This course, formerly known as 'Past Societies', provides a broad introduction to cultural, technological, subsistence and social change from Prehistory to the Early Modern Period, through a series of lectures delivered by specialist staff at the Institute.
The course begins with the evolution of hominids, and human dispersal to all parts of the world. Archaeological evidence and analogies with ethnographically documented societies are used to examine the lifestyles of hunter / gatherer / forager communities from the Palaeolithic to the present, with emphasis on subsistence practices and social organization. The changes brought about by the transitions to agriculture and settled life are considered, and the conflicting explanations for these changes evaluated. The nature of small-scale farming societies is discussed. The later part of the course gives an introduction to some of the world's historic civilizations. Discussion of the nature of urban societies, states and empires is combined with the study of archaeological examples from Mesopotamia, the Greek and Roman world, China, Central and South America, and Viking Europe.