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World Prehistory: Ancient Peoples and Places

Course Code: ANTH 1101
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Anthropology
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Partially Online
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

Humans have a long history prior to the advent of written language and archaeology provides us with the methods to understand the majority of the human past. In this course we will explore the human past beginning with the emergence of our own species (Homo sapiens sapiens), and then follow our global expansion into a variety of environments. We will document the numerous ways we have lived in different places and at different times. During the course students will be introduced to the methods and theories that archaeologists use to reconstruct past human cultures. We will take a global perspective in examining some of the major transitions in the way of life humans have experienced from the advent of sedentism and agriculture to the emergence of social complexity and urbanism. Highlights in the case studies used may include the building of the Pyramids of Giza in Ancient Egypt, the settlement of Polynesia, the rise of the Classic Maya and an examination of the urban landscape of Cahokia. Finally we will explore the ways in which the distant human past continues to influence our contemporary world.

Course Content

1. Introduction

Introduction to the disciplines of anthropology and archaeology.

Introduction to world prehistory.

2. How We Know What Happened in Human Prehistory

The basics of archaeological method and theory.

Archaeological survey and excavation.

Archaeological dating methods.

Methods of material culture analysis

3. Becoming Human

Introduction to human evolution: earliest hominins, Australopithecines, Early Homo, Homo erectus, Premodern Homo sapiens, Neandertals and Homo floresiensis

The origin and evolution of premodern hominins.

The origin of stone tool production and lifeways of premodern hominins.

The dispersal of premodern hominins outside of Africa.

4. Becoming Modern

The emergence of modern humans: Homo sapiens sapiens

The genetic, anatomical and behavioural origin of modern humans.

The global migration of modern humans out of Africa.

Pleistocene hunting, gathering and foraging cultures around the world.

5. The Holocene: After the Ice

The Mesolithic and Archaic Periods.

Complex hunters, gatherers and foragers.

Early sedentism and the roots of food production.

6. The Origins of Agriculture

The process of domestication of plants and animals.

The beginnings of agriculture and its spread.

The consequences of agriculture.

Earlier agricultural cultures in places such as Southwest Asia, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Anthropological explanations and theories for the origins of agriculture.

7. Civilization: The Origins of Complex Societies

The definition of social and political complexity, cities, states and empires and their identification in the archaeological record.

Anthropological explanations and theories of social and political complexity, urbanism and state formation.

Anthropological explanations and theories of social and political collapse.

8. The Archaeology of Complex Cultures

The archaeology of complex societies such as Ancient Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Shang China, the Indus Civilization, Ancient Mesoamerica, the Central Andean Inka and their ancestors, the North American Southwest, Mississippian cultures of Eastern North America, Bronze and Iron Age Europe and Neolithic Africa.

Each semester the instructor will choose a selection from among these examples to focus as a series of more in-depth case studies.

9. The Power of the Human Past

Understanding the changing representations of the past and why these changes occur.

The influence of the human past on contemporary societies.

The political use of the human past.

The human past as represented in popular culture and the media.

Methods of Instruction

This course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives.  These may include: lecture, video presentations, group work/projects, small group discussion, case study analysis/projects, low-stakes writing assignments and presentations.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based on course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific criteria during the first week of classes.

An example of a possible evaluation scheme would be:

Low-stakes Writing Assignments      20%

Research Paper Proposal                10%

Research Paper                             20%

Midterm Exam                               20%

Final Exam                                    20%

Participation                                  10%

Total                                           100%

Students may conduct research with human participants as part of their coursework in this class. Instructors for the course are responsible for ensuring that student research projects comply with College policies on ethical conduct for research involving humans.

Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this course successful students will:

  1. possess an understanding of many of the methods, techniques and theories that archaeologists use to reconstruct the way that humans lived in the past from their material remains
  2. be able to describe the broad outline of human prehistory, including the major events that led to our current human condition and understand the cultural diversity that existed in the human past
  3. be able to describe the specific geographical locations, cultural chronologies and material characteristics of key prehistoric cultures
  4. be able to describe a number of the different theories that archaeologists have proposed to explain major transitions in human prehistory such as the origins of sedentism, the origins of agriculture, the rise of social complexity and the emergence of the state
  5. understand that the contemporary world is a result of a long human history and how our view of the human past can affect society today.

curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.