Watch Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed

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Uncover the fascinating rise and fall of the Maya and Aztec civilizations-spectacular empires with complex cultures that ruled vast stretches of pre-Columbian America. In this comprehensive course taught by the Director of the Maya Exploration Center, you'll witness the enthralling history of these sophisticated societies as you explore their religions, governments, social organizations, and more.

Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (47 episodes). The series first aired on March 6, 2015.

Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed on demand at Amazon Prime, Amazon, The Roku Channel online.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 47 Episodes
March 6, 2015
Cast: Edwin Barnhart
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Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed Full Episode Guide

  • Explore the current frontiers of Mesoamerican archaeology, looking ahead to the most promising avenues for future research. Many major cities are known but have yet to be excavated, and countless others are waiting to be discovered. Dr. Barnhart closes by discussing the top three projects on his wish list.

  • Despite centuries of assimilation and persecution, Maya culture still thrives. Investigate its survival in Guatemala, where 80 percent of the population is Maya, living largely in traditional ways. Dr. Barnhart describes his own observations from extensive visits to the country.

  • Explore the many areas where native culture still survives in modern Mexico. Focus on the Zapotec, Huichol, and Nahua peoples (descendants of the Aztecs). Learn that traditions which have survived for thousands of years are now threatened by technologies such as the internet and cable television.

  • Trace the resistance of the Maya to foreign domination, culminating in the Caste Wars of Yucatán, which pitted native Maya people against the Mexican army and lasted for over half a century, ending in the early 1900s. Although Mexico prevailed, the resistance continues to this day.

  • Study the fortunes of the last independent Maya kingdom: the Itza. Isolated in the Peten rainforest between two Spanish-dominated areas, the Itza fiercely defended their domain for almost two centuries after the initial Spanish contact. Discover the stratagem that finally vanquished them in 1697.

  • Once the Aztecs were defeated, the Spanish turned their eyes to the rest of Mesoamerica. Follow the decades of military campaigns needed to subdue the Maya. This conquest included the wholesale destruction of Maya books and ritual objects by the Franciscan monk Diego de Landa.

  • Review the events that brought an improbable expedition led by Christopher Columbus to the New World in search of Japan. Trace Columbus's later contact with Mesoamerica, and follow the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, including Vasco Núnez de Balboa and Hernán Cortes.

  • Archaeologists call the last phase of pre-Columbian culture before the arrival of the Spanish the Late Post-Classic period. Get a snapshot of this waning era by visiting the ruins of Tulum, a Maya seaport that hints at a final Aztec incursion into the region.

  • On the frontier between Mesoamerica and the American Southwest stands a mysterious ruin: Paquime, also called Casas Grandes. Was it connected with the Pueblo culture to the north, or with the Aztecs and Tarascans to the south? Dr. Barnhart offers a fascinating hypothesis.

  • Second only to the Aztecs in the extent of their realm were the neighboring Tarascans. Compare their empire and culture to Aztec civilization, and sift through conflicting clues that point to the origin of the Tarascans, who considered themselves newcomers to Mesoamerica.

  • By the time of European contact, the Aztec empire was the most extensive in Mesoamerican history. Study the Aztecs' methodical approach to conquest and the structure of their empire, which was more like Alexander the Great's than imperial Rome's.

  • Drawing on contemporary accounts by Spanish soldiers, priests, and literate Aztecs, enter the daily life of a typical Aztec, discovering the culture's social organization, marriage customs, public festivals, and shockingly commonplace rituals of human sacrifice.

  • See the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan through the eyes of a visitor during the height of Aztec power, when the city's quality of life was unrivaled virtually anywhere in the world. Modern Mexico City, which is built atop Tenochtitlan, preserves isolated ruins of this grandeur.

  • How did a vagabond group of wanderers become the most powerful civilization in North America? Survey the history of the Aztecs, looking behind their idealized self-image to discover their likely beginnings and the secret of their political, economic, and military success.

  • Delve into Mesoamerican religion, tracing the evolution of gods and religious practices from the Olmecs to the Maya and finally to the Aztecs, who are featured in the next section of the course. Learn the names, roles, and origins of the principal deities.

  • As Chichen Itza declined, a city named Mayapan rose to power. Mayapan deliberately copied Chichen Itza's monumental buildings and experimented with a more representative form of government. Examine the architecture, social structure, and daily life of this new regional capital.

  • Travel to the best known of all ancient Maya cities: Chichen Itza. Focus on its Toltec-Maya phase, from 1000 to 1200 AD, and the city's striking similarities to Tula. What do these connections imply about the history of Chichen Itza? Dr. Barnhart presents an intriguing theory.

  • The Aztecs claimed that their civilization descended from the mighty Toltecs. But were the Toltecs as magnificent as the Aztecs believed? Join the hunt for this elusive empire, which was headquartered at the modest town of Tula and spread influential ideas such as the legend of Quetzalcoatl.

  • View the fantastic murals at Cacaxtla in central Mexico, arguably the finest in Mesoamerica. Then look at the famous Temple of the Feathered Serpent in Xochicalco, which, like the Cacaxtla murals, represents the influence of the vanished Teotihuacan and classic Maya cultures.

  • More massive than the largest Egyptian pyramid, the Great Pyramid of Cholula was one of the astonishing feats of the Veracruz civilization, which flourished in the modern state of Veracruz during the Terminal Classic period. Focus on two prominent cities of this culture: Cholula and El Tajin.

  • Tomb 7 at Monte Alban is a New World version of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, containing an extraordinary number of gold artifacts. Learn about the Mixtec culture that produced these treasures along with many other impressive objects, including illustrated codices of their history and mythology.

