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The Past in Perspective

An Introduction to Human Prehistory

Eighth Edition

Kenneth L. Feder

Publication Date - September 2019

ISBN: 9780190059934

640 pages
7-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

Newly updated, this celebrated text introduces students to "the big picture" view of human prehistory by personalizing the past and making it relevant to today's students


Ideal for introduction to archaeology and world prehistory courses, The Past in Perspective: An Introduction to Human Prehistory, Eighth Edition, is an engaging and up-to-date chronological overview of human prehistory. Kenneth L. Feder introduces students to "the big picture"--the grand sweep of human evolutionary history--presenting the human past within the context of fundamental themes of cultural evolution. Feder's unique, refreshing, and accessible narrative personalizes the past and makes it relevant to today's students. Using a consistent chapter format--"Prelude, Chronicle, Issues and Debates, Messages from the Past, and Case Study Close-up"--Feder helps students master both what we know and what is still debated about the complex story of the human past.

New to this Edition

  • New and updated material on cutting-edge technology, such as remote imaging of archaeological landscapes
  • Updated research on Stonehenge and Göbekli Tepe
  • New sections on the use of lidar in mapping the Maya and the prevalence and role of human sacrifice among the Aztecs
  • New discussions of the Gini coefficient in calculating the degree of economic inequality that characterizes ancient complex societies, and death, wealth, status, and power in Chaco Canyon and Cahokia

About the Author(s)

Kenneth L. Feder is Professor of Anthropology at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of several books, including Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology, Ninth Edition (2017), and Linking to the Past: A Brief Introduction to Archaeology, Second Edition (OUP, 2007).


"The Past in Perspective is one of the best textbooks on world prehistory. I appreciate the attention that Feder puts into discussing the differences between consensus views, as well as the debates that might overturn established ideas. The organization, writing, and balance between different topics are excellent; it is clear that Feder went through considerable pains to make it accessible."--Jason Nesbitt, Tulane University

"The Past in Perspective is personable, contemporary, and conversational. Feder's engaging writing style, curated selection of case studies, and funny anecdotes spark students' curiosity. He makes a concerted effort to be relatable and to boil concepts down to the simplest level. The student-oriented pedagogy definitely aligns with the present shift toward active learning; it encourages students to be more thoughtful and critical."--Lindsay Der, University of British Columbia

"The Past in Perspective provides one of the best comprehensive and in-depth overviews of world prehistory, while also providing rich examples illustrating major milestones in technology, society, and other developments."--Nicholas Jew, California State University, Los Angeles

Table of Contents

    Each chapter includes a Chapter Overview, Summary, To Learn More, and Key Terms.


    1. Encountering the Past
    A Foreign Country
    An Anthropological Perspective
    An Ancient World
    The Age of the Earth
    A Wreck of a World
    Noah's Flood
    Equable and Steady Change
    Fairy Stones?
    John Frere's Discovery
    More Stone Tools . . . and Bones
    The Slow Agency of Existing Causes
    Ancient Humans Revisited
    Cultures Ancient and Changing
    Charles Darwin and the Antiquity of Life
    An Evolutionary Philosophy
    The Mutability of Species
    The Origin of Species
    Human Evolution
    Cultures Evolving
    A New Catastrophism?
    Our Modern View

    2. Probing the Past
    Epistemology: How We Know What We Know
    The "Science" in the Study of the Past
    Paleoanthropological and Archaeological Sites
    How Sites Are Formed
    How Sites Are Preserved
    How Sites Are Found
    How Information Is Recovered
    Archaeology at a Distance: Noninvasive Methods of Data Collection
    Analyzing Archaeological Data
    How Artifacts Are Analyzed
    How Ecofacts Are Analyzed
    How Human and Prehuman Skeletal Remains Are Analyzed
    Determining the Age of a Site or Specimen
    Dating Techniques Based on Radioactive Decay
    Dating Techniques Based on Biology
    Dating Techniques Based on Radiation Damage
    Dating by Measuring Paleomagnetism
    The Ethical Archaeologist
    Coping with Crap: Pseudoscience in Archaeology

    3. African Roots
    What Happened to the Apes at the End of the Miocene?
    The First Hominins
    Late Miocene Hominins
    The Genus Australopithecus
    Australopithecus afarensis
    A Fork in the Hominin Road
    The Ability to Make Tools
    A Different Path-Homo
    Oldowan Technology
    The Fate of Homo habilis
    What Were the First Steps in Hominin Evolution?
    How Do We Know the Hominins Were Upright?
    Is There Other Evidence for Bipedality?
    Why Bipedalism?
    The Upright Provider
    The Upright Scavenger
    The Efficient Walker
    The Endurance Runner
    Where Did the Idea for Stone Tools Come From?
    Has Evolution Programmed Us to Be Killers?

