Bering Strait land bridge, also see Vine Deloria, Jr.’s “Low Bridge, Everybody Cross” in his book Red Earth, White Lies)
  • HC Discovering Ardi
  • PBS Evolution series (incl. “Why Sex?”)
  • Darwin: Evolution’s Voice
  • The New Chimpanzees
  • Neanderthal on Trial

Some of the reading selections:

  • Archaeology by Colin Renfrew and Paul Bahn
  • How Humans Evolved by Robert Boyd and Joan B. Silk
  • The Kingfisher Book of the Ancient World
  • The Timetables of History by Bernard Grun

Other methods we’re planning to employ:

  • Costuming (trying to make clothing from different periods using materials and methods as close to their original sources as possible)
  • Web site exploration
  • Using part of the garden that needs work as a “dig site”
  • Discussing ethical dilemmas associated with archaeology, and the nature of history-making and its biases
  • Reading about and listening to stories that have been passed down through traditional teachings and knowledge
  • Visiting with people who study ancient civilizations
  • Reading narrative non-fiction and historical fiction from early points in civilization
  • Spend a day or parts of several days practicing skills that were associated with a particular life way (e.g. stone tool manufacturing, gathering edible, native foods from the area, sewing with found objects, basket weaving); we note that neither my daughter nor I have indigenous ancestry native to the PNW, and will focus primarily on the life ways of  early Europeans and those of indigenous nations in the New England area (Squirelflight’s ancestry includes Wabanaki/Abenaki heritage, about which she wishes to learn more, preferably in as great a context of understanding as possible).  However, we will need to focus our gathering efforts on native, edible plants to the surrounding area of our house. Our goal is to be respectful throughout, both of the traditions of our distant ancestors, and the traditions of those people whose land we occupy without seeking to claim rights or rightful association to the latter.
  • Making meals from foods gathered and making meals based on ancient recipes or known diets

I’ll post here should we add further resources to her pool, or if some things work better or don’t work for her at all.  The goal is to start with the evolution and pre-writing civilizations and move forward to early civilizations.  With a strong foundation, she can later (possibly not until next school year) progress on to a global overview of post-classical era civilizations and the middle ages.  Beyond that, we’ll be moving ever closer to the modern day, and her lessons can then become targeted more on specific events and the global shifts that shaped them.  Everything is interconnected, and it is important to me that she be given a somewhat linear view of the development of humanity as a whole and the cultural diversity that spawned from the earliest primates to now.


One thought on “Human Prehistory and Ancient Civilizations

  1. As an update, I’d like to say that “Journey to 10,000 B.C.” is not worth it. It stands by defunct and refuted arguments for the origins of Native Americans, and it’s overly dramatized. Also, the “paleo-Indians” (a term some Native Americans find offensive as it denotes a lack of connection between the earliest people and the modern day first nations), are played by exclusively white actors. This further supports Dennis Stanford’s theory that Native Americans are really just early Europeans that traveled by boat across the Atlantic to the Pacific and then settled in America. Genetic testing, artifacts, and other evidence do not support these theories.


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