  • Journey to Oaxaca to explore Monte Alban, one of the most beautiful ruins in all of Mesoamerica. Chart the city plan, monuments, and art of this hilltop center of Zapotec civilization, which dominated the Valley of Oaxaca for over a thousand years.

  • From 800 to 1000 AD, the Maya region went through a transitional phase known as the Terminal Classic. Study the changes that emerged in new Maya cities, which saw innovations in government, religion, art, and architecture. Focus on the remarkable city of Uxmal.

  • One of history's unsolved mysteries is why many Maya cities were abandoned in the 9th century AD, bringing an end to the Classic period. Examine theories that trace this collapse to war, drought, environmental damage, or volcanic eruption. Then hear Dr. Barnhart's solution to the puzzle.

  • Survey the cultures that flourished in west Mexico at the time of the Maya. Their distinctive shaft tombs, pottery, metalwork, and other artifacts have intriguing links to South America. Also see how today's Voladores "flying" traditional dance originated centuries ago in this region.

  • Created 3,500 years ago and still played today, the Mesoamerican ball game was the New World's first organized team sport. More than just a game, it reenacted mythology, symbolized war, and pleased the gods. Investigate where it was played, along with its rules and variations.

  • Maya hieroglyphs tell of a mysterious Snake Kingdom, which long eluded archaeologists. We now know that this powerful city was Calakmul, located in the Peten rainforest of southern Mexico. Learn its long history of warfare with its militant neighbors.

  • Learn about Maya life through their art, studying such works as the fantastic painted murals at Bonampak and the famous sarcophagus lid on the tomb of Pakal. According to a best-selling book, the latter depicts an ancient astronaut on a rocket ship, but Dr. Barnhart decodes its real meaning.

  • The Maya had no known unit of linear measure, yet their art and architecture reflect a sophisticated understanding of geometry. Investigate the geometric ratios that the Maya used over and over. Discover how these relate to nature and the practices of other ancient civilizations.

  • Descend down the secret steps of a Maya pyramid to discover the tomb of Pakal the Great, the most renowned ruler of the city of Palenque. Trace the history of Palenque, which during the 7th century AD excelled in architectural sophistication, hieroglyphic inscriptions, and astronomical knowledge.

  • Only four ancient Maya books have survived to modern times. Study the most fascinating of these: the Dresden Codex. Focus on its complex calculations of the motions of Venus and the timing of solar eclipses. Also turn to its pages on divination, which defied understanding until Dr. Barnhart contributed a key insight.

  • The Maya were expert sky observers. Discover that many of their buildings are oriented to view the rising and setting of celestial bodies, and still others are designed to interact with sunlight, creating tricks of light and shadows. Consider what these alignments may have signified.

  • Maya hieroglyphs are a beautiful and elaborate writing system, bearing messages that were almost a complete mystery until recent decades. Dr. Barnhart describes the detective work that went into deciphering the script and his own studies with pioneer code-breaker Linda Schele.

  • Chart the rise and fall of Tikal, one of the great Maya cities until it was mysteriously abandoned around 900 AD. Overgrown by jungle, it sat forgotten for a thousand years. Hear about Tikal's tumultuous history and its dramatic rediscovery.

  • Unlock the secrets of the Maya calendar, which was unlike any other in the world - with nested cycles of time keyed to human, seasonal, and astronomical patterns. Look back to their year zero and the special importance of the number 1,195,640.

  • Study the power of Maya mathematics, which was a positional, base-twenty system that lent itself easily to calculation and the expression of very large numbers. Learn about its use of the zero placeholder, and test your skills solving problems the way the Maya did.

  • At its height around 400 AD, Teotihuacan was the most populous city in the western hemisphere. Explore this vibrant metropolis, focusing on its still-extant pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the role they played in the violent ritual life of the Classic Maya period.

  • In 1701 a Spanish priest fluent in Mayan translated a secret copy of the ancient Maya story of creation, the Popol Vuh. The original has long since disappeared, but the translation survives. Hear this magical story in captivating detail.

  • Travel to the Peten rainforest in northern Guatemala, where hundreds of Maya settlements lie hidden, including some of the oldest Maya cities ever built. Among the spectacular sites, hear about the discovery and excavation of El Mirador, called the "cradle of Maya civilization."

  • Trace the origin of Maya civilization to a dramatic change in the nature of public monuments. Dr. Barnhart takes you to early Maya highland cities such as Izapa, with its amazing religious carvings, and Kaminaljuyu, which heralded the dawn of the Classic Maya period.

  • Investigate other cultures that thrived in Mesoamerica at the time of the Olmecs, such as the Zapotecs in the Valley of Oaxaca. Probe intriguing archeological evidence, including artifacts similar to those from Olmec culture, which raise the question of who influenced whom.

  • Delve into Olmec art, searching for clues to who the Olmec were and what preoccupied these builders of Mesoamerica's first great civilization. Explore the mysteries of giant sculpted heads, jaguar carvings, and full-bearded figures depicting men who some think were foreigners from afar.

  • Begin with the Olmecs at the dawn of Mesoamerican civilization. Flourishing from about 1700 BC to 300 BC, the Olmecs represent one of only six cradles of early civilization in world history. Hear how they were discovered, and investigate three sites where they lived.

  • Survey the geography, cultures, and time span covered in these 48 lectures. Dr. Barnhart discusses the organization of the course and key concepts. Then he takes you on a whirlwind tour of important places, civilizations, and events in Mesoamerica.