    4. The Human Lineage
    Homo erectus
    The Evolutionary Position of Homo erectus
    Hominins Conquer the World
    East Asia
    Homo erectus: Ocean Explorer?
    China and India
    Southeast Asia: Hobbits?
    A New Hominin Star
    Where does Homo naledi fit in the story of human evolution?
    The Age of Ice
    The Oxygen Isotope Curve
    Homo erectus: The Toolmaker
    What Enabled the Geographic Expansion of Homo Erectus?
    Control of Fire
    The "Art" of Making Tools
    Homo erectus art?
    Raising Homo erectus
    When Did Homo erectus Become Extinct?
    We Are Everywhere and Culture Makes it Possible

    5. The First Humans: The Evolution of Homo sapiens
    Premodern Humans: Fossil Evidence
    Premodern Humans: Cultural Evidence
    The Neandertals
    Morphological Evidence
    Fossil Evidence
    Neandertal Culture
    Stone Tools
    Symbolic Expression
    Burial of the Dead
    Anatomically Modern Homo Sapiens
    Explaining the Evolution of Us
    Consensus View
    Consensus View
    Stone Tools of Anatomically Modern Human Beings: Utilitarian Works of Art
    Why are the Neandertals Extinct?
    The Neandertals: A Separate Species
    Human Beings: An Evolutionary Success Story?

    6. Expanding Intellectual Horizons: Arts and Ideas in the Upper Paleolithic and Late Stone Age
    New Ideas: Reflections of the Modern Human Mind
    1. New and Improved Stone-Tool Technologies
    2. New Hunting and Weapons Technologies
    3. Broadening the Subsistence Base
    4. Branching Out in Raw Materials and Developing New Technologies
    5. New Uses for Plant Materials
    6. The Acquisition of Raw Materials from a Great Distance
    7. Larger Sites of Population Aggregation
    8. Abundance of Nonutilitarian Objects
    9. More Elaborate Burials
    10. Symbolic Expression Through the Production of Art
    A Revolution of Intellect: The Meaning of Upper Paleolithic Art
    The Earliest Art: Australia and Africa
    Upper Paleolithic Art in Europe
    The Sound of Music
    What Does the Art of the Upper Paleolithic Mean?
    The Importance Of Living Long: The Grandmother Effect
    Why Do We Destroy?

    7. Expanding Geographic Horizons: New Worlds
    The Settlement of Greater Australia
    Paleogeography in the Western Pacific
    The Road to Sahul
    The Discovery of Greater Australia
    The Earliest Occupation of Greater Australia
    The Archaeology of Sahul
    Willandra Lakes
    The Spread through Australia
    The Australian Interior
    Greater Australia: A Broad Range of Adaptations
    East into the Pacific
    A Pacific Islander "Age of Exploration"
    Pacific Geography
    Pacific Archaeology
    Coming to America
    The Source of Los Indios
    When did the First Migrants Arrive?
    When Was Eastern Siberia First Inhabited?
    When Was Beringia Exposed and Open for Travel?
    An Ice-Free Corridor
    The First Human Settlement of America
    Coastal Sites
    First Skeletons
    A Contested Consensus
    Denali and Nenana
    Clovis Technology
    Clovis Subsistence
    Into the Arctic
    Why Were the Pacific Islands Settled?
    Could Native Americans Really Have Come from Europe Instead of Asia?
    Who--or What--Killed the American and Australian Megafauna?
    The Tragedy of Extinction

    8. After the Ice: The Food-Producing Revolution
    Mesolithic Subsistence Patterns
    Diversity and Regionalization
    North America
    Regionalism in the New World Archaic
    Koster: Emblem of the Archaic
    South America
    The Shift from Food Collection to Food Production
    Humans Taking the Place of Nature: Artificial Selection
    Archaeological Evidence of Human Control of Plant and Animal Species
    Seed Morphology
    Osteological Changes
    Population Characteristics
    The Near East
    Late Pleistocene Foragers in the Near East
    The First Agriculturalists
    The First Agriculturalists in the New World
    The Shift to Domesticated Foods Among the People of the Tehuacán Valley
    The Greatest Native American Contribution to Food
    A Chronology of Food Production
    Neolithic Cultures South of the Sahara
    Chronology of Food Production in China
    Food Production in South Asia
    Food Production in Southeast and Northeast Asia
    Domestication in Central Asia
    The Shift to Agriculture in Western Europe
    North America
    Indigenous Domestication North of Mexico
    The Appearance of Maize in the Eastern Woodlands
    The American Southwest
    South America
    Three Regional Neolithics
    Animal Domestication in South America
    How Was Domestication Accomplished?
    The Domestication of Wheat
    From Teosinte to Maize
    The Remarkably Modern Cuisine of the Ancient World
    Why Agriculture?
    A Multitude of Reasons
    Implications of the Neolithic: The Roots of Social Complexity
    Here, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

