Indus Valley Civilization

Indus Valley Civilization

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The Indus Valley Civilization was a cultural and political entity which flourished in the northern region of the Indian subcontinent between c. Its modern name derives from its location in the valley of the Indus River, but it is also commonly referred to as the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization (after the Sarasvati River mentioned in Vedic sources which flowed adjacent to the Indus) and the Harappan Civilization (after the ancient city of Harappa in the region, the first one found in the modern era). None of these names derive from any ancient texts because, although scholars generally believe the people of this civilization developed a writing system (known as Indus Script or Harappan Script) it has not yet been deciphered.

All three designations are modern constructs, and nothing is definitively known of the origin, development, decline, and fall of the civilization. Even so, modern archaeology has established a probable chronology and periodization:

  • Pre-Harappan – c. 5500 BCE
  • Early Harappan – c. 5500 - 2800 BCE
  • Mature Harappan – c. 2800 - c. 1900 BCE
  • Late Harappan – c. 1900 - c. 1500 BCE
  • Post Harappan – c. 1500 - c. 600 BCE

The Indus Valley Civilization is now often compared with the far more famous cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, but this is a fairly recent development. The discovery of Harappa in 1829 CE was the first indication that any such civilization existed in India, and by that time, Egyptian hieroglyphics had been deciphered, Egyptian and Mesopotamian sites excavated, and cuneiform would soon be translated by the scholar George Smith (l. 1840-1876 CE). Archaeological excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization, therefore, had a significantly late start comparatively, and it is now thought that many of the accomplishments and “firsts” attributed to Egypt and Mesopotamia may actually belong to the people of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The total population of the civilization is thought to have been upward of 5 million, & its territory stretched over 900 miles (1,500 km) along the Indus River.

The two best-known excavated cities of this culture are Harappa and Mohenjo-daro (located in modern-day Pakistan), both of which are thought to have once had populations of between 40,000-50,000 people, which is stunning when one realizes that most ancient cities had on average 10,000 people living in them. The total population of the civilization is thought to have been upward of 5 million, and its territory stretched over 900 miles (1,500 km) along the banks of the Indus River and then in all directions outward. Indus Valley Civilization sites have been found near the border of Nepal, in Afghanistan, on the coasts of India, and around Delhi, to name only a few locations.

Between c. 1500 BCE, the civilization began to decline for unknown reasons. In the early 20th century CE, this was thought to have been caused by an invasion of light-skinned peoples from the north known as Aryans who conquered a dark-skinned people defined by Western scholars as Dravidians. This claim, known as the Aryan Invasion Theory, has been discredited. The Aryans – whose ethnicity is associated with the Iranian Persians – are now believed to have migrated to the region peacefully and blended their culture with that of the indigenous people while the term Dravidian is understood now to refer to anyone, of any ethnicity, who speaks one of the Dravidian languages.

Why the Indus Valley Civilization declined and fell is unknown, but scholars believe it may have had to do with climate change, the drying up of the Sarasvati River, an alteration in the path of the monsoon which watered crops, overpopulation of the cities, a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia, or a combination of any of the above. In the present day, excavations continue at many of the sites found thus far and some future find may provide more information on the history and decline of the culture.

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Discovery & Early Excavation

The symbols and inscriptions on the artifacts of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization, which have been interpreted by some scholars as a writing system, remain undeciphered and so archaeologists generally avoid defining an origin for the culture as any attempt would be speculative. All that can be known of the civilization to date comes from the physical evidence excavated at various sites. The story of the Indus Valley Civilization, therefore, is best given with the discovery of its ruins in the 19th century CE.

James Lewis (better known as Charles Masson, l. 1800-1853 CE) was a British soldier serving in the artillery of the East India Company Army when, in 1827 CE, he deserted with another soldier. In order to avoid detection by authorities, he changed his name to Charles Masson and embarked on a series of travels throughout India. Masson was an avid numismatist (coin collector) who was especially interested in old coins and, in following various leads, wound up excavating ancient sites on his own. One of these sites was Harappa, which he found in 1829 CE. He seems to have left the site fairly quickly, after making a record of it in his notes but, having no knowledge of who could have built the city, wrongly attributed it to Alexander the Great during his campaigns in India c. 326 BCE.

When Masson returned to Britain after his adventures (and having been somehow forgiven his desertion), he published his book Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Punjab in 1842 CE which attracted the attention of the British authorities in India and, especially, Alexander Cunningham. Sir Alexander Cunningham (l. 1814-1893 CE), a British engineer in the country with a passion for ancient history, founded the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1861 CE, an organization dedicated to maintaining a professional standard of excavation and preservation of historic sites. Cunningham began excavations of the site and published his interpretation in 1875 CE (in which he identified and named the Indus Script) but this was incomplete and lacked definition because Harappa remained isolated with no connection to any known past civilization which could have built it.

In 1904 CE, a new director of the ASI was appointed, John Marshall (l. 1876-1958 CE), who later visited Harappa and concluded the site represented an ancient civilization previously unknown. He ordered the site to be fully excavated and, at about the same time, heard of another site some miles away which the local people referred to as Mohenjo-daro (“the mound of the dead”) because of bones, both animal and human, found there along with various artifacts. Excavations at Mohenjo-daro began in the 1924-1925 season and the similarities of the two sites were recognized; the Indus Valley Civilization had been discovered.

Harappa & Mohenjo-daro

The Hindu texts known as the Vedas, as well as other great works of Indian tradition such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, were already well known to Western scholars but they did not know what culture had created them. Systemic racism of the time prevented them from attributing the works to the people of India, and the same, at first, led archaeologists to conclude that Harappa was a colony of the Sumerians of Mesopotamia or perhaps an Egyptian outpost.

Harappa did not conform to either Egyptian or Mesopotamian architecture, however, as there was no evidence of temples, palaces, or monumental structures, no names of kings or queens or stelae or royal statuary. The city spread over 370 acres (150 hectares) of small, brick houses with flat roofs made of clay. There was a citadel, walls, the streets were laid out in a grid pattern clearly demonstrating a high degree of skill in urban planning and, in comparing the two sites, it was apparent to the excavators that they were dealing with a highly advanced culture.

Houses in both cities had flush toilets, a sewer system, and fixtures on either side of the streets were part of an elaborate drainage system, which was more advanced even than that of the early Romans. Devices known from Persia as “wind catchers” were attached to the roofs of some buildings which provided air conditioning for the home or administrative office and, at Mohenjo-daro, there was a great public bath, surrounded by a courtyard, with steps leading down into it.

As other sites were unearthed, the same degree of sophistication and skill came to light as well as the understanding that all of these cities had been pre-planned. Unlike those of other cultures which usually developed from smaller, rural communities, the cities of the Indus Valley Civilization had been thought out, a site chosen, and purposefully constructed prior to full habitation. Further, they all exhibited conformity to a single vision which further suggested a strong central government with an efficient bureaucracy that could plan, fund, and build such cities. Scholar John Keay comments:

What amazed all these pioneers, and what remains the distinctive characteristic of the several hundred Harappan sites now known, is their apparent similarity: “Our overwhelming impression is of cultural uniformity, both throughout the several centuries during which the Harappan civilization flourished, and over the vast area it occupied.” The ubiquitous bricks, for instance, are all of standardized dimensions, just as the stone cubes used by the Harappans to measure weights are also standard and based on the modular system. Road widths conform to a similar module; thus, streets are typically twice the width of side lanes, while the main arteries are twice or one and a half times the width of streets. Most of the streets so far excavated are straight and run either north-south or east-west. City plans therefore conform to a regular grid pattern and appear to have retained this layout through several phases of building. (9)

Excavations at both sites continued between 1944-1948 CE under the direction of the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler (l. 1890-1976 CE) whose racialist ideology made it difficult for him to accept that dark-skinned people had built the cities. Even so, he managed to establish stratigraphy for Harappa and lay the foundation for the later periodization of the Indus Valley Civilization.


Wheeler's work provided archaeologists with the means to recognize approximate dates from the civilization's foundations through its decline and fall. The chronology is primarily based, as noted, on physical evidence from Harappan sites but also from knowledge of their trade contacts with Egypt and Mesopotamia. Lapis lazuli, to name only one product, was immensely popular in both cultures and, although scholars knew it came from India, they did not know from precisely where until the Indus Valley Civilization was discovered. Even though this semi-precious stone would continue to be imported after the fall of the Indus Valley Civilization, it is clear that, initially, some of the export came from this region.

  • Pre-Harappan – c. 5500 BCE: The Neolithic period best exemplified by sites like Mehrgarh which shows evidence of agricultural development, domestication of plants and animals, and production of tools and ceramics.
  • Early Harappan – c. 5500-2800 BCE: Trade firmly established with Egypt, Mesopotamia, and possibly China. Ports, docks, and warehouses built near waterways by communities living in small villages.
  • Mature Harappan – c. 1900 BCE: Construction of the great cities and widespread urbanization. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are both flourishing c. 2600 BCE. Other cities, such as Ganeriwala, Lothal, and Dholavira are built according to the same models and this development of the land continues with the construction of hundreds of other cities until there are over 1,000 of them throughout the land in every direction.
  • Late Harappan – c. 1500 BCE: Decline of the civilization coinciding with a wave of migration of the Aryan people from the north, most likely the Iranian Plateau. Physical evidence suggests climate change which caused flooding, drought, and famine. A loss of trade relations with Egypt and Mesopotamia has also been suggested as a contributing cause.
  • Post Harappan – c. 600 BCE: The cities are abandoned, and the people have moved south. The civilization has already fallen by the time Cyrus II (the Great, r. c. 550-530 BCE) invades India in 530 BCE.

Aspects of Culture

The people seem to have been primarily artisans, farmers, and merchants. There is no evidence of a standing army, no palaces, and no temples. The Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro is believed to have been used for ritual purification rites related to religious belief but this is conjecture; it could as easily have been a public pool for recreation. Each city seems to have had its own governor but, it is speculated, there must have been some form of centralized government in order to achieve the uniformity of the cities. John Keay comments:

Harappan tools, utensils, and materials confirm this impression of uniformity. Unfamiliar with iron – which was nowhere known in the third millennium BC – the Harappans sliced, scraped, beveled, and bored with 'effortless competence' using a standardized kit of tools made from chert, a kind of quartz, or from copper and bronze. These last, along with gold and silver, were the only metals available. They were also used for casting vessels and statuettes and for fashioning a variety of knives, fishhooks, arrowheads, saws, chisels, sickles, pins, and bangles. (10)

Among the thousands of artifacts discovered at the various sites are small, soapstone seals a little over an inch (3 cm) in diameter which archaeologists interpret to have been used for personal identification in trade. Like the cylinder seals of Mesopotamia, these seals are thought to have been used to sign contracts, authorize land sales, and authenticate point-of-origin, shipment, and receipt of goods in trade long distance.

The people had developed the wheel, carts drawn by cattle, flat-bottomed boats wide enough to transport trade goods, and may have also developed the sail. In agriculture, they understood and made use of irrigation techniques and canals, various farming implements, and established different areas for cattle grazing and crops. Fertility rituals may have been observed for a full harvest as well as pregnancies of women as evidenced by a number of figurines, amulets, and statuettes in female form. It is thought that the people may have worshipped a Mother Goddess deity and, possibly, a male consort depicted as a horned figure in the company of wild animals. The religious beliefs of the culture, however, are unknown and any suggestions must be speculative.

Their level of artistic skill is evident through numerous finds of statuary, soapstone seals, ceramics, and jewelry. The most famous artwork is the bronze statuette, standing 4 inches (10 cm) tall, known as “Dancing Girl” found at Mohenjo-daro in 1926 CE. The piece shows a teenage girl, right hand on her hip, left on her knee, with chin raised as though evaluating the claims of a suitor. An equally impressive piece is a soapstone figure, 6 inches (17 cm) tall, known as the Priest-King, depicting a bearded man wearing a headdress and ornamental armband.

A particularly interesting aspect of the artwork is the appearance of what seems to be a unicorn on over 60 percent of the personal seals. There are many different images on these seals but, as Keay notes, the unicorn appears on "1156 seals and sealings out of a total of 1755 found at Mature Harappan sites" (17). He also notes that the seals, no matter what image appears on them, also have markings which have been interpreted as Indus Script, suggesting that the “writing” conveys a meaning different from the image. The “unicorn” could possibly have represented an individual's family, clan, city, or political affiliation and the “writing” one's personal information.

Decline & Aryan Invasion Theory

Just as there is no definitive answer to the question of what the seals were, what the “unicorn” represented, or how the people venerated their gods, there is none for why the culture declined and fell. Between c. 1500 BCE, the cities were steadily abandoned, and the people moved south. As noted, there are a number of theories concerning this, but none are completely satisfactory. According to one, the Gaggar-Hakra River, which is identified with the Sarasvati River from Vedic texts, and which ran adjacent to the Indus River, dried up c. 1900 BCE, necessitating a major relocation of the people who had depended on it. Significant silting at sites such as Mohenjo-daro suggests major flooding which is given as another cause.

Another possibility is a drop in necessary trade goods. Both Mesopotamia and Egypt were experiencing troubles during this same time which could have resulted in a significant disruption in trade. The Late Harappan Period corresponds roughly with the Middle Bronze Age in Mesopotamia (2119-1700 BCE) during which the Sumerians – the major trading partners with the people of the Indus Valley – were engaged in driving out the Gutian invaders and, between c. 1792-1750 BCE, the Babylonian king Hammurabi was conquering their city-states as he consolidated his empire. In Egypt, the period corresponds to the latter part of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE) when the weak 13th Dynasty ruled just prior to the coming of the Hyksos and the central government's loss of power and authority.

The reason which early 20th century CE scholars seized on, however, was none of these but the claim that the Indus Valley people had been conquered and driven south by an invasion of a superior race of light-skinned Aryans.

