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How can any of us come to know a culture that is different from our own? How do you get to know a people that are separated from you by layers of distance, of language, of time? Some might say it is impossible to come to a full understanding, some would say that all it takes is communications.
But how do you communicate with a culture that is gone? These are all questions raised by Civilizations, the new docu-series premiering on PBS next week. The answers, they find, are varied, but it all comes down to one truth, we can know them by what they left behind.
Specifically, the art they left behind. Civilizations looks at cultures both ancient and modern, studying their artistic endeavors, their paintings, their sculptures, their architecture. Beginning with cave paintings in northern Spain, the series studies the great cognitive leap that occurred in humanity tens of thousands of year ago, tracing the art that emerged, the new picture of what it means to be human. From there we are taken through the artistic achievements of the ancient Egyptians, and we veer over to ancient Central America and see what was left behind by the Mayans and the Olmec.
Each episode picks a theme: emerging humanity, renditions of the human body, etc, and traces that them from ancient cultures to modern day. The first episode — The Second Moment of Creation — looks at the beginning of humanity’s expressions of art, following it through cultures we now know only through their artifacts, like the Minoans, the UR-Chaldeans, the Mayans. We learn a lot about how these people lived by the scattered buildings and artifacts they left behind. Another episode — How do we Look?– traces the depiction of the human body from early man through Madison Avenue, finding it a telling indication of each culture’s values.
We are guided on this journey by experts such as Simon Scham, Khala al-Asan, Mary Bears, and others who are experts in the fields of archeology, art history, and anthropology. These experts breathe life into history, making this much more than a study of ancient potshards and statues.
Civilizations brings to life ancient cultures, and sheds new light on modern ones. It’s a must-see for any student of art, culture, or humanity.
Civilizations debuts Tuesday, April 17th at 8:00 p.m. on KIXE Channel 9.