16 of the best historical documentaries to watch on Netflix in 2017

Historical documentary with a pyramid in the desert during the day

While every moment that leads up to the present could be considered history, there are certain events throughout time that truly stand out among the rest — such as the rise of human civilization, the fall of great empires, the erecting of colossal structures and far-reaching wars that determine the direction of the future.

Knowing history can help provide deeper understanding of the present, but pouring through ancient texts and manuscripts is a slow and tedious process. Thankfully, Netflix is host to a swathe of information-filled historical documentaries spanning a vast ocean of time, beginning with the origins of humankind and ending with the Vietnam War.

These are 16 of the best historical documentaries on Netflix listed in chronological order.

1. Great Human Odyssey — 80,000 bc

The future of humanity was forever changed nearly 80,000 years ago, when a group of Africans left their continent and spread out across the world. It was a grueling journey across inhospitable landscapes, but their success became the catalyst for the various populations that exist around the world today. Now, scientists are using archaeological and cultural evidence to map out exactly how they did it.

2. The Pyramid Code — 2630 B.C.

The Great Pyramids of Giza are one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Millions of stones, each weighing more than two tons, were cut and transported to build the colossal structures. It was an incredible, seemingly impossible feat, but how did the ancient Egyptians manage to construct these towering tombs with such limited technology? The Pyramid Code searches historical sites around the world for answers to this question and more.

3. Warrior Women — 1412

Men aren't the only ones who can lead troops into battle. Throughout the ages, women have proven time and again they are not only fearless warriors, but also adept warfare strategists. Warrior Women looks at five iconic women — Joan of Arc, Grace O'Malley, Boudica, Lozen and Mulan — who took matters into their own hands and cemented their places in the history books.

4. Mystery Files: Leonardo da Vinci — 1452

A sculptor, painter, architect, military engineer and renowned inventor, Leonardo da Vinci was the foremost leader of the Italian Renaissance. His artistic works like the "Mona Lisa" and "The Last Supper" have survived the test of time, and his innovative sketches resembling bicycles, helicopters and other flying machines prove his ingenuity was centuries ahead of his contemporaries' — or was it? Mystery Files: Leonardo da Vinci uses modern research to cast a new, dimmer light on an otherwise brightly shining historical star.

5. Secrets of Henry VIII's Palace: Hampton Court — 1529

After taking Hampton Court from Cardinal Wolsey in 1529, King Henry VIII spent an exorbitant amount of money making the palace even more decadent. Secrets of Henry VIII's Palace: Hampton Court examines the king's lavish lifestyle and its inextricable connection to the famed Hampton Court.

6. Secrets: Golden Raft of El Dorado — 1531

El Dorado, or the City of Gold, has long been sought after by many adventurers. Tales of the mystical city date back to the 16th century, and ever since, countless explorers have searched for its location in hopes of laying claim to its endless riches. But as time passed, so did interest in the pursuit of El Dorado, and so the City of Gold remains undiscovered to this day. But in the 1960s, a golden raft was discovered in Colombia, and the search for El Dorado began again. Golden Raft of El Dorado takes an in-depth look at this unusual, gilded artifact to discern its connection with the fabled City of Gold.

7. Samurai Headhunters — 1600

Legends of the samurai have been passed down through the centuries. They were skilled warriors that struck fear into their enemies on the battlefield; to this day, the very mention of their name evokes thoughts of honor and duty, but these swordsmen of yesteryear also had a dark side. Samurai Headhunters examines newly discovered samurai war manuals to expose the greed, corruption, treachery and excessive violence that existed within the samurai culture.

8. Witch Hunt: A Century of Murder — 1645

In 1563, witchcraft was deemed a capital offense in Britain. Over a century later, the country became consumed with rooting out the witches in their land. Anyone with the devil's mark — a mole, wart, flea bite or anything else that looked remotely out of the ordinary — was deemed a practitioner of the forbidden magic and was subjected to gruesome death, be it by torture, hanging, burning or otherwise. Witch Hunt: A Century of Murder steps back in time to the height of Britain's witch fervor to tell the stories of so many who lost their lives at the hands of religious zealots.

9. Ken Burns: The West — 1803

In the early 1800s, droves of Americans began expanding westward, exploring never-before-seen lands and encountering unfamiliar threats as they set out to start a new life. The West covers not only the settlers' journey, but also offers the perspectives of the Native American tribes they came across.

10. Ken Burns: The Civil War — 1861

Filled with illustrations and photos from the time, Ken Burns: The Civil War offers an in-depth look at the war that changed the course of American history. Burns' documentary examines not just the Civil War itself, but the preluding conflicts leading up to it, with commentary from several modern-day historians.

11. H.H. Holmes: America's First Serial Killer — 1893

He was a husband, father and charismatic doctor with a love for Sherlock Holmes — he was also America's first known serial killer. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, this macabre murderer changed his named to H.H. Holmes before casting aside his family and moving to Illinois. There, he built his Murder Castle — a three-story building replete with apartments, a drug store, air-tight rooms, trap doors and a basement to dispose of bodies. Holmes was eventually caught and hanged, though some believed he conned his way out of his own death. H.H Holmes: America's First Serial Killer turns back the clock to revisit this villainous physician.

12. Titanic's Final Mystery — 1912

It was the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable, but on its maiden voyage, the Titanic proved that claim untrue. But what led to the iconic vessel's demise? How did a seasoned captain make such a fatal mistake? Titanic's Final Mystery unravels the events leading up to ship's sinking and explains in incredible detail exactly how it came to be that nobody saw that fateful, massive iceberg until it was too late.

13. Gallipoli — 1915

The Battle of Gallipoli was waged during World War I by Allied powers who hoped to gain control of the sea route from Europe to Russia. When Allied troops landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, they quickly realized their intelligence was bad, which caused them to suffer heavy casualties and make little headway toward their cause. Nearly a year later, they were evacuated. Gallipoli recounts this harrowing battle and the brave troops who fought it.

14. Ken Burns: Prohibition — 1920

The passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919 was seen as a huge success, but it soon became clear that Americans would not stand for the prohibition of alcohol. The unintended consequences of Prohibition were far-reaching and ushered in a new era of criminal activity known as bootlegging, or the illegal sale of alcohol. Years later, in 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed. Ken Burns: Prohibition serves as a historical retelling of this tumultuous era.

15. Ken Burns: The War — 1939

Even most non-historians are familiar with World War II, but Ken Burns: The War focuses not only on the troops' endeavors on the battlefield, but also on how the conflict impacted American families back home.

16. Last Days in Vietnam — 1975

The final days of the Vietnam War were anything but peaceful. In 1973, President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam, but the North Vietnamese Army continued marching forward toward Saigon. The South Vietnamese people were in imminent danger, and the remaining U.S. forces were left with a terrible decision: disobey direct orders or help South Vietnamese citizens get to safety.

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