Aryan Invasion Theory

Western scholars had been translating and interpreting the Vedic literature of India for over 200 years by the time Wheeler was excavating the sites and, in that time, came to develop the theory that the subcontinent was at some point conquered by a light-skinned race known as Aryans who established high culture throughout the land. This theory developed slowly and, at first, innocently through the publication of a work by the Anglo-Welsh philologist Sir William Jones (l. 1746-1794 CE) in 1786 CE. Jones, an avid reader of Sanskrit, noted that there were remarkable similarities between it and European languages and claimed there had to be a common source for all of them; he called this source Proto-Indo-European.

Later Western scholars, trying to identify Jones' “common source”, concluded that a light-skinned race from the north – somewhere around Europe – had conquered the lands south, notably India, establishing culture and spreading their language and customs, even though nothing, objectively, supported this view. A French elitist writer named Joseph Arthur de Gobineau (l. 1816-1882 CE) popularized this view in his work An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races in 1855 CE and asserted that superior, light-skinned, races had “Aryan blood” and were naturally disposed to rule over lesser races.

The early Iranians self-identified as Aryan, meaning “noble” or “free” or “civilized”, until it was corrupted by European racists to serve their own agenda.

Gobineau's book was admired by the German composer Richard Wagner (l. 1813-1883 CE) whose British-born son-in-law, Houston Stewart Chamberlain (l. 1855-1927 CE) further popularized these views in his work which would eventually influence Adolf Hitler and the architect of the Nazi ideology, Alfred Rosenberg (l. 1893-1946 CE). These racialist views were given further validity by a German philologist and scholar who did not share them, Max Muller (l. 1823-1900 CE), the so-called “author” of the Aryan Invasion Theory who insisted, in all of his work, that Aryan had to do with a linguistic difference and had nothing at all to do with ethnicity.

It hardly mattered what Muller said, however, because, by the time Wheeler was excavating the sites in the 1940s CE, people had been breathing in these theories with the air of the times for well over 50 years. It would be decades more before the majority of scholars, writers, and academics would begin to recognize that 'Aryan' originally referred to a class of people – having nothing to do with race – and, in the words of the archaeologist J. P. Mallory, “as an ethnic designation the word [Aryan] is most properly limited to the Indo-Iranians” (Farrokh, 17). The early Iranians self-identified as Aryan meaning “noble” or “free” or “civilized” and the term continued in use for over 2000 years until it was corrupted by European racists to serve their own agenda.

Wheeler's interpretation of the sites was informed by and then validated the Aryan Invasion Theory. The Aryans were already recognized as the authors of the Vedas and other works but their dates in the region were too late to support the claim that they had built the impressive cities; perhaps, though, they had destroyed them. Wheeler was, of course, as aware of the Aryan Invasion Theory as any other archaeologist at the time and, through this lens, interpreted what he found as supporting it; in doing so, he validated the theory which then gained greater popularity and acceptance.


The Aryan Invasion Theory, though still cited and advanced by those with a racialist agenda, lost credence in the 1960s CE through the work, primarily, of the American archaeologist George F. Dales who reviewed Wheeler's interpretations, visited the sites, and found no evidence to support it. The skeletons Wheeler had interpreted as dying a violent death in battle showed no such signs nor did the cities exhibit any damage associated with war.

Further, there was no evidence of any kind of mobilization of a great army of the north nor of any conquest c. 1900 BCE in India. The Persians – the only ethnicity self-identifying as Aryan – were themselves a minority on the Iranian Plateau between c. 1500 BCE and in no position to mount an invasion of any kind. It was therefore suggested that the “Aryan Invasion” was actually most likely a migration of Indo-Iranians who merged peacefully with the indigenous people of India, intermarried, and were assimilated into the culture.

As excavations of the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization continue, more information will no doubt contribute to a better understanding of its history and development. Recognition of the culture's vast accomplishments and high level of technology and sophistication has been increasingly coming to light and gaining greater attention. Scholar Jeffrey D. Long expresses the general sentiment, writing, “there is much fascination with this civilization because of its high level of technological advancement” (198). Already, the Indus Valley Civilization is referenced as one of the three greatest of antiquity alongside Egypt and Mesopotamia, and future excavations will almost surely elevate its standing even higher.

Complete Guide of Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus Valley civilization extends from modern-day northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and a major part of northwest India.

During the discovery of this civilization, numerous metals like copper and tin were discovered. So, the Bronze Age also began around 3300 BC with the start of civilization. The first city discovered was the Harappan City, so the other name for this civilization is Harappan Civilization.

Later the Bronze age changed to Iron Age, where numerous Iron materials were made and created. The phase was known as the Late Harappan Culture, which was during 1900 – 1400 BC.

Along with the discovery of this civilization came an extended amount of queries and facts. Out of which, the most frequently asked questions along with the facts are mentioned here.


The Indus Valley Civilisation is named after the Indus river system in whose alluvial plains the early sites of the civilisation were identified and excavated. [22] [j] Following a tradition in archaeology, the civilisation is sometimes referred to as the Harappan, after its type site, Harappa, the first site to be excavated in the 1920s this is notably true of usage employed by the Archaeological Survey of India after India's independence in 1947. [23] [k]

The term "Ghaggar-Hakra" figures prominently in modern labels applied to the Indus civilisation on account of a good number of sites having been found along the Ghaggar-Hakra river in northwest India and eastern Pakistan. [24] The terms "Indus-Sarasvati Civilisation" and "Sindhu-Saraswati Civilisation" have also been employed in the literature after a posited identification of the Ghaggar-Hakra with the river Saraswati described in the early chapters of Rig Veda, a collection of hymns in archaic Sanskrit composed in the second-millennium BCE. [25] [26] Recent geophysical research suggests that unlike the Sarasvati, whose descriptions in the Rig Veda are those of a snow-fed river, the Ghaggar-Hakra was a system of perennial monsoon-fed rivers, which became seasonal around the time that the civilisation diminished, approximately 4,000 years ago. [4] [l]

The Indus civilization was roughly contemporary with the other riverine civilisations of the ancient world: Egypt along the Nile, Mesopotamia in the lands watered by the Euphrates and the Tigris, and China in the drainage basin of the Yellow River and the Yangtze. By the time of its mature phase, the civilisation had spread over an area larger than the others, which included a core of 1,500 kilometres (900 mi) up the alluvial plain of the Indus and its tributaries. In addition, there was a region with disparate flora, fauna, and habitats, up to ten times as large, which had been shaped culturally and economically by the Indus. [27] [m]

Around 6500 BCE, agriculture emerged in Balochistan, on the margins of the Indus alluvium. [6] [n] [28] [o] In the following millennia, settled life made inroads into the Indus plains, setting the stage for the growth of rural and urban human settlements. [29] [p] The more organized sedentary life, in turn, led to a net increase in the birth rate. [6] [q] The large urban centres of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa very likely grew to containing between 30,000 and 60,000 individuals, and during the civilization's florescence, the population of the subcontinent grew to between 4–6 million people. [6] [r] During this period the death rate increased as well, for close living conditions of humans and domesticated animals led to an increase in contagious diseases. [28] [s] According to one estimate, the population of the Indus civilization at its peak may have been between one and five million. [30] [t]

The Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) extended from Pakistan's Balochistan in the west to India's western Uttar Pradesh in the east, from northeastern Afghanistan in the north to India's Gujarat state in the south. [25] The largest number of sites are in Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir states in India, [25] and Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces in Pakistan. [25] Coastal settlements extended from Sutkagan Dor [31] in Western Baluchistan to Lothal [32] in Gujarat. An Indus Valley site has been found on the Oxus River at Shortugai in northern Afghanistan, [33] in the Gomal River valley in northwestern Pakistan, [34] at Manda, Jammu on the Beas River near Jammu, [35] India, and at Alamgirpur on the Hindon River, only 28 km (17 mi) from Delhi. [36] The southernmost site of the Indus valley civilisation is Daimabad in Maharashtra. Indus Valley sites have been found most often on rivers, but also on the ancient seacoast, [37] for example, Balakot, [38] and on islands, for example, Dholavira. [39]

— From, John Marshall (ed), Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization, London: Arthur Probsthain, 1931. [40]

The first modern accounts of the ruins of the Indus civilisation are those of Charles Masson, a deserter from the East India Company's army. [41] In 1829, Masson traveled through the princely state of Punjab, gathering useful intelligence for the Company in return for a promise of clemency. [41] An aspect of this arrangement was the additional requirement to hand over to the Company any historical artifacts acquired during his travels. Masson, who had versed himself in the classics, especially in the military campaigns of Alexander the Great, chose for his wanderings some of the same towns that had featured in Alexander's campaigns, and whose archaeological sites had been noted by the campaign's chroniclers. [41] Masson's major archaeological discovery in the Punjab was Harappa, a metropolis of the Indus civilization in the valley of Indus's tributary, the Ravi river. Masson made copious notes and illustrations of Harappa's rich historical artifacts, many lying half-buried. In 1842, Masson included his observations of Harappa in the book Narrative of Various Journeys in Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and the Punjab. He dated the Harappa ruins to a period of recorded history, erroneously mistaking it to have been described earlier during Alexander's campaign. [41] Masson was impressed by the site's extraordinary size and by several large mounds formed from long-existing erosion. [41] [u]

Two years later, the Company contracted Alexander Burnes to sail up the Indus to assess the feasibility of water travel for its army. [41] Burnes, who also stopped in Harappa, noted the baked bricks employed in the site's ancient masonry, but noted also the haphazard plundering of these bricks by the local population. [41]

Despite these reports, Harappa was raided even more perilously for its bricks after the British annexation of the Punjab in 1848–49. A considerable number were carted away as track ballast for the railway lines being laid in the Punjab. [43] Nearly 160 km (100 mi) of railway track between Multan and Lahore, laid in the mid 1850s, was supported by Harappan bricks. [43]

In 1861, three years after the dissolution of the East India Company and the establishment of Crown rule in India, archaeology on the subcontinent became more formally organised with the founding of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). [44] Alexander Cunningham, the Survey's first director-general, who had visited Harappa in 1853 and had noted the imposing brick walls, visited again to carry out a survey, but this time of a site whose entire upper layer had been stripped in the interim. [44] [45] Although his original goal of demonstrating Harappa to be a lost Buddhist city mentioned in the seventh century CE travels of the Chinese visitor, Xuanzang, proved elusive, [45] Cunningham did publish his findings in 1875. [46] For the first time, he interpreted a Harappan stamp seal, with its unknown script, which he concluded to be of an origin foreign to India. [46] [47]

Archaeological work in Harappa thereafter lagged until a new viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, pushed through the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act 1904, and appointed John Marshall to lead the ASI. [48] Several years later, Hiranand Sastri, who had been assigned by Marshall to survey Harappa, reported it to be of non-Buddhist origin, and by implication more ancient. [48] Expropriating Harappa for the ASI under the Act, Marshall directed ASI archaeologist Daya Ram Sahni to excavate the site's two mounds. [48]

Farther south, along the main stem of the Indus in Sind province, the largely undisturbed site of Mohenjo-daro had attracted notice. [48] Marshall deputed a succession of ASI officers to survey the site. These included D. R. Bhandarkar (1911), R. D. Banerji (1919, 1922–1923), and M. S. Vats (1924). [49] In 1923, on his second visit to Mohenjo-daro, Baneriji wrote to Marshall about the site, postulating an origin in "remote antiquity," and noting a congruence of some of its artifacts with those of Harappa. [50] Later in 1923, Vats, also in correspondence with Marshall, noted the same more specifically about the seals and the script found at both sites. [50] On the weight of these opinions, Marshall ordered crucial data from the two sites to be brought to one location and invited Banerji and Sahni to a joint discussion. [51] By 1924, Marshall had become convinced of the significance of the finds, and on 24 September 1924, made a tentative but conspicuous public intimation in the Illustrated London News: [22]

"Not often has it been given to archaeologists, as it was given to Schliemann at Tiryns and Mycenae, or to Stein in the deserts of Turkestan, to light upon the remains of a long forgotten civilization. It looks, however, at this moment, as if we were on the threshold of such a discovery in the plains of the Indus."

In the next issue, a week later, the British Assyriologist Archibald Sayce was able to point to very similar seals found in Bronze Age levels in Mesopotamia and Iran, giving the first strong indication of their date confirmations from other archaeologists followed. [52] Systematic excavations began in Mohenjo-daro in 1924–25 with that of K. N. Dikshit, continuing with those of H. Hargreaves (1925–1926), and Ernest J. H. Mackay (1927–1931). [49] By 1931, much of Mohenjo-daro had been excavated, but occasional excavations continued, such as the one led by Mortimer Wheeler, a new director-general of the ASI appointed in 1944.