    9. Roots of Complexity: The Origins of Civilization
    The Construction of Stonehenge
    Imagining Stonehenge
    Simplicity and Complexity
    The Development of Complexity: Before Agriculture
    A Revolution in Subsistence, A Revolution in Society
    From Rank Societies to Chiefdoms
    Complexity's Traces in the Old World
    Mesopotamia: Land Between the Rivers
    The Roots of Complexity in Southwest Asia
    Complexity's Traces in the New World
    The Olmec
    South America
    Why Does Complexity Develop in the First Place?
    Messages from the Past
    Are Complexity and Inequality Inevitable?

    10. An Explosion of Complexity: Mesopotamia, Africa, and Europe
    The Evolution of the State
    The Character of Civilization
    Food Surplus
    Social Stratification
    Labor Specialization
    A Formal Government
    Large, Dense Populations
    Record Keeping
    Monumental Works
    The Geography of Civilizations
    Accelerating Change: The Ubaid
    The Role of Irrigation
    Power Invested in the Temple
    Mesopotamia's First Cities: The Uruk Period
    The Beginning of the Written Record
    Egypt of the Pharaohs
    The Egyptian Neolithic
    First Writing
    First Pharaoh
    The Flowering of Egypt
    The Pyramid Age
    Other African Civilizations Beyond Egypt
    Great Zimbabwe
    The Glory of Zimbabwe
    Minoan Crete
    The Palace at Knossos
    Who Were the Egyptians?
    Who Were the Minoans?
    Were the Pyramids Built by Slaves?
    Why Did State Societies Develop?
    Conflict Models
    Integration Models
    Many Paths to Civilization
    The One-Percenters: The Ancient Roots of Inequality

    11. An Explosion of Complexity: The Indus Valley and China
    The Indus Valley Civilization
    Flood Control and Civilization in the Indus Valley
    Cultural Convergence
    Cities of the Indus
    The Indus Script
    "A Peaceful Realm"
    The Civilization of Ancient China
    The Lung-shan Culture
    Acceleration toward Civilization
    The Shang Civilization
    Why Were the Elites of State Societies So Conspicuous in their Consumption?
    The Universality of Human Genius
    The Terra-Cotta Army of the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty

    12. An Explosion of Complexity: Mesoamerica
    The Maya
    Seeing the Maya Through the Trees
    Maya Writing
    Peak of the Maya
    Who Were the Rulers of Copán?
    The Grandeur that was Copán
    Post-Classic Reorganization
    Teotihuacán History
    A Monumental City
    The Teotihuacan Jaguars
    Residences of Teotihuacán's Citizens
    The Reach of Teotihuacán
    Monte Albán
    The Aztecs
    Feeding Hungry Gods
    Why did The Maya Collapse?
    What does "Collapse" Even Mean?
    Messages from the Past

    13. An Explosion of Complexity: South America
    Empires: Tiwanaku
    Empires: Wari
    Empires: Chimu
    Empires: The Inka
    Inka Royalty
    Inka Agricultural Infrastructure
    How Did the Inka Support Their Economic System?
    The Inka Military Empire
    A State Without Writing?
    The End of the Inka State
    Complexity in Ancient Amazonia
    Puma Punko: Spaceport of the Ancient Aliens?
    Why do Civilizations Collapse?
    Cry for the Children

    14. An Explosion of Complexity: North America
    Complexity in Prehistoric America North of Mexico
    The Development of Complexity
    The Mississippian Civilization
    The American Southwest
    Ancestral Puebloan
    The Lost World of Chaco Canyon
    Rich and Powerful, Even in Death
    All Roads Lead to-and From-Chaco
    The Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde
    Coast of North America
    What Happened to the Ancestral Puebloans?
    Time Traveling: You Can Visit the Past

    Evolutionary Epilogue

    Civilization Chronology
    Map of Civilization
    Hominid Species Glossary