INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION

The Indus Valley Civilization existed through its early years of 3300-1300 BCE, and its mature period of 2600-1900 BCE. The area of this civilization extended along the Indus River from what today is northeast Afghanistan, into Pakistan and northwest India. The Indus Civilization was the most widespread of the three early civilizations of the ancient world, along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were thought to be the two great cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, emerging around 2600 BCE along the Indus River Valley in the Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. Their discovery and excavation in the 19th and 20th centuries provided important archaeological data about ancient cultures.

Overview

  • The Indus River Valley Civilization, 3300-1300 BCE, also known as the Harappan Civilization, extended from modern-day northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India.
  • Important innovations of this civilization include standardized weights and measures, seal carving, and metallurgy with copper, bronze, lead, and tin.
  • Little is understood about the Indus script, and as a result, little is known about the Indus River Valley Civilization’s institutions and systems of governance.
  • The civilization likely ended due to climate change and migration.

Indus Valley Civilization:

The Indus Valley Civilization was one of the three “Ancient East” societies that are considered to be the cradles of civilization of the old world of man, and are among the most widespread; the other two “Ancient East” societies are Mesopotamia and Pharonic Egypt. The lifespan of the Indus Valley Civilization is often separated into three phases: Early Harappan Phase (3300-2600 BCE), Mature Harappan Phase (2600-1900 BCE) and Late Harappan Phase (1900-1300 BCE).

At its peak, the Indus Valley Civilization may had a population of over five million people. It is considered a Bronze Age society, and inhabitants of the ancient Indus River Valley developed new techniques in metallurgy—the science of working with copper, bronze, lead, and tin. They also performed intricate handicraft, especially using products made of the semi-precious gemstone Carnelian, as well as seal carving— the cutting
of patterns into the bottom face of a seal used for stamping. The Indus cities are noted for their urban planning, baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, and clusters of large, non-residential buildings.

The Indus Valley Civilization is also known as the Harappan Civilization, after Harappa, the first of its sites to be excavated in the 1920s, in what was then the Punjab province of