After the partition of India in 1947, when most excavated sites of the Indus Valley civilisation lay in territory awarded to Pakistan, the Archaeological Survey of India, its area of authority reduced, carried out large numbers of surveys and excavations along the Ghaggar-Hakra system in India. [53] [v] Some speculated that the Ghaggar-Hakra system might yield more sites than the Indus river basin. [54] By 2002, over 1,000 Mature Harappan cities and settlements had been reported, of which just under a hundred had been excavated, [12] [13] [14] [55] mainly in the general region of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra rivers and their tributaries however, there are only five major urban sites: Harappa, Mohenjo-daro, Dholavira, Ganeriwala and Rakhigarhi. [55] According to a historian approximately 616 sites have been reported in India, [25] whereas 406 sites have been reported in Pakistan. [25] However, according to archaeologist Shereen Ratnagar, many Ghaggar-Hakra sites in India are actually those of local cultures some sites display contact with Harappan civilization, but only a few are fully developed Harappan ones. [56]

Unlike India, in which after 1947, the ASI attempted to "Indianise" archaeological work in keeping with the new nation's goals of national unity and historical continuity, in Pakistan the national imperative was the promotion of Islamic heritage, and consequently archaeological work on early sites was left to foreign archaeologists. [57] After the partition, Mortimer Wheeler, the Director of ASI from 1944, oversaw the establishment of archaeological institutions in Pakistan, later joining a UNESCO effort tasked to conserve the site at Mohenjo-daro. [58] Other international efforts at Mohenjo-daro and Harappa have included the German Aachen Research Project Mohenjo-daro, the Italian Mission to Mohenjo-daro, and the US Harappa Archaeological Research Project (HARP) founded by George F. Dales. [59] Following a chance flash flood which exposed a portion of an archaeological site at the foot of the Bolan Pass in Balochistan, excavations were carried out in Mehrgarh by French archaeologist Jean-François Jarrige and his team. [60]

The cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation had "social hierarchies, their writing system, their large planned cities and their long-distance trade [which] mark them to archaeologists as a full-fledged 'civilisation.'" [61] The mature phase of the Harappan civilisation lasted from c. 2600–1900 BCE. With the inclusion of the predecessor and successor cultures – Early Harappan and Late Harappan, respectively – the entire Indus Valley Civilisation may be taken to have lasted from the 33rd to the 14th centuries BCE. It is part of the Indus Valley Tradition, which also includes the pre-Harappan occupation of Mehrgarh, the earliest farming site of the Indus Valley. [18] [62]

Several periodisations are employed for the IVC. [18] [62] The most commonly used classifies the Indus Valley Civilisation into Early, Mature and Late Harappan Phase. [63] An alternative approach by Shaffer divides the broader Indus Valley Tradition into four eras, the pre-Harappan "Early Food Producing Era", and the Regionalisation, Integration, and Localisation eras, which correspond roughly with the Early Harappan, Mature Harappan, and Late Harappan phases. [17] [64]

Dates (BCE) Main Phase Mehrgarh phases Harappan phases Post-Harappan phases Era
7000–5500 Pre-Harappan Mehrgarh I and Bhirrana
(aceramic Neolithic)
Early Food Producing Era
5500–3300 Pre-Harappan/Early Harappan [65] Mehrgarh II–VI
(ceramic Neolithic)
Regionalisation Era
c. 4000–2500/2300 (Shaffer) [66]
c. 5000–3200 (Coningham & Young) [67]
3300–2800 Early Harappan [65]
c. 3300–2800 (Mughal) [68] [65] [69]
c. 5000–2800 (Kenoyer)
Harappan 1
(Ravi Phase Hakra Ware)
2800–2600 Mehrgarh VII Harappan 2
(Kot Diji Phase,
Nausharo I)
2600–2450 Mature Harappan
(Indus Valley Civilisation)
Harappan 3A (Nausharo II) Integration Era
2450–2200 Harappan 3B
2200–1900 Harappan 3C
1900–1700 Late Harappan Harappan 4 Cemetery H [70]
Ochre Coloured Pottery [70]
Localisation Era
1700–1300 Harappan 5
1300–600 Post-Harappan
Iron Age India
Painted Grey Ware (1200–600)
Vedic period (c. 1500–500)
c. 1200–300 (Kenoyer) [65]
c. 1500 [71] –600 (Coningham & Young) [72]
600–300 Northern Black Polished Ware (Iron Age) (700–200)
Second urbanisation (c. 500–200)
Integration [72]

Mehrgarh is a Neolithic (7000 BCE to c. 2500 BCE) mountain site in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, [73] which gave new insights on the emergence of the Indus Valley Civilization. [61] [w] Mehrgarh is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia. [74] [75] Mehrgarh was influenced by the Near Eastern Neolithic, [76] with similarities between "domesticated wheat varieties, early phases of farming, pottery, other archaeological artefacts, some domesticated plants and herd animals." [77] [x]

Jean-Francois Jarrige argues for an independent origin of Mehrgarh. Jarrige notes "the assumption that farming economy was introduced full-fledged from Near-East to South Asia," [78] [x] [y] [z] and the similarities between Neolithic sites from eastern Mesopotamia and the western Indus valley, which are evidence of a "cultural continuum" between those sites. But given the originality of Mehrgarh, Jarrige concludes that Mehrgarh has an earlier local background," and is not a "'backwater' of the Neolithic culture of the Near East." [78]

Lukacs and Hemphill suggest an initial local development of Mehrgarh, with a continuity in cultural development but a change in population. According to Lukacs and Hemphill, while there is a strong continuity between the neolithic and chalcolithic (Copper Age) cultures of Mehrgarh, dental evidence shows that the chalcolithic population did not descend from the neolithic population of Mehrgarh, [92] which "suggests moderate levels of gene flow." [92] [aa] Mascarenhas et al. (2015) note that "new, possibly West Asian, body types are reported from the graves of Mehrgarh beginning in the Togau phase (3800 BCE)." [93]

Gallego Romero et al. (2011) state that their research on lactose tolerance in India suggests that "the west Eurasian genetic contribution identified by Reich et al. (2009) principally reflects gene flow from Iran and the Middle East." [94] They further note that "[t]he earliest evidence of cattle herding in south Asia comes from the Indus River Valley site of Mehrgarh and is dated to 7,000 YBP." [94] [ab]

The Early Harappan Ravi Phase, named after the nearby Ravi River, lasted from c. 3300 BCE until 2800 BCE. It started when farmers from the mountains gradually moved between their mountain homes and the lowland river valleys, [96] and is related to the Hakra Phase, identified in the Ghaggar-Hakra River Valley to the west, and predates the Kot Diji Phase (2800–2600 BCE, Harappan 2), named after a site in northern Sindh, Pakistan, near Mohenjo-daro. The earliest examples of the Indus script date to the 3rd millennium BCE. [97] [98]

The mature phase of earlier village cultures is represented by Rehman Dheri and Amri in Pakistan. [99] Kot Diji represents the phase leading up to Mature Harappan, with the citadel representing centralised authority and an increasingly urban quality of life. Another town of this stage was found at Kalibangan in India on the Hakra River. [100]

Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making. By this time, villagers had domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates, and cotton, as well as animals, including the water buffalo. Early Harappan communities turned to large urban centres by 2600 BCE, from where the mature Harappan phase started. The latest research shows that Indus Valley people migrated from villages to cities. [101] [102]

The final stages of the Early Harappan period are characterised by the building of large walled settlements, the expansion of trade networks, and the increasing integration of regional communities into a "relatively uniform" material culture in terms of pottery styles, ornaments, and stamp seals with Indus script, leading into the transition to the Mature Harappan phase. [103]

According to Giosan et al. (2012), the slow southward migration of the monsoons across Asia initially allowed the Indus Valley villages to develop by taming the floods of the Indus and its tributaries. Flood-supported farming led to large agricultural surpluses, which in turn supported the development of cities. The IVC residents did not develop irrigation capabilities, relying mainly on the seasonal monsoons leading to summer floods. [4] Brooke further notes that the development of advanced cities coincides with a reduction in rainfall, which may have triggered a reorganisation into larger urban centers. [105] [e]

According to J.G. Shaffer and D.A. Lichtenstein, [106] the Mature Harappan Civilisation was "a fusion of the Bagor, Hakra, and Kot Diji traditions or 'ethnic groups' in the Ghaggar-Hakra valley on the borders of India and Pakistan". [107]

By 2600 BCE, the Early Harappan communities turned into large urban centres. Such urban centres include Harappa, Ganeriwala, Mohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan, and Dholavira, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Rupar, and Lothal in modern-day India. [108] In total, more than 1,000 cities and settlements have been found, mainly in the general region of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra Rivers and their tributaries. [12]


A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture is evident in the Indus Valley Civilisation, making them the first urban centre in the region. The quality of municipal town planning suggests the knowledge of urban planning and efficient municipal governments which placed a high priority on hygiene, or, alternatively, accessibility to the means of religious ritual. [109]

As seen in Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and the recently partially excavated Rakhigarhi, this urban plan included the world's first known urban sanitation systems: see hydraulic engineering of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Within the city, individual homes or groups of homes obtained water from wells. From a room that appears to have been set aside for bathing, waste water was directed to covered drains, which lined the major streets. Houses opened only to inner courtyards and smaller lanes. The house-building in some villages in the region still resembles in some respects the house-building of the Harappans. [ac]

The ancient Indus systems of sewerage and drainage that were developed and used in cities throughout the Indus region were far more advanced than any found in contemporary urban sites in the Middle East and even more efficient than those in many areas of Pakistan and India today. The advanced architecture of the Harappans is shown by their impressive dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. The massive walls of Indus cities most likely protected the Harappans from floods and may have dissuaded military conflicts. [111]

The purpose of the citadel remains debated. In sharp contrast to this civilisation's contemporaries, Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, no large monumental structures were built. There is no conclusive evidence of palaces or temples. [112] Some structures are thought to have been granaries. Found at one city is an enormous well-built bath (the "Great Bath"), which may have been a public bath. Although the citadels were walled, it is far from clear that these structures were defensive.

Most city dwellers appear to have been traders or artisans, who lived with others pursuing the same occupation in well-defined neighbourhoods. Materials from distant regions were used in the cities for constructing seals, beads and other objects. Among the artefacts discovered were beautiful glazed faïence beads. Steatite seals have images of animals, people (perhaps gods), and other types of inscriptions, including the yet un-deciphered writing system of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Some of the seals were used to stamp clay on trade goods.

Although some houses were larger than others, Indus Civilisation cities were remarkable for their apparent, if relative, egalitarianism. All the houses had access to water and drainage facilities. This gives the impression of a society with relatively low wealth concentration. [113]

Authority and governance

Archaeological records provide no immediate answers for a centre of power or for depictions of people in power in Harappan society. But, there are indications of complex decisions being taken and implemented. For instance, the majority of the cities were constructed in a highly uniform and well-planned grid pattern, suggesting they were planned by a central authority extraordinary uniformity of Harappan artefacts as evident in pottery, seals, weights and bricks presence of public facilities and monumental architecture heterogeneity in the mortuary symbolism and in grave goods (items included in burials). [ citation needed ]

These are some major theories: [ citation needed ]

  • There was a single state, given the similarity in artefacts, the evidence for planned settlements, the standardised ratio of brick size, and the establishment of settlements near sources of raw material.
  • There was no single ruler but several cities like Mohenjo-daro had a separate ruler, Harappa another, and so forth.
  • Harappan society had no rulers, and everybody enjoyed equal status. [114] [better source needed]


The people of the Indus Civilisation achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures. [ dubious – discuss ] A comparison of available objects indicates large scale variation across the Indus territories. Their smallest division, which is marked on an ivory scale found in Lothal in Gujarat, was approximately 1.704 mm, the smallest division ever recorded on a scale of the Bronze Age. [ citation needed ] Harappan engineers followed the decimal division of measurement for all practical purposes, including the measurement of mass as revealed by their hexahedron weights. [ citation needed ]

These chert weights were in a ratio of 5:2:1 with weights of 0.05, 0.1, 0.2, 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 units, with each unit weighing approximately 28 grams, similar to the English Imperial ounce or Greek uncia, and smaller objects were weighed in similar ratios with the units of 0.871 . However, as in other cultures, actual weights were not uniform throughout the area. The weights and measures later used in Kautilya's Arthashastra (4th century BCE) are the same as those used in Lothal. [116]

Harappans evolved some new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin. [ citation needed ]

A touchstone bearing gold streaks was found in Banawali, which was probably used for testing the purity of gold (such a technique is still used in some parts of India). [107]

Arts and crafts

Various sculptures, seals, bronze vessels, pottery, gold jewellery, and anatomically detailed figurines in terracotta, bronze, and steatite have been found at excavation sites. [117] The Harappans also made various toys and games, among them cubical dice (with one to six holes on the faces), which were found in sites like Mohenjo-daro. [118]

The terracotta figurines included cows, bears, monkeys, and dogs. The animal depicted on a majority of seals at sites of the mature period has not been clearly identified. Part bull, part zebra, with a majestic horn, it has been a source of speculation. As yet, there is insufficient evidence to substantiate claims that the image had religious or cultic significance, but the prevalence of the image raises the question of whether or not the animals in images of the IVC are religious symbols. [119]

Many crafts including, "shell working, ceramics, and agate and glazed steatite bead making" were practised and the pieces were used in the making of necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments from all phases of Harappan culture. Some of these crafts are still practised in the subcontinent today. [120] Some make-up and toiletry items (a special kind of combs (kakai), the use of collyrium and a special three-in-one toiletry gadget) that were found in Harappan contexts still have similar counterparts in modern India. [121] Terracotta female figurines were found (c. 2800–2600 BCE) which had red colour applied to the "manga" (line of partition of the hair). [121]

The finds from Mohenjo-daro were initially deposited in the Lahore Museum, but later moved to the ASI headquarters at New Delhi, where a new "Central Imperial Museum" was being planned for the new capital of the British Raj, in which at least a selection would be displayed. It became apparent that Indian independence was approaching, but the Partition of India was not anticipated until late in the process. The new Pakistani authorities requested the return of the Mohenjo-daro pieces excavated on their territory, but the Indian authorities refused. Eventually an agreement was reached, whereby the finds, totalling some 12,000 objects (most sherds of pottery), were split equally between the countries in some cases this was taken very literally, with some necklaces and girdles having their beads separated into two piles. In the case of the "two most celebrated sculpted figures", Pakistan asked for and received the so-called Priest-King figure, while India retained the much smaller Dancing Girl. [122]

Ceremonial vessel 2600-2450 BC terracotta with black paint 49.53 × 25.4 cm Los Angeles County Museum of Art (US)

Cubical weights, standardised throughout the Indus cultural zone 2600-1900 BC chert British Museum (London)

Mohenjo-daro beads 2600-1900 BC carnelian and terracotta British Museum

Ram-headed bird mounted on wheels, probably a toy 2600-1900 BC terracotta Guimet Museum (Paris)

Human statuettes

A handful of realistic statuettes have been found at IVC sites, of which much the most famous is the lost-wax casting bronze statuette of a slender-limbed Dancing Girl adorned with bangles, found in Mohenjo-daro. Two other realistic statuettes have been found in Harappa in proper stratified excavations, which display near-Classical treatment of the human shape: the statuette of a dancer who seems to be male, and a red jasper male torso, both now in the Delhi National Museum. Sir John Marshall reacted with surprise when he saw these two statuettes from Harappa: [123]

When I first saw them I found it difficult to believe that they were prehistoric they seemed to completely upset all established ideas about early art, and culture. Modelling such as this was unknown in the ancient world up to the Hellenistic age of Greece, and I thought, therefore, that some mistake must surely have been made that these figures had found their way into levels some 3000 years older than those to which they properly belonged . Now, in these statuettes, it is just this anatomical truth which is so startling that makes us wonder whether, in this all-important matter, Greek artistry could possibly have been anticipated by the sculptors of a far-off age on the banks of the Indus. [123]

These statuettes remain controversial, due to their advanced techniques. Regarding the red jasper torso, the discoverer, Vats, claims a Harappan date, but Marshall considered this statuette is probably historical, dating to the Gupta period, comparing it to the much later Lohanipur torso. [124] A second rather similar grey stone statuette of a dancing male was also found about 150 meters away in a secure Mature Harappan stratum. Overall, anthropologist Gregory Possehl tends to consider that these statuettes probably form the pinnacle of Indus art during the Mature Harappan period. [125]

Reclining mouflon 2600–1900 BC marble length: 28 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Male dancing torso 2400-1900 BC limestone height: 9.9 cm National Museum (New Delhi, India)

The Dancing Girl 2400–1900 BC bronze height: 10.8 cm National Museum (New Delhi)


Thousands of steatite seals have been recovered, and their physical character is fairly consistent. In size they range from squares of side 2 to 4 cm ( 3 ⁄ 4 to 1 + 1 ⁄ 2 in). In most cases they have a pierced boss at the back to accommodate a cord for handling or for use as personal adornment.

Seals have been found at Mohenjo-daro depicting a figure standing on its head, and another, on the Pashupati seal, sitting cross-legged in what some [ who? ] call a yoga-like pose (see image, the so-called Pashupati, below). This figure has been variously identified. Sir John Marshall identified a resemblance to the Hindu god, Shiva. [126]

A harp-like instrument depicted on an Indus seal and two shell objects found at Lothal indicate the use of stringed musical instruments.

A human deity with the horns, hooves and tail of a bull also appears in the seals, in particular in a fighting scene with a horned tiger-like beast. This deity has been compared to the Mesopotamian bull-man Enkidu. [127] [128] [129] Several seals also show a man fighting two lions or tigers, a "Master of Animals" motif common to civilizations in Western and South Asia. [129] [130]

Seal 3000–1500 BC baked steatite 2 × 2 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)

Stamp seal and modern impression: unicorn and incense burner (?) 2600-1900 BC burnt steatite 3.8 × 3.8 × 1 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art

Seal with two-horned bull and inscription 2010 BC steatite overall: 3.2 x 3.2 cm Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, Ohio, US)

Seal with unicorn and inscription 2010 BC steatite overall: 3.5 x 3.6 cm Cleveland Museum of Art

Trade and transportation

The Indus civilisation's economy appears to have depended significantly on trade, which was facilitated by major advances in transport technology. The IVC may have been the first civilisation to use wheeled transport. [133] These advances may have included bullock carts that are identical to those seen throughout South Asia today, as well as boats. Most of these boats were probably small, flat-bottomed craft, perhaps driven by sail, similar to those one can see on the Indus River today however, there is secondary evidence of sea-going craft. Archaeologists have discovered a massive, dredged canal and what they regard as a docking facility at the coastal city of Lothal in western India (Gujarat state). An extensive canal network, used for irrigation, has however also been discovered by H.-P. Francfort. [134]

During 4300–3200 BCE of the chalcolithic period (copper age), the Indus Valley Civilisation area shows ceramic similarities with southern Turkmenistan and northern Iran which suggest considerable mobility and trade. During the Early Harappan period (about 3200–2600 BCE), similarities in pottery, seals, figurines, ornaments, etc. document intensive caravan trade with Central Asia and the Iranian plateau. [135]

Judging from the dispersal of Indus civilisation artefacts, the trade networks economically integrated a huge area, including portions of Afghanistan, the coastal regions of Persia, northern and western India, and Mesopotamia, leading to the development of Indus-Mesopotamia relations. Studies of tooth enamel from individuals buried at Harappa suggest that some residents had migrated to the city from beyond the Indus Valley. [136] There is some evidence that trade contacts extended to Crete and possibly to Egypt. [137]

There was an extensive maritime trade network operating between the Harappan and Mesopotamian civilisations as early as the middle Harappan Phase, with much commerce being handled by "middlemen merchants from Dilmun" (modern Bahrain, Eastern Arabia and Failaka located in the Persian Gulf). [138] Such long-distance sea trade became feasible with the development of plank-built watercraft, equipped with a single central mast supporting a sail of woven rushes or cloth. [139]

It is generally assumed that most trade between the Indus Valley (ancient Meluhha?) and western neighbors proceeded up the Persian Gulf rather than overland. Although there is no incontrovertible proof that this was indeed the case, the distribution of Indus-type artifacts on the Oman peninsula, on Bahrain and in southern Mesopotamia makes it plausible that a series of maritime stages linked the Indus Valley and the Gulf region. [140]

In the 1980s, important archaeological discoveries were made at Ras al-Jinz (Oman), demonstrating maritime Indus Valley connections with the Arabian Peninsula. [139] [141] [142]


According to Gangal et al. (2014), there is strong archeological and geographical evidence that neolithic farming spread from the Near East into north-west India, but there is also "good evidence for the local domestication of barley and the zebu cattle at Mehrgarh." [76] [ad]

According to Jean-Francois Jarrige, farming had an independent origin at Mehrgarh, despite the similarities which he notes between Neolithic sites from eastern Mesopotamia and the western Indus valley, which are evidence of a "cultural continuum" between those sites. Nevertheless, Jarrige concludes that Mehrgarh has an earlier local background," and is not a "'backwater' of the Neolithic culture of the Near East." [78] Archaeologist Jim G. Shaffer writes that the Mehrgarh site "demonstrates that food production was an indigenous South Asian phenomenon" and that the data support interpretation of "the prehistoric urbanisation and complex social organisation in South Asia as based on indigenous, but not isolated, cultural developments". [143]

Jarrige notes that the people of Mehrgarh used domesticated wheats and barley, [144] while Shaffer and Liechtenstein note that the major cultivated cereal crop was naked six-row barley, a crop derived from two-row barley. [145] Gangal agrees that "Neolithic domesticated crops in Mehrgarh include more than 90% barley," noting that "there is good evidence for the local domestication of barley." Yet, Gangal also notes that the crop also included "a small amount of wheat," which "are suggested to be of Near-Eastern origin, as the modern distribution of wild varieties of wheat is limited to Northern Levant and Southern Turkey." [76] [ae]

The cattle that are often portrayed on Indus seals are humped Indian aurochs, which are similar to Zebu cattle. Zebu cattle is still common in India, and in Africa. It is different from the European cattle, and had been originally domesticated on the Indian subcontinent, probably in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan. [146] [76] [ad]

Research by J. Bates et al. (2016) confirms that Indus populations were the earliest people to use complex multi-cropping strategies across both seasons, growing foods during summer (rice, millets and beans) and winter (wheat, barley and pulses), which required different watering regimes. [147] Bates et al. (2016) also found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process of rice in ancient South Asia, based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of "wetland" and "dryland" agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture, before the truly "wetland" rice Oryza sativa japonica arrived around 2000 BCE. [148]

According to Akshyeta Suryanarayan et. al. while large proportion of data remains ambiguous, being building of reliable local isotopic references for fats and oils still unavailable and lower lipid levels in preserved IVC vessels, available evidence indicates (food) vessel's usage had been multi-functional, and across rural and urban settlements usage was similar and cooking in Indus vessels constituted dairy products, ruminant carcass meat, and either non-ruminant adipose fats, plants, or mixtures of these products. [149]


It has often been suggested that the bearers of the IVC corresponded to proto-Dravidians linguistically, the break-up of proto-Dravidian corresponding to the break-up of the Late Harappan culture. [150] Finnish Indologist Asko Parpola concludes that the uniformity of the Indus inscriptions precludes any possibility of widely different languages being used, and that an early form of Dravidian language must have been the language of the Indus people. [151] Today, the Dravidian language family is concentrated mostly in southern India and northern and eastern Sri Lanka, but pockets of it still remain throughout the rest of India and Pakistan (the Brahui language), which lends credence to the theory.

According to Heggarty and Renfrew, Dravidian languages may have spread into the Indian subcontinent with the spread of farming. [152] According to David McAlpin, the Dravidian languages were brought to India by immigration into India from Elam. [af] In earlier publications, Renfrew also stated that proto-Dravidian was brought to India by farmers from the Iranian part of the Fertile Crescent, [153] [154] [155] [ag] but more recently Heggarty and Renfrew note that "a great deal remains to be done in elucidating the prehistory of Dravidian." They also note that "McAlpin's analysis of the language data, and thus his claims, remain far from orthodoxy." [152] Heggarty and Renfrew conclude that several scenarios are compatible with the data, and that "the linguistic jury is still very much out." [152] [ai]

Possible writing system

Between 400 and as many as 600 distinct Indus symbols [160] have been found on stamp seals, small tablets, ceramic pots and more than a dozen other materials, including a "signboard" that apparently once hung over the gate of the inner citadel of the Indus city of Dholavira. Typical Indus inscriptions are no more than four or five characters in length, most of which (aside from the Dholavira "signboard") are tiny the longest on a single surface, which is less than 2.5 cm (1 in) square, is 17 signs long the longest on any object (found on three different faces of a mass-produced object) has a length of 26 symbols.

While the Indus Valley Civilisation is generally characterised as a literate society on the evidence of these inscriptions, this description has been challenged by Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel (2004) [161] who argue that the Indus system did not encode language, but was instead similar to a variety of non-linguistic sign systems used extensively in the Near East and other societies, to symbolise families, clans, gods, and religious concepts. Others have claimed on occasion that the symbols were exclusively used for economic transactions, but this claim leaves unexplained the appearance of Indus symbols on many ritual objects, many of which were mass-produced in moulds. No parallels to these mass-produced inscriptions are known in any other early ancient civilisations. [162]

In a 2009 study by P.N. Rao et al. published in Science, computer scientists, comparing the pattern of symbols to various linguistic scripts and non-linguistic systems, including DNA and a computer programming language, found that the Indus script's pattern is closer to that of spoken words, supporting the hypothesis that it codes for an as-yet-unknown language. [163] [164]

Farmer, Sproat, and Witzel have disputed this finding, pointing out that Rao et al. did not actually compare the Indus signs with "real-world non-linguistic systems" but rather with "two wholly artificial systems invented by the authors, one consisting of 200,000 randomly ordered signs and another of 200,000 fully ordered signs, that they spuriously claim represent the structures of all real-world non-linguistic sign systems". [165] Farmer et al. have also demonstrated that a comparison of a non-linguistic system like medieval heraldic signs with natural languages yields results similar to those that Rao et al. obtained with Indus signs. They conclude that the method used by Rao et al. cannot distinguish linguistic systems from non-linguistic ones. [166]

The messages on the seals have proved to be too short to be decoded by a computer. Each seal has a distinctive combination of symbols and there are too few examples of each sequence to provide a sufficient context. The symbols that accompany the images vary from seal to seal, making it impossible to derive a meaning for the symbols from the images. There have, nonetheless, been a number of interpretations offered for the meaning of the seals. These interpretations have been marked by ambiguity and subjectivity. [166] : 69

Photos of many of the thousands of extant inscriptions are published in the Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions (1987, 1991, 2010), edited by Asko Parpola and his colleagues. The most recent volume republished photos taken in the 1920s and 1930s of hundreds of lost or stolen inscriptions, along with many discovered in the last few decades formerly, researchers had to supplement the materials in the Corpus by study of the tiny photos in the excavation reports of Marshall (1931), MacKay (1938, 1943), Wheeler (1947), or reproductions in more recent scattered sources.

Edakkal Caves in Wayanad district of Kerala contain drawings that range over periods from as early as 5000 BCE to 1000 BCE. The youngest group of paintings have been in the news for a possible connection to the Indus Valley Civilisation. [167]


The religion and belief system of the Indus Valley people have received considerable attention, especially from the view of identifying precursors to deities and religious practices of Indian religions that later developed in the area. However, due to the sparsity of evidence, which is open to varying interpretations, and the fact that the Indus script remains undeciphered, the conclusions are partly speculative and largely based on a retrospective view from a much later Hindu perspective. [168]

An early and influential work in the area that set the trend for Hindu interpretations of archaeological evidence from the Harappan sites [169] was that of John Marshall, who in 1931 identified the following as prominent features of the Indus religion: a Great Male God and a Mother Goddess deification or veneration of animals and plants symbolic representation of the phallus (linga) and vulva (yoni) and, use of baths and water in religious practice. Marshall's interpretations have been much debated, and sometimes disputed over the following decades. [170] [171]

One Indus Valley seal shows a seated figure with a horned headdress, possibly tricephalic and possibly ithyphallic, surrounded by animals. Marshall identified the figure as an early form of the Hindu god Shiva (or Rudra), who is associated with asceticism, yoga, and linga regarded as a lord of animals and often depicted as having three eyes. The seal has hence come to be known as the Pashupati Seal, after Pashupati (lord of all animals), an epithet of Shiva. [170] [172] While Marshall's work has earned some support, many critics and even supporters have raised several objections. Doris Srinivasan has argued that the figure does not have three faces, or yogic posture, and that in Vedic literature Rudra was not a protector of wild animals. [173] [174] Herbert Sullivan and Alf Hiltebeitel also rejected Marshall's conclusions, with the former claiming that the figure was female, while the latter associated the figure with Mahisha, the Buffalo God and the surrounding animals with vahanas (vehicles) of deities for the four cardinal directions. [175] [176] Writing in 2002, Gregory L. Possehl concluded that while it would be appropriate to recognise the figure as a deity, its association with the water buffalo, and its posture as one of ritual discipline, regarding it as a proto-Shiva would be going too far. [172] Despite the criticisms of Marshall's association of the seal with a proto-Shiva icon, it has been interpreted as the Tirthankara Rishabhanatha by Jains and Vilas Sangave. [177] Historians such as Heinrich Zimmer and Thomas McEvilley believe that there is a connection between first Jain Tirthankara Rishabhanatha and the Indus Valley civilisation. [178] [179]

Marshall hypothesised the existence of a cult of Mother Goddess worship based upon excavation of several female figurines, and thought that this was a precursor of the Hindu sect of Shaktism. However the function of the female figurines in the life of Indus Valley people remains unclear, and Possehl does not regard the evidence for Marshall's hypothesis to be "terribly robust". [180] Some of the baetyls interpreted by Marshall to be sacred phallic representations are now thought to have been used as pestles or game counters instead, while the ring stones that were thought to symbolise yoni were determined to be architectural features used to stand pillars, although the possibility of their religious symbolism cannot be eliminated. [181] Many Indus Valley seals show animals, with some depicting them being carried in processions, while others show chimeric creations. One seal from Mohenjo-daro shows a half-human, half-buffalo monster attacking a tiger, which may be a reference to the Sumerian myth of such a monster created by goddess Aruru to fight Gilgamesh. [182]

In contrast to contemporary Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations, Indus Valley lacks any monumental palaces, even though excavated cities indicate that the society possessed the requisite engineering knowledge. [183] [184] This may suggest that religious ceremonies, if any, may have been largely confined to individual homes, small temples, or the open air. Several sites have been proposed by Marshall and later scholars as possibly devoted to religious purpose, but at present only the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro is widely thought to have been so used, as a place for ritual purification. [180] [185] The funerary practices of the Harappan civilisation are marked by fractional burial (in which the body is reduced to skeletal remains by exposure to the elements before final interment), and even cremation. [186] [187]

Around 1900 BCE signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE most of the cities had been abandoned. Recent examination of human skeletons from the site of Harappa has demonstrated that the end of the Indus civilisation saw an increase in inter-personal violence and in infectious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis. [188] [189]

According to historian Upinder Singh, "the general picture presented by the late Harappan phase is one of a breakdown of urban networks and an expansion of rural ones." [190]

During the period of approximately 1900 to 1700 BCE, multiple regional cultures emerged within the area of the Indus civilisation. The Cemetery H culture was in Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh, the Jhukar culture was in Sindh, and the Rangpur culture (characterised by Lustrous Red Ware pottery) was in Gujarat. [191] [192] [193] Other sites associated with the Late phase of the Harappan culture are Pirak in Balochistan, Pakistan, and Daimabad in Maharashtra, India. [103]

The largest Late Harappan sites are Kudwala in Cholistan, Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, and Daimabad in Maharashtra, which can be considered as urban, but they are smaller and few in number compared with the Mature Harappan cities. Bet Dwarka was fortified and continued to have contacts with the Persian Gulf region, but there was a general decrease of long-distance trade. [194] On the other hand, the period also saw a diversification of the agricultural base, with a diversity of crops and the advent of double-cropping, as well as a shift of rural settlement towards the east and the south. [195]

The pottery of the Late Harappan period is described as "showing some continuity with mature Harappan pottery traditions," but also distinctive differences. [196] Many sites continued to be occupied for some centuries, although their urban features declined and disappeared. Formerly typical artifacts such as stone weights and female figurines became rare. There are some circular stamp seals with geometric designs, but lacking the Indus script which characterised the mature phase of the civilisation. Script is rare and confined to potsherd inscriptions. [196] There was also a decline in long-distance trade, although the local cultures show new innovations in faience and glass making, and carving of stone beads. [103] Urban amenities such as drains and the public bath were no longer maintained, and newer buildings were "poorly constructed". Stone sculptures were deliberately vandalised, valuables were sometimes concealed in hoards, suggesting unrest, and the corpses of animals and even humans were left unburied in the streets and in abandoned buildings. [197]

During the later half of the 2nd millennium BCE, most of the post-urban Late Harappan settlements were abandoned altogether. Subsequent material culture was typically characterised by temporary occupation, "the campsites of a population which was nomadic and mainly pastoralist" and which used "crude handmade pottery." [198] However, there is greater continuity and overlap between Late Harappan and subsequent cultural phases at sites in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh, primarily small rural settlements. [195] [199]

"Aryan invasion"

In 1953 Sir Mortimer Wheeler proposed that the invasion of an Indo-European tribe from Central Asia, the "Aryans", caused the decline of the Indus Civilisation. As evidence, he cited a group of 37 skeletons found in various parts of Mohenjo-daro, and passages in the Vedas referring to battles and forts. However, scholars soon started to reject Wheeler's theory, since the skeletons belonged to a period after the city's abandonment and none were found near the citadel. Subsequent examinations of the skeletons by Kenneth Kennedy in 1994 showed that the marks on the skulls were caused by erosion, and not by violence. [200]

In the Cemetery H culture (the late Harappan phase in the Punjab region), some of the designs painted on the funerary urns have been interpreted through the lens of Vedic literature: for instance, peacocks with hollow bodies and a small human form inside, which has been interpreted as the souls of the dead, and a hound that can be seen as the hound of Yama, the god of death. [201] [202] This may indicate the introduction of new religious beliefs during this period, but the archaeological evidence does not support the hypothesis that the Cemetery H people were the destroyers of the Harappan cities. [203]

Climate change and drought

Suggested contributory causes for the localisation of the IVC include changes in the course of the river, [204] and climate change that is also signalled for the neighbouring areas of the Middle East. [205] [206] As of 2016 [update] many scholars believe that drought, and a decline in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia, caused the collapse of the Indus Civilisation. [207] The climate change which caused the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilisation was possibly due to "an abrupt and critical mega-drought and cooling 4,200 years ago," which marks the onset of the Meghalayan Age, the present stage of the Holocene. [208]

The Ghaggar-Hakra system was rain-fed, [209] [aj] [210] [ak] and water-supply depended on the monsoons. The Indus Valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BCE, linked to a general weakening of the monsoon at that time. [4] The Indian monsoon declined and aridity increased, with the Ghaggar-Hakra retracting its reach towards the foothills of the Himalaya, [4] [211] [212] leading to erratic and less extensive floods that made inundation agriculture less sustainable.

Aridification reduced the water supply enough to cause the civilisation's demise, and to scatter its population eastward. [213] [214] [105] [e] According to Giosan et al. (2012), the IVC residents did not develop irrigation capabilities, relying mainly on the seasonal monsoons leading to summer floods. As the monsoons kept shifting south, the floods grew too erratic for sustainable agricultural activities. The residents then migrated towards the Ganges basin in the east, where they established smaller villages and isolated farms. The small surplus produced in these small communities did not allow development of trade, and the cities died out. [215] [216]


There are archaeological evidences of major earthquakes at Dholavira in 2200 BCE as well as at Kalibangan in 2700 and 2900 BCE. Such succession of earthquakes, along with drought, may have contributed to decline of Ghaggar-Harka system. Sea level changes are also found at two possible seaport sites along the Makran coast which are now inland. Earthquakes may have contributed to decline of several sites by direct shaking damage, by sea level change or by change in water supply. [217] [218] [219]

Continuity and coexistence

Archaeological excavations indicate that the decline of Harappa drove people eastward. [220] According to Possehl, after 1900 BCE the number of sites in today's India increased from 218 to 853. According to Andrew Lawler, "excavations along the Gangetic plain show that cities began to arise there starting about 1200 BCE, just a few centuries after Harappa was deserted and much earlier than once suspected." [207] [al] According to Jim Shaffer there was a continuous series of cultural developments, just as in most areas of the world. These link "the so-called two major phases of urbanisation in South Asia". [222]

At sites such as Bhagwanpura (in Haryana), archaeological excavations have discovered an overlap between the final phase of Late Harappan pottery and the earliest phase of Painted Grey Ware pottery, the latter being associated with the Vedic Culture and dating from around 1200 BCE. This site provides evidence of multiple social groups occupying the same village but using different pottery and living in different types of houses: "over time the Late Harappan pottery was gradually replaced by Painted Grey ware pottery," and other cultural changes indicated by archaeology include the introduction of the horse, iron tools, and new religious practices. [103]

There is also a Harappan site called Rojdi in Rajkot district of Saurashtra. Its excavation started under an archaeological team from Gujarat State Department of Archaeology and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in 1982–83. In their report on archaeological excavations at Rojdi, Gregory Possehl and M.H. Raval write that although there are "obvious signs of cultural continuity" between the Harappan Civilisation and later South Asian cultures, many aspects of the Harappan "sociocultural system" and "integrated civilization" were "lost forever," while the Second Urbanisation of India (beginning with the Northern Black Polished Ware culture, c. 600 BCE) "lies well outside this sociocultural environment". [223]

Previously, scholars believed that the decline of the Harappan civilisation led to an interruption of urban life in the Indian subcontinent. However, the Indus Valley Civilisation did not disappear suddenly, and many elements of the Indus Civilisation appear in later cultures. The Cemetery H culture may be the manifestation of the Late Harappan over a large area in the region of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, and the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture its successor. David Gordon White cites three other mainstream scholars who "have emphatically demonstrated" that Vedic religion derives partially from the Indus Valley Civilisations. [224]

As of 2016 [update] , archaeological data suggests that the material culture classified as Late Harappan may have persisted until at least c. 1000–900 BCE and was partially contemporaneous with the Painted Grey Ware culture. [222] Harvard archaeologist Richard Meadow points to the late Harappan settlement of Pirak, which thrived continuously from 1800 BCE to the time of the invasion of Alexander the Great in 325 BCE. [207]

In the aftermath of the Indus Civilisation's localisation, regional cultures emerged, to varying degrees showing the influence of the Indus Civilisation. In the formerly great city of Harappa, burials have been found that correspond to a regional culture called the Cemetery H culture. At the same time, the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture expanded from Rajasthan into the Gangetic Plain. The Cemetery H culture has the earliest evidence for cremation a practice dominant in Hinduism today.

The inhabitants of the Indus Valley civilisation migrated from the river valleys of Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra, towards the Himalayan foothills of Ganga-Yamuna basin. [225]

Near East

The mature (Harappan) phase of the IVC is contemporary to the Early and Middle Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East, in particular the Old Elamite period, Early Dynastic, the Akkadian Empire to Ur III Mesopotamia, Prepalatial Minoan Crete and Old Kingdom to First Intermediate Period Egypt.

The IVC has been compared in particular with the civilisations of Elam (also in the context of the Elamo-Dravidian hypothesis) and with Minoan Crete (because of isolated cultural parallels such as the ubiquitous goddess worship and depictions of bull-leaping). [229] The IVC has been tentatively identified with the toponym Meluhha known from Sumerian records the Sumerians called them Meluhhaites. [230]

Shahr-i-Sokhta, located in southeastern Iran shows trade route with Mesopotamia. [231] [232] A number of seals with Indus script have been also found in Mesopotamian sites. [232] [233] [234]


After the discovery of the IVC in the 1920s, it was immediately associated with the indigenous Dasyu inimical to the Rigvedic tribes in numerous hymns of the Rigveda. Mortimer Wheeler interpreted the presence of many unburied corpses found in the top levels of Mohenjo-daro as the victims of a warlike conquest, and famously stated that "Indra stands accused" of the destruction of the IVC. The association of the IVC with the city-dwelling Dasyus remains alluring because the assumed timeframe of the first Indo-Aryan migration into India corresponds neatly with the period of decline of the IVC seen in the archaeological record. The discovery of the advanced, urban IVC, however, changed the 19th century view of early Indo-Aryan migration as an "invasion" of an advanced culture at the expense of a "primitive" aboriginal population to a gradual acculturation of nomadic "barbarians" on an advanced urban civilisation, comparable to the Germanic migrations after the Fall of Rome, or the Kassite invasion of Babylonia. This move away from simplistic "invasionist" scenarios parallels similar developments in thinking about language transfer and population movement in general, such as in the case of the migration of the proto-Greek speakers into Greece, or the Indo-Europeanisation of Western Europe.


Proto-Munda (or Para-Munda) and a "lost phylum" (perhaps related or ancestral to the Nihali language) [235] have been proposed as other candidates for the language of the IVC. Michael Witzel suggests an underlying, prefixing language that is similar to Austroasiatic, notably Khasi he argues that the Rigveda shows signs of this hypothetical Harappan influence in the earliest historic level, and Dravidian only in later levels, suggesting that speakers of Austroasiatic were the original inhabitants of Punjab and that the Indo-Aryans encountered speakers of Dravidian only in later times. [236]

History Notes: What was Indus Valley Civilization?

This article aims to delve into the Indus valley civilization and study it from the perspective of the SSC CGL/CHSL and banking examinations.

The history of India began with the onset of the Indus valley civilization.

In around 2600-1900 BC, a civilization thrived in the Indus valley which was known as the Indus Valley Civilization. This civilization is the largest of the 4 ancient civilizations.
In 1920’s the archeological department of India dug out the cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro The people in this civilization were called Harappas.
Their first settlements were established around 2600 BC in Western India now Pakistan.
The civilization flourished around the same time as the states of Egypt and
This civilization was spread across Jammu in the North, Narmada Estuary in the south, Makran coast in the west and meerut in the east.
Cities such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro grew along the major trade routes.

CitiesRiverImportant findings
HarappaRavi river in PunjabA row of 6 Granaries was
made for food.
Mother goddess figurines
were found.
Bullock carts were
Sandstone statues of
human anatomy was found.
MohenjodaroLarkana district near the
Indus river in Pakistan
Great granary Great Bath
image of Pahupati
Image of bearded man
image of a women dancer
A piece of cotton cloth
LothalBhogava river in GujaratFirst Port City
Double burial
Terracotta horses
Rice husk
ChanhudaroSindh near the Indus riverCity without a citadel
Bead makers
DholaviraLuni river in GujaratCity divided into 34 parts
Water harvesting system
And a water reservoir

The Indus valley civilization is divided into 3 phases-
a) Early Harappan phase (Hakra Phase) from 3300 to 2600 BC.
b) The Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BC.
c) The late Harappan phase from 1900 to 1300 BC.

The Indus valley script dates back to 3000 BC.
Cultivation of cotton, peas, dates and their trade was common in this civilization.
The phase leading up to the mature Harappan phase is termed as Kot Diji.
Around 1800-1700 BC people started abandoning the cities of Harappa and

Town Planning

The town planning was done in a grid system.
Harappa and Mohenjodaro had their own citadel and acropolis which was occupied by the rulers.
Rectangular houses with brick lined bathrooms and wells together with stairwells found Use of burnt bricks is found to be common during this period.
The Drainage system in Mohenjo-Daro was impressive as it was underground.
Granaries constituted an important part of these cities
In the city of Kalibangan, many houses had their own individual wells.
The cities of Dholavira and Lothal were fortified completely and sections within the town were separated by walls.

Agriculture in the Indus Valley Civilization

Major cities in this civilization were built around rivers for proper irrigation.
Harappas were the first people to produce cotton.
Wheat and Barley were cultivated.
Rice too was possibly cultivated as rice husks have been discovered dating back to the Indus civilization.
Use of wooden ploughs to plough the fields with the help of Oxens was used.
Traces of canal irrigation have also been found in the city Shortughai.


Oxens, Buffalo, Goats, Sheep, and Pigs were domesticated
Asses and camels were used to carry load
Elephants and Rhino were known
Traces of horses around that period were found too, however they were not used widely.

Economy of the Indus Valley Civilization

The importance of trade in this civilization can be seen due to the widespread use of seals, uniform script and regulated weight measurement systems for transactions.
The Harappans carried trade in stone, metal and shells.
Weights are found in multiples of 16.
Barter system was the main system to conduct trade.

Crafts in the Indus valley Civilization

Bronze was widely used and manufactured
Brick laying was an important craft and skilled masons were required for it.
Potter’s wheel was used extensively.

Bead making, boat making and seal making were also widely craft induced occupations in the Harappa civilization.
Goldsmiths made jewelry using gold, silver and precious stones.
Teracotta – Fire baked earthen clay was used to make sculptures.
It is used to make toys or objects of worship.

Religion and culture in the Indus Valley Civilization

All people were a part of the same culture.
No temples and religious structures existed.
Weapons were rarely found.
Terracotta figures of mother goddess were worshipped. Harappans looked at earth as a fertility goddess and worshiped her.
Pashupati Mahadev seal found with elephant, tiger, rhino and bull surrounding him with 2 deers near his feet.
Peepal tree was worshiped.
1 horned rhino and humped bull were worshiped.
Amulets were used to ward off ghosts and evil spirits.
The Lion was not known
Harappan script dates back to 3000 BC and was pictographic in nature but hasn’t been deciphered so far.They are recorded on seals and only contain a few words.

Harappan script is the oldest script in the Indian subcontinent.

The late Harappan phase and the decline of the Indus valley civilization

At around 1800BC it is believed that:
 There was decreasing fertility of soils due to increasing salinity.
 There was sudden subsidence of uplift of land causing floods.
 Earthquakes caused changes in the course of Indus.
 Harappan culture was destroyed by the invasion of Aryans.
All these reasons are said to have caused the decline of the Indus valley
However, the latest artifacts and evidence of the survival of the civilization dates back to 900 BC.

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History of the Indus Valley Civilization

India is an ancient land. Ancient too is her civilisation. She is one of the ancient most centres of human existence.

Men of Old and New Stone Ages lived on her soil. Through long times man moved on the path of progress.

And, at last, one of the earliest civilisations raised its head over a vast area of this sub-continent. It was the Indus Civilisation.

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The Indus Civilisation was as old as the civilisation of the valleys of Nile and Tigris. For thousands of years, that civilisation was lying buried under earth. Modern men had no idea of it. People believed that civilisation in India began with the Aryans. Before them, there lived only the primitives.

In 1922, however, a great discovery took place. It carried the date of Indian civilisation far back. It was proved that India had a civilisation long before the Aryans came. The credit of this discovery goes to two famous scholars, Rakhal Das Banerjee and Dayaram Sahni. By archaeological excavation in the Punjab and Sind, they dug out the remains of two ancient cities. One was Harappa, situated in the Montgomery district of Punjab on the bank of the river Ravi. The other was Mahenjo- daro situated in the Larkana district of Sind on the bank of the river Indus.

The word Mahenjo-daro means ‘Mound of the dead’. It is also called “City of the dead”. Harappa and Mahenjo-daro were lying under the earth for thousands of years.Their discovery brought to light a new chapter of pre-historic India. The world came to know that human Civilisation also dawned on the soil of India, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The Name of the Civilisation:

It became a problem to give a name to that ancient civilisation. At first, some scholars felt that the civilisation of Harappa and Mahenjo-daro has a close connection with the ancient civilisation of Sumerian. Therefore they wanted to describe it as the Indo-Sumerian civilisation. But gradually it became clear that the influence of any outside civilisation on Mahenjo-daro-Harappa was negligible. So, the first name lost its value.

In the mean time, other scholars felt that because Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were situated on the valley of the river Indus, it should be called Indus Valley Civilisation or Indus Civilisation. In their opinion, the Indus Civilisation was purely a civilisation of Indian origin. It was never a branch of any other civilisation.

In course of time, further discoveries took place. At many places outside the Indus Valley, remains of that culture were seen in plenty. That led the scholars to feel that it was a civilisation which covered a much wider area. It is wrong, therefore, to call it as Indus Valley Civilisation because, such a name suggests only a limited area.

To come out of such difficulties, some scholars felt that because the civilisation was first discovered at Harappa, it may better be called as Harappan Culture. While scholars felt like this, history accepted the name of the earliest civilisation of India as Indus Civilisation. Whatever be the name, that civilisation extended over a wide area of India.

The Extent of the Harappan Culture:

The traces of the Harappan Culture have been discovered from many places. It is evident that its extent was far and wide. From the Himalayas in the north to the Narmada Valley in the south, the Harappan Culture extended its influence. The evidences of that ancient culture have been found at several places. Famous among such places are Rupar, Kali Bangan, Chenhu- Daro, Sutkagen-Dor, and Lothal. Traces of it are also seen in Baluchistan and Bikaner.

Rupar is situated in the north near Simla. Sutkagen-Dor is situated near the Arabian Sea, and Lothal is in Gujarat. Within the vast area from Ropar to Lothal, the Harappan traces have been found from as many as 80 places. It is believed that the Harappan Culture covered an area of 1,500 kilometres from east to west, and 1,000 kilometres from north to south.

At present, the area of that ancient civilisation is marked from southern Baluchistan in the west to Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh in the east and from Rupar in the north to the Kim estuary in Gujarat in the south. As such, the area of the Indus Civilisation or the Harappan Culture is much wider than the area covered by the ancient Nile Civilisation, or the Civilisation of ancient Mesopotamia, or even the Yellow River Valley Civilisation of China.

Time of the Indus Civilisation:

The origin of the civilization is difficult to define. Opinions differ regarding the time of the Indus Civilisation. Sir John Marshall, the Director-General of Archaeology from 1902 to 1928, was a great authority on the subject. He found some similarity between the Indus and the Mesopotamian Civilisations. On that basis he calculated that the Indus Civilisation existed about 3,000 years before Christ. He put the time between 3250 B.C. and 2750 B.C.

Some other scholars compared various things found from Mahenjo- daro with those found from Babylon. Some of those appeared identical. On that basis they believed that the Indus Civilisation perhaps prospered after 2550 B.C. Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler, the Director-General of Archaeology from 1944 to 1948, fixed the time of Indus Civilisation between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C.

According to some others the Indus Civilisation was at its height of glory when Mahenjo-daro and Harappa were built. It is natural, therefore, that the rise and growth of Indus Civilisation had taken place long before the cities were built. In view of this it is suggested that the Indus Civilisation began about 5000 years before the birth of Christ. About 3000 B.C., it was at its zenith.

The Builders of Indus Civilisation:

Who were the builders of Indus Civilisation? On this point, historians hold different opinions. According to some, long before the Aryans came to India, the Dravidians lived on the soil of this land. They were highly civilised. They built the Indus Civilisation. It was thus a pre-Aryan and pre-Vedic Civilisation. To others, Aryans were the makers of Indus Civilisation. They came much earlier than it is supposed. Their early settlements were in the north-western regions of India and the Indus Valley. Mahenjo-daro and Harappa were their work.

The third opinion is, the builders of Indus Civilisation were the Sumerians of Mesopotamia or some other people of that group of men. It is for this reason that there is a good deal of similarity between the civilisations of Sumer and Indus Valley.

The last of the three opinions does not seem to be correct. There were trade relations between Mesopotamia and India from very ancient times. Different goods of Mesopotamia came to this country, and many Indian goods were sold in Sumer or Babylon. It is for this reason that similar goods have been found from the ruins of Sumer and Indus cities. It is also natural that many ancient peoples used similar things for their live hood. But comparing such things one cannot say that people of both the places belonged to the same race or group. Thus the Indus Valley people and the people of Sumer or Babylon were not the same.

The question, however, remains if they were Dravidians or Aryans. Enough thought has been paid to this subject. It is seen at last that there were some basic differences between the Indus Civilisation and the Aryan Civilisation. In view of these differences it is difficult to suggest that the Aryans were the authors of Indus Civilisation.

John Marshall has described those differences in the following manner. “The Vedic Aryans worshipped the Cow. But the Indus people at Harappa and Mahenjo-daro worshipped the Bull. The Aryans were the worshippers of Nature they performed Yajna and offered prayers to their gods. But the Indus people were devoted to a Mother Goddess, and they worshipped trees, animals and snakes. The Aryans did not like to live in cities they loved to live in simple rural atmosphere amid the beauties of Nature. But the people of Indus culture built beautiful cities and loved to live prosperous urban life.

The Aryans were not in great favour of trade and commerce they did not like sea voyages. But the Indus people were fond of trade and commerce for which they travelled far and wide across the seas. The ancient scripts and writings of the Aryans have not yet been discovered. But the Indus Valley people had developed scripts which are available in plenty from the ruins. The Aryans were a race of warriors, they used various weapons to attack others. But the Indus people seem to have been a peace-loving race. The Aryans used horse very much. But the Indus people knew very little of that animal.

With such differences between the Aryans and the Indus people, it will be perhaps wrong to say that the Aryans built the Indus Civilisation. It is imagined, therefore, that the Indus Valley Civilisation was the work of the Dravidians. It may be said, however, that history needs still more evidences to accept this theory.

Indus Valley People and Their Culture:

We may not know who built the Indus Civilisation. But we know how great it was. Below is given a brief account of the Indus Culture.

Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro: Town Planning:

City Construction and City Life: The Indus Valley people developed an excellent urban civilisation. They knew how to build beautiful cities and live a healthy civic life. The ruins of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa give proofs of it.

The ability which the Indus people showed in building their cities is rare. Among ancient civilisations we have no such examples. The ancient people of the Nile Valley were indeed great builders. They are famous for Pyramids. The people of Mesopotamia were also famous for their building activities.

But the Indus people were superior to them in one sense. While the people of Egypt and Mesopotamia built great monuments for their kings and gods, the people of Indus valley built their monuments for the happiness of common men. The Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro and some other public buildings provide proof of it. Moreover, the Indus cities were well-planned like modern cities.

It is this town-planning which makes Harappa and Mahenjo-daro unique. Both the cities show more or less the same style of construction. There were strong high walls around the cities for protection. There were towers on those walls. The streets and roads were long, straight, and broad. Even the lanes and by-lanes looked straight. They all ran in straight lines from east to west, and from north to south. They cut each other straight. Some roads were as wide as 34 feet or 10 metres.

Street of Mohenjo-Daro Town Planning:

The most attractive feature of the town-planning was its sanitary system. On both sides of the roads there were nice drains. The buildings and houses of Harappa are in total ruins. But some of them in Mahenjo-daro are in slightly better condition. They are divided into two groups, namely, dwelling houses and public buildings. Besides them, the Great Bath of Mahenjo-daro has deserved special attention.

Houses and Drainage System:

Houses were built mostly in burnt bricks. They were of simple style. There were no unnecessary decorations. Perhaps the people of those days wanted to live in good, simple and clean houses. They did not like beauty at the cost of utility.

The living houses were spacious. For plenty of light and air, the doors were made wide. Almost in every house, there was a bath room, and near the bath there was a well. Most houses were two storied. The steps of stair-cases are still to be seen leading to the upper floor. There was a courtyard inside every house. In every house there was a narrow drain to carry water outside. That drain was joined to the bigger drain by the side of the road.

Finally, there were main drains to which other drains were connected. Such drainage system proves that the people of Indus Civilisation were highly conscious of healthy living conditions. The most surprising thing was that the drains were not open drains, but covered. In the opinion of historians, the sanitary systems of Mahenjo-daro are not to be seen in any other pre-historic city of the world. The covered drainage system is not to be seen even in many cities of our own time. In fact the elaborate drainage system was one of the unique features of the Indus Valley Civilization, probably due to an effective municipal authority.

Regarding public institutions, Mohenjo-daro presents highly interesting spectacle. There were some big buildings in the city, but the purpose for which they were used cannot be known. Scholars believe that whatever be the purpose of use, those big houses were meant not for individuals but for many. At Harappa, too, ruins of public buildings are seen. Some such houses are said to have been big granaries. Those granaries were 50 feet or 15 metres in length and 20 feet or 6 metres in width.

They were arranged in two parallel lines of 6 houses on each side. A big granary-like building is also seen at Mahenjo-daro. If those houses were really granaries for storage of grain, they are proofs of the economic prosperity of the Indus Valley people. Some historians believe that there was a regular system of bringing and hoarding grain in the cities for public consumption. The officers of the state perhaps managed that system. The economic condition of the people was indeed prosperous.

The most interesting construction of Mahenjo-daro was its Great Bath. It is considered a remarkable feature of Indus Civilisation. The house which contains the Great Bath is 180 feet or 55 metres in length and 108 feet or 33 metres in width. The Bath itself is 39 feet or 12 metres in length and 23 feet or 7 metres in width. It is 8 feet or 2.5 metres in depth. There were steps from both sides to enter into the Bath. The walls and the floor of the Bath were very strongly constructed for preservation of water. There was outlet to drain out water in order to clear the bath.

Fresh water was brought in from a huge well nearby. A number of small and big rooms were there around the bath. On one side alone, there were 8 small rooms. Those rooms were perhaps used to change dress after bath. Verandahs were there around the Bath. Behind the verandahs were the galleries for people to sit and see. In the opinion of Sir John Marshall, the Great Bath was the most attractive of all buildings discovered at Mahenjo- daro.

The long and broad streets, clean and simple dwelling houses, covered drains, huge granaries, the Great Bath, public buildings, and walls around the cities with towers were the chief features of the cities of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa. They create surprise that three thousand years before the Christian era, the inhabitants of the Indus Valley lived such an excellent city life. In ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, all energy of the people was spent to build huge pyramids and great temples.

The common men gained nothing from that. They lived in small mud huts in insanitary conditions. They derived no comfort from their city life. In contrast, the Indus Valley people built houses and monuments for their own living and comfort. The energy of a people was thus devoted to build for the happiness of the people themselves. That made them unique among ancient peoples.

Indus Civilisation: Social, Economic and Religious Life:

Many things have been discovered from Mahenjo-daro and Harappa. They include small images and seals. From the designs on the seals and the images, scholars form ideas regarding the social, economic and religious conditions of the Indus Civilisation. There are other evidences also to give a clear picture of the Indus life. Below is given a brief account of the social, economic and religious life of the Indus Valley people.

The social life of the Indus people was highly developed.

The following facts prove the point:

The Indus people were as advanced as the ancient Egyptians and Sumerians in spheres of education. This is proved by the countless seals which contain very fine scripts. Unfortunately, the scholars have not yet been able to read the Indus scripts. Attempts are being made to read them. When they will be read many things will be known about the culture of that time.

The Indus people lived a luxurious life. It is known from their ornaments and dress. People were fond of beautiful ornaments. The rich and the poor alike used them. The rich people used ornaments of gold, silver, costly stones and ivory. The poor people used ornaments of copper, bones, and even of burnt clay. Necklaces, rings, earrings, and armlets were commonly used by women. Even men used different types of ornaments. The ornaments were artistic and attractive. Both men and women used combs and they liked attractive hair style.

The Indus people also used good dress. They were experts in the art of weaving.

Food and Domestic Animals:

In their food habits, the Indus people were quite advanced. They ate wheat, rice, barley, meat, fish, fruits and vegetables and drank milk. They used cows, lambs, pigs, buffaloes, and camels as domestic animals. Elephants were also used for various purposes. It is, however, not yet clear if they knew the use of horse and dog. Latest discoveries suggest, perhaps they did know.

The Indus people knew the use of several metals. They prepared many things of day-to-day use from those metals. Gold, silver, copper, tin, bronze and lead were of common use. It is to be noted however that no iron has been discovered from the ruins of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa. People made their utensils in copper or bronze. Earthen pots were used in plenty. They were painted in colour.

Toys of many kinds have been recovered from the ruins. Small figures of animals, birds, men and women were prepared in clay. Perhaps children used those as toys. The grown-up men and women played different games. They lived a happy life. They enjoyed dancing. Attractive dress was used. The bathrooms in every house prove that people believed in cleanliness.

The Indus people were patrons of art. Excellent ornaments, painted earthen pots, earthen toys of many kinds, images made of bronze or stone, and the attractive designs on the seals give testimony to the love of the people for art. The figures of animals on the seals prove that the Indus artists and craftsmen were very competent in their work.

The Indus Valley people used copper and bronze weapons. Battle axe, dagger, spear, bow and arrow were their main weapons. It is not yet clear if they used swords and shields. The Indus people used to burn or bury their dead. All these points give some idea about the social aspects of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

It can be easily said that the people who built great cities like Mahenjo-daro and Harappa were economically prosperous. It is on solid economic foundations that an urban civilisation grows up. Mahenjo-daro and Harappa possessed that foundation.

It is believed that in those remote days there used to be heavy rains in the Indus region. Side by side, the river Indus supplied much water for rich cultivation. The soil was fertile and the Indus people were hardworking.

They produced plenty of wheat and barley. According to some scholars, the living standard of the common men of Indus valley was higher than the standard of the common people in Nile Valley and Mesopotamia. The areas around Mahenjo-daro are still known as Naklilistan or the ‘Garden of Sindh’.

The Indus people were also efficient in art and crafts. They were excellent weavers. They prepared beautiful dresses both in cotton and wool. Ornaments, weapons, utensils, toys and other goods of luxury were prepared by able artisans. Those groups of people were economically well off.

The people of the Indus Valley were great in trade and commerce. Inside India, they carried their business from the Kashmir Valley to the Deccan. For external trade, they moved far and wide. That was one of their chief achievements for fame. They had trade relations with outside countries both through land and sea routes.

It is known that the Indus people had close commercial relations with Sumeria, Egypt and Crete. The seals of Mahenjo-daro have been discovered from Mesopotamia. Similarly, the Cuneiform writing of Mesopotamia has been discovered at Mahenjo-daro. This proves the contract which the people of those two distant places maintained in ancient times.

Agriculture, industry and trade were the three chief occupations of the Indus Valley people. Their economic condition, therefore was prosperous.

From the relics of Indus Valley, we get some idea about the religious life of that time. From small female figures, discovered from the ruins, some scholars believe that the people perhaps worshipped a Mother Goddess. Of course, it has not yet been possible to form a clear idea about that Goddess.

A female figure on a seal has created much interest. Some say it is the figure of the Earth Goddess. To others, it is the Goddess of Nature. The worship of Mother Goddess was prevalent in many ancient societies. The Indus people also might have believed in that. Some people think that Mother Goddess of the Indus religion appeared as Goddess Durga or Kali in the Indian Religion on the future ages.

Besides the Mother Goddess, the people also worshipped a God. A beautiful figure appears on a seal which looks like a powerful God. He has three faces. There are horns on his head. He is sitting in the posture of a Yogi. On his four sides there are figures of four animals, such as, elephant, tiger, rhinoceros and buffalo. Near his feet is the figure of a deer. Scholars feel that this god was Siva Pashupati. From a study of this figure, Sir John Marshall imagined that perhaps Saivism was the earliest religion of India.

No temple has been discovered from the ruins of Harappa and Mahenjo-daro. It is not clear, therefore, how the people worshipped their gods and goddesses. May be that the temples of Mahenjo-daro are still lying buried under the Indus sands, not yet discovered. Similarly, the temple bricks of Harappa might have been carried away from their original sites. The images or figures were all found from the dwelling houses of common man. It may be that the people of the Indus Valley offered worships in their own houses.

Besides the Mother Goddess and Siva, the Indus people also worshipped several other things and symbols. They paid religious respects to the Bull, Tiger, Elephant and some other animals were also considered sacred. Perhaps, these animals were regarded as the vahanas of the Deities. Some say that the Indus Valley people worshipped even snakes. Similarly, they also worshipped several trees. Representation of animals, plants and others gods on seals or in terracotta and stone figurines suggests that regular worship was a part of their religious life.

It seems as if the religion of the ancient Indus Valley and the future Hinduism of India have similarity in many respects. Worship of gods and goddesses, animals and trees, as was prevalent in Indus Valley, is also seen in Hindu mode of worship. It may be that the earliest religion did not disappear with the fall of Indus Civilisation. The Aryans were influenced by the prevailing faiths of the Indus region. They accepted many features of the pre-Aryan worship. From the faiths of the early Aryans, later Hinduism developed.

Sir Mortimar Wheeler believed that the worship of Siva came to later Hinduism from the ancient Harappan religion. The Harappans regarded the Bull as sacred. So too, did the Hindus of later times.

The similarities between the Indus religion and the later Hinduism prove that the civilisation of India has maintained its unbroken continuity from a remote pre-historic past to recent times. The religion of India is a product of ages. It is vast and broad enough to cover the faiths of all peoples of all times who lived on the soil of this great country.

Funerary customs and practices:

Three forms of burials have been found at the excavated sites of Indus Valley Civilisation. The disposal of dead was done by complete burials, fractional burials and cremation. Harappan burials were clearly those of ordinary people, and no royal cremation was found.

Decline of the Indus Civilisation:

We do not know the causes of the decline of the Indus Civilisation. Great civilisations of the ancient ages have disappeared for mysterious reasons. When definite causes cannot be known, scholars have to imagine several possible reasons leading to such declines. About Indus Civilisation, the following arguments have been advanced as possible causes of its decline

According to Sir Mortimar Wheeler, Harappa and Mahenjo-daro were destroyed by the Aryan invaders. In the Vedas, the early Aryans described their God Indra as the destroyer of the cities of the Asuras. He was called Purandara. It may be that when the Aryans entered into India, they saw some great cities on the Indus Valley belonging to other people. They fought with them. In those battles the Aryan invaders seem to have been victorious. Possibly, they destroyed the cities of the defeated people and drove them from their original homes.

According to Wheeler, the fall of Mahenjo-daro and Harappa perhaps occurred about 1500 years before the birth of Christ.

To other scholars, the above cause appears unsound. They believe that climatic changes led to the decline of the cities. It may be that the rivers Indus and Ravi changed their courses for which the cities were badly affected. It also appears possible that the frequent floods of those rivers made it difficult for people to live. Being deserted, the cities perhaps got buried under earth in course of many years.

The Legacies of the Indus Civilisation:

The influence of the Indus Civilisation on the future cannot be denied. That civilisation had two faces, spiritual and material. The material prosperity, the trade and commerce and the urban happiness of those days did not survive for distant future. With the fall of the cities and when the people scattered away, those material aspects of the culture also vanished. But the religious faiths of the Indus people survived forever. In the Hindu modes of belief, many features of the Indus culture are still traceable.

It may be said, however, that the material aspects of the Indus Culture was not confined to a small area. It covered a wide region. Relics of Harappa have been discovered from nearly 60 places in the Indus Valley alone. Traces of that culture have also been found from the ruins of Rupar, Rangpur, Lothal and Hastinapur. It is proved that the Harappan culture prevailed over a vast area of India.

Time will come, when scholars will be able to read the Indus script. Many things of that glorious civilisation will be known only when the scripts will be read. At present our knowledge of the subject is limited. Yet whatever little is known is more than enough to prove that the Indus Civilisation was one of the oldest civilisations on the earth.

According to famous western scholar V. Gordon Childe, “The Indus Civilisation represents very perfect adjustment of human life to a specific environment, and it has endured, it is already specifically Indian and forms the basis of modern Indian culture”.

It is interesting to note here that excavation works are still going on the Indus valley. A scholar named Jonathan Mark Kenoyer has recently said that the oldest writing symbols in the world date back to the Harappan site of Indus valley. Still more curiously the researcher has found “Swastika symbols” from Harappa.

How Extensive Was the Indus Valley Civilization’s Influence?

The Indus Valley Civilization – also sometimes referred to as the “Harappan Civilization” for one of its primary cities – was one of the world’s first civilizations, along with Egypt and Mesopotamia. Beginning about 3200 BC, groups of people in the Indus River Valley of what are today northwest India and southeast Pakistan began to form cities, eventually coalescing into a defined culture and reaching all the hallmarks of civilization.

Although the Indus Valley people developed writing, the script remains undeciphered so details about their civilization remain enigmatic. Modern scholars do not know if the civilization was ever under the rule of one king or ruler as ancient Egypt and as ancient Mesopotamia was at different times, and details about the Indus Valley religion, social structure, and economy also remain a mystery. With that said, archaeologists have discovered that that the Indus people had well-built and organized cities and that they developed intricate trade networks throughout south Asia and into the Near East.

By the period modern scholars know as the Mature Harappan Phase (ca. 2600-1900 BC), the entire Indus Valley was part of complex system. Archaeological evidence shows that the people of the Indus Valley exerted great cultural and economic influence not just around the Indus River, but throughout what are today Pakistan and India. Contemporary texts from Mesopotamia also demonstrate that the Indus Valley/Harappan people also had trade ties with the Near East and may have had some influence on that region.

The Indus Valley/Harappan Civilization

The Indus Valley Civilization began around the modern sites of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Ganweriwala, and Kalibangan, among other places, beginning around 3200 BC. The first phase of the civilization is known as the “Early Harappan phase” and lasted until about 2600 BC. This era of Indus Valley Civilization is known as an “era of regionalization,” were the various important sites in the Valley developed somewhat independently, but a clear Harappan cultural identity was emerging as evidenced by unique pottery. Because of this, some scholars view the Early Harappan phase as a transition from the Neolithic Period to the Mature Harappan phase. [1]

The “Mature Harappan phase” of the Indus Valley Civilization took place from about 2600 BC until around 1900 BC. Although there was continuity of Indus Valley cultural traditions from the Early to the Mature Harappan phases, many of the unique hallmarks of the civilization were established after 2600 BC. All of the larger cities and many of the smaller villages featured street layouts according to the cardinal directions, which suggests that the cities were built with some type of advanced astronomical knowledge. [2] Advanced drainage systems and elaborate baths were also a common feature in the larger cities and the three largest cities – Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and Ganwierwala – are believed to have had 30,000 to 50,000 people, possibly being capitals of regional kingdoms. [3]

There is no question that it took an incredible amount of technical and political sophistication to build the cities of the Indus Valley, but unfortunately, the inability to read the Indus texts has left scholars guessing as to the type of government that existed. Since there are no known kings or dynasties that ruled in the ancient Indus Valley, some archaeologists believe it was a “stateless” civilization. [4] The Indus Valley Civilization may have lacked a central government and existed more like a collection of city-states as with the Maya in Meso-America or during some periods in Mesopotamia, but the collection of cities wielded an immense amount of influence culturally in south Asia and economically in the Near East.

The Indus Valley’s Cultural Influence

Although the Indus Valley mysteriously collapsed in the early second millennium BC, many scholars believe that some of its cultural traditions were continued by the later peoples and kingdoms of India. Ritual bathing was an important aspect of Indus Valley culture that may have been one of the many features of Harappan religion that were incorporated into the later Vedic and Hindu religions of India. [5] The many seal impressions excavated from Indus Valley sites also indicate religious influences that later Indians possibly adopted. One of those seals, known today as the “Shiva seal,” depicts a human figure wearing an elaborate headdress seated in a yogic position.

Although not all scholars are convinced that the figure represents Shiva or that it is even religious in nature, those who believe it is and that it represents a Harappan religious influence on later Indian religion point to other examples in the Indus Valley that may indicate origins for some Vedic traditions. Structures discovered at the site of Kalibangan have been interpreted by some as being fire altars, which would predate those used by the Aryans at a much later period. [6] Unfortunately, in the absence of a written text, it is impossible to confirm how much, if any, religious influence the Harappans had on later Indian religions.

The Harappans were the first people to develop writing on the Indian subcontinent. Archaeologists have discovered more than 4200 inscribed objects in the Indus Valley, most from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. The Indus writing system employed 419 signs, but unfortunately, even after several valiant attempts to link the writing and language to known languages scholars are still left wondering as to its origins. [7] Some scholars have attempted to link the later Sanskrit language or Dravidian languages to the undeciphered Indus script, [8] which if proven would confirm that that Indus people had an even greater influence on later Indian culture than previously believed. Still, even if the Indus language and script is discovered to not be related to any of the later Indian languages – Indo-European or Dravidian – it was the first written language on the subcontinent and may have influenced the concept of later writing in India.

The Indus Valley and International Connections

Geographically speaking, the Indus Valley Civilization’s greatest influence can be seen in far away Mesopotamia. The Mature Harappan phase of the Indus Valley Civilization coincided with the Akkadian and Amorite dynasties in Mesopotamia and the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. [9] Several cuneiform inscriptions in the Akkadian language describe how King Sargon of Akkad (ruled ca. 2296-2240 BC) received ships from the land of Meluhha, which modern scholarly consensus places in the Indus Valley. The interaction between the two civilizations became so common that Akkadian texts document Indus interpreters in Mesopotamia. [10] A cuneiform text from the city of Lagash from the same period demonstrates that the Indus Valley people were also involved in trade with that Mesopotamian city.

“When he (Gudea) was building the temple of Ningirsu, Ningirsu, his beloved king, opened up for him (all) the (trade) routs from the Upper to the Lower Sea. . . He imported (lit.: brought out) esi wood from the mountains of Meluhha and built . . . He imported nir stone and made it into a mace with three lion-heads from the Hahhum mountains, he imported gold in dust-form and mounted with it the mace with the three lion-heads. From the mountains of Meluhha, he imported gold in dust-form and made (out of it) a container (for the mace).” [11]

Other texts from Mesopotamia also mention how red stone from the Indus Valley was sent to Mesopotamia, proving that the two civilizations had deep economic ties. Archaeological evidence from the Indus Valley, though, indicates that the connections between the regions may have been even earlier and stronger than previously thought. Excavations of the cemeteries at Harappa and examinations of the human remains indicates that the Harappan people may have been involved in an economic and cultural sphere that was centered in the Iranian Plateau. [12] The human remains from the Harappa cemeteries were compared with other samples from Bronze Age Near Eastern peoples and showed that the Harappans had some biological affinities to Mesopotamian peoples. This discovery seemed to confirm for some scholars the unproven theory that the Sumerians were originally from India, while other scholars believe it may show a link between the Elamites and the Dravidians, although it is not known if the Harappans actually were a Dravidian speaking people. [13]

Excavations at Harappa have also uncovered standardized weights, etched carnelian beads, and different pottery that suggest a connection between the Indus Valley and the people of the Bronze Age Persian Gulf. [14] When all of the archaeological evidence from the Indus Valley is considered along with the archaeological and textual evidence from Mesopotamia, then it is clear that the Harappans exerted an influence that went well beyond the marches of their civilization.


The Indus Valley Civilization has the distinction of being one of the world’s true primary civilizations, but it is also perhaps the most enigmatic. Unlike ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley was unknown until the nineteenth century and even now it remains somewhat elusive due to its so far undeciphered script. Despite the obstacles of uncovering the Indus Valley Civilization, archaeologists have been able to make great headway over the last several decades and have revealed a civilization that was very influential not only in south Asia but throughout the Bronze Age Near East. Harappan merchants and traders established trade links with Mesopotamia and in the process, there also appears to have been significant genetic and cultural interaction as well. All of these factors ensured that the Harappan people’s influence would continue long after their cities were gone.

Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool

Map By Avantiputra7 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

The country down on the right in the map picture is India. The early people we will be learning about lived in that brown area. All early people groups lived along rivers, around water. Why? They didn’t have pipes carrying water to them the way you do. They had to get the water for themselves. All life needs water. They needed water for themselves, their animals, and their crops to live. And since all animals need water, it was a good place to hunt. Water was their source of life, in that it provided their sources of food.

The blue lines on the map are rivers. The river flowing through that brown area is named the Indus. Can you guess another way the river was used, besides drinking water for plants and animals? It was also used for cleaning and for transportation. People could float themselves and their things down the river. Look at the picture below of the Indus Valley. Doesn’t it look easier to travel through by boat than over the hills?

The Indus river starts high in some of the tallest mountains in the world and then runs all the way down into the Arabian sea. You can see in the picture how the valley forms around a river. The water cuts through the land. The picture shows the shape of a valley.

The Indus Valley civilization is one of the oldest. It is thought it developed around 5,000 years ago. A civilization is a group of people living together in an organized way. Together they were better protected and could help each other and learn from each other.

Other early civilizations were developing in Egypt, China, and Mesopotamia. In these civilizations some grew rich and lived in palaces but many were poor or even slaves.

The Indus Valley grew into a collection of towns and cities. The largest cities had over 150,000 people in them combined.

Here are some images we have from the work of archaeologists. Make observations.


  • Agriculture was the backbone of the civilisation. The soil was fertile due to innundation in the river Indus and flooding.
  • The Indus people sowed seeds in the flood plains in November, when the flood water receded and reaped their harvests of wheat and barley in April, before the advent of next flood.
  • They used wooden plough share (ploughed field from Kalibangan) and stone sickles for harvesting.
  • Gabarbanda or nalas enclosed by dam for storing water were a feature in parts of Baluchistan. Grains were stored in granaries.
  • Crops Produced wheat, barley, dates, peas, sesamum, mustard, milet, ragi, bajra and jowar. At Lothal and Rangpur rice husks were found.
  • They were first to produce cotton in the world, which Greek called as Sindon derived from Sind. A fragment of woven cotton cloth was found at Mohenjodaro.
  • Well Irrigation is evident from Alladinho, dams and irrigation canals from Dholvira. Sugarcane was not known to Indus people.

History of Indus Valley Civilization and some important information.

The Indus Valley Civilization is an ancient civilization, located in northwestern India, now in Pakistan, the Indus Valley Civilization also known as “Sindhu Ghaatee”, developed along the banks of the Indus and the Ghaghra river. It is said that in 1856 John and William Brunton excavated for the railway from Karachi to Lahore and during the excavation, the remains of this civilization were found and after this, it was named Harappan civilization.

Why it was called Indus Valley –

The credit for the discovery of this civilization goes to Rai Bahadur Dayaram Shahni. He excavated this place in 1921 under the supervision of Archaeological Science Sir John Marshall. After which, at the time of excavation of a stupa at Mohenjodaro, another place was discovered, which revealed that this place was not limited to the Indus River alone. Similarly, it was named Indus Valley Civilization. Its major places are named Mohenjodaro, Kalibanga, Lothal, Rakhigarhi, and Harappa.

What was found in the excavation around the Indus Valley?

The Indus Valley Civilization was one of the important early civilizations of ancient times. Examples of this –

  • The writing system was found in pottery,
  • amulets,
  • carved stamps, and even weights and copper tablets.
  • The people of the Indus civilization also had knowledge of wheat, gram, sesame, paddy and many other types of grains and they also cultivated them well.
  • According to some other evidence they are said to have reared all kinds of pets such as sheep, buffalo, goat, pigs, dogs, camels.
  • The Swastika symbol is attributed to the Harappan civilization, from which it can be ascertained that it also used to worship the Sun.
  • The script of the Indus civilization contained 700 letters, out of which only 400 have been traced so far.
The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro 2400–1900 BCE Painted pottery urns from Harappa (Cemetery H culture, c. 1900-1300 BCE)

How did the destruction happen?

Scientists are still getting to know about the Indus Valley which ended about 4000 years ago, scientists believe that due to climate change, people here had to flee. Oxygen is found in very small amounts in the Indus river where it meets the sea, it is said that the monsoon receives heavy rains here and in summer there is a drought, due to which the people of Indus Valley had to go to the peaks of the mountains but A few days later there was a drought. This brought an end to their civilization. The Indus Valley Civilization, known as the Harappan Civilization in Pakistan’s western India, existed from 5300 years to 3300 years. The population of this civilization was more than 5000000.

Just as global warming has brought an end to the Indus Valley, known as the entire Harappan civilization, in the modern era, we should think about what crisis we may face due to global warming.

How did the Indus Valley Civilization End?

Mohenjo-Daro: The room with the so-called massacre victims is on the west side of the street (at the right edge of the photo).

Gregory L. Possehl in The Indus Civilization - A Contemporary Perspective summarizes various theories forwarded by previous authors on why and how the Indus Civilization ended, leading to the period from 1900 BC to the Iron Age (around 1000 BC), when there was essentially no habitation in Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and other urban centers, there was a disruption in the economy, luxury items like long barrel-cylinder beads, etched beads and inscribed stamp seals disappeared, the art of writing was no longer practiced, long-distance trade was reduced, and the distribution of human population shifted (reduction of population in the Sindh areas and an increase in population in the areas from Punjab to Rajasthan).

Theory 1: Wheeler’s Aryan Army

Rigveda conflicts can be viewed as between newly arrived Aryan warriors and the indigenous Indus peoples. Climatic, economic, political deterioration may have weakened it, but its ultimate extinction is more likely to have been completed by deliberate and large-scale destruction – a Late Period of Mohenjo-daro men, women and children appear to have been massacred there (Mackay 1937), but it has also been argued that the remains found are not of massacre victims but actually hasty interments.

Theory 2: Wearing out the Landscape

Ecological basis. Millions of tons of firewood went into baking millions of baked bricks for building and rebuilding Mohenjo-daro. This implies a widespread deforestation of the surrounding region. Contrary views argue that only 400 acres of gallery forest would have been needed for rebuilding Mohenjo-daro every 140 years.

Theory 3: Avulsion of the Indus River

Natural cause of dramatic shift in the course of the Indus River – led to abandonment of Mohenjo-daro, and by domino effect the rest of the Indus Civilization was eclipsed.

Theory 4: The Raikes/Dales Dam

A natural dam near Sehwan impounded the waters of the Indus River and caused heavy flooding (to a degree beyond normal behavior of a river), leading to disruption of Mohenjo-daro and other sites. This view is critiqued by the opinion that a natural dam could not have been formed by the sediments of the Indus Civilization because of its low structural integrity. It is also opposed by the view that an impounded Indus River was not sufficient to end the civilization.

Theory 5: The Lost Sarasvati

The waters from the Sarasvati and Drishadvati Rivers dried up, the Himalayan waters instead created the Yamuna river, possibly supported by tectonic upheaval – this happened at the expense of the greater Indus system. Alongside, a sociocultural cause was assumed to be occurring (like renewed settlement in northern Rajasthan with evolved technology), and together led to the demise of the Indus Civilization.

Theory 6: Climatic Change

Changing salinity in lakes would have affected agriculture, but because it would not necessarily imply changes in rainfall and because it was a dry-crop region, this theory does not hold much water.

Theory 7: Allchins’ Approach

Economic factors (decline of Mesopotamian trade), steady deterioration in climate (reduction in rainfall) and environment, uplift of the Himalayas due to tectonics causing change in course of the Indus system rivers. This view is countered by opinions that the foreign trade did not really get interrupted, alternatively that the trade decline wasn’t the cause but effect of the Indus Civilization decline an additional argument against the Allchins’ approach is that Mohenjo-daros agriculture was geared towards and thrived in a desert climate, so that a reduction in rainfall was not an impactful natural cause.

“There is a historical awkwardness on two counts: There is a period of eclipse with a growth of human habitation and a proposed aridity at a time when archaeological data indicate widespread dry cropping.”

Author Gregory L. Possehl’s forwards his hypothesis that the cause of the decline of the Indus Civilization was at its heart, its ideological core: nihilism, urbanization and sociocultural complexity (iconographic themes of ideology like figurines, pottery seals and other glyptic items, wasserluxus (construction of brick-lined wells, metropolitan drainage system and bathing platforms including the Great Bath)) and technological prowess (baked-brick architecture, drainage systems, seal cutting, etching carnelian, drilling long carnelian bead stoneware bangles). “Too much of a good thing” in an ideologically perfect, free-of-conflict sociocultural system can also be counterproductive, even destructive.


Possehl, Gregory. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Altamira Press. 2002

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