About the Class

The Story of Us: from Stone Age to Ancient States

In this course, students will explore the incredible story of how humanity came to be.  How we evolved biologically over millions of years from our earliest ancestors to become the dominant species on the planet.  How we evolved culturally from small groups of hunters and gatherers to living in ancient cities of tens of thousands of people.  This is the story of us.  The course will begin by exploring science, scientific inquiry, and the fundamentals of biological evolution – all of which are critical to understanding the story of us.  From there,  the course will use the  tools of Paleoanthropology to explore the biological and cultural development of our non-living ancestors.  The class will conclude by using the tools of Archaeology to look at the emergence of  modern humans and the development of social complexity, agriculture, cities, and ancient states.


The course is divided into 7 units (that are each one week long). On the course website (this website), each week contains links to video lectures, external documentary videos, readings, and information on assignments.  Be absolutely sure to review the requirements (and due dates) for each week.  While each week is similar, there are small differences (especially in week 7) you need to be aware of (this is your responsibility).

Instead of individual units becoming accessible at the beginning of that week, all course content will be visible and accessible at the beginning of the class.  This means that you can easily watch all of the videos and do all of the readings in the first week of the class.  However, the unit quizzes are only available during their corresponding week.  Likewise, the weekly blog posts/responses can only be done at the during their corresponding week. Except in cases of emergency, students cannot request to do their quizzes or submit their blogs early.


This class uses a mix of Desire to Learn (D2L) and a public website that uses WordPress (this website).  Both are easy to use, but please do not hesitate to contact the course Instructor with technical questions.

This class in based in WordPress (where you are now) – this is where all of the course materials (videos, readings, links, etc.) are posted. This is also where you will be posting to the course blog and leaving comments (one of your major assignments). Most importantly, all course announcements are posted on this site which means you need to visit this site at least once a day. Set it as your homepage, check it in the morning, or before you go to bed. This is an interactive course, so make sure you are interacting! It is imperative that you visit  this website regularly during the course in order to stay up to date with announcements and other news. 

We will be using D2L for two things (and only two things).  First, D2L will be used for the course gradebook (which will be updated regularly). Second, D2L will be used to administer the weekly exams.  Other than these two things, the course won’t use D2L for anything.


If you need help with the class content or technology, please follow these guidelines:

  • For help relating to class content or procedures (assignments, due dates, etc), please contact the course Instructor at watrall@msu.edu (see Contact page for email instructions).  All technical questions about the course website can be sent to your instructor as well.
  • For technical issues relating to any D2L content, please go to http://help.d2l.msu.edu/
  • If you have a question that you think other people in the class might benefit from, post it to the course blog (and use the “Question” category).  I’ll respond to it publicly (that way, others in the class will benefit from the answer as well.


I suggest adding a photo to your WordPress account (your profile) to give yourself more of an identity in the course. You can upload an appropriate image directly to your account, or you can create a Gravatar account (http://en.gravatar.com/). A Gravatar (globally recognized avatar) is a profile image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog.  To get an account, just go to the Gravatar website, and sign up using your MSU email (using your MSU email is key). Please be sure to choose a suitable image for your profile – remember, this is a for-credit course (as well as a publicly viewable website). This isn’t required, but it makes for a better course community.


Due dates are not negotiable. Only under extreme (and documentable) circumstances will students be allowed to submit assessments after the due date without being penalized. Due dates for assessments can be found above, on the Assessments/Grading page, and on each of the weekly Schedule pages.


To take this class, all you need is a browser (Mozilla FirefoxApple Safari, and Google Chrome are preferred) and a high speed internet connection.While you can connect to many of the course materials using a slower Internet connection, there are some things that you simply will not be able to access (such as the course videos or lecture videos). We understand that computers are not infallible. However, it is your responsibility to resolve any technical issues that originate on your end.


Much of this class’s content is delivered using video lectures. Some of the videos are on the course website (linked from each Schedule page) while others are linked to outside websites (screencast, youtube, etc.)

In order to ensure that you have the best experience with this video material, make sure you are using an up to date version of a modern browser (such as Mozilla FirefoxApple Safari, and Google Chrome) and are accessing the course materials over a high speed internet connection. While you can access much of the course content over a slower internet connection, you need a high speed connection for the course video materials.

The password used to access the videos hosted on the WordPress course website (this site) will be sent to you in an email and posted as a D2L announcement. This is NOT the same as your WordPress login information. Please do not post this password on the WordPress site. If you apply this password to one lecture video for the course, it should automatically be applied every time you watch a lecture video (i.e. you should only need to use it once).


This class doesn’t have a textbook (which is good because it means you don’t have to go out and buy anything).  However, the class has a lot of assigned online readings (either in the form of online articles or downloadable PDFs).  It is extremely important to remember that all readings are mandatory for the class, and must be completed.  If you don’t keep up with your readings, you won’t do well on the assignments.


This class adheres to the philosophy of open courseware and open access.  As such, course materials are open and accessible to the public.  This includes some of the assignments – specifically the blog posts.  As such, students should think of themselves as not just taking a class, but as contributing to the pool of scholarship on anthropology.  This also means that students need to think about how they want to license your work (aka. how you would like other people to be able to use your work).

It is very important to note any student (at any time during or after the semester) can opt not to have their class materials be open access.  Just talk to the course instructor, and they’ll make it happen immediately.  Its equally important to note that any student who chooses to do this will not be penalized in any way at all.  The content students produce for this class belongs to them, and they have total control over how it lives out in the wider world.


In accordance with Michigan State University’s policies on “Protection of Scholarship and Grades” and “Integrity of Scholarship and Grades,” students are expected to honor principles of truth and honesty in their academic work. Academic integrity means, amongst other things, not plagiarizing. Plagiarism includes submitting another’s work (words, ideas, etc.) as their own now will the knowingly permit another student to copy and submit their work. Additional discussion of academic integrity is available on the Ombudsperson’s website.


Michigan State University is committed to providing equal opportunity for participation in all programs, services and activities. Requests for accommodations by persons with disabilities may be made by contacting the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities at 517-884-RCPD or on the web at rcpd.msu.edu. Once your eligibility for an accommodation has been determined, you will be issued a verified individual services accommodation (“VISA”) form. Please present this form to me at the start of the term and/or two weeks prior to the accommodation date (test, project, etc). Requests received after this date will be honored whenever possible.


Essays, journals, and other materials submitted for this class are generally considered confidential pursuant to the University’s student record policies. However, students should be aware that University employees, including instructors, may not be able to maintain confidentiality when it conflicts with their responsibility to report certain issues to protect the health and safety of MSU community members and others. As the instructor, I must report the following information to other University offices (including the Department of Police and Public Safety) if you share it with me:

  • Suspected child abuse/neglect, even if this maltreatment happened when you were a child,
  • Allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment when they involve MSU students, faculty, or staff, and
  • Credible threats of harm to oneself or to others.

These reports may trigger contact from a campus official who will want to talk with you about the incident that you have shared. In almost all cases, it will be your decision whether you wish to speak with that individual. If you would like to talk about these events in a more confidential setting you are encouraged to make an appointment with the MSU Counseling Center.

Photo “El Castillo @ Chichén Itzá” by Flickr user Pascal/ Creative Commons licensed BY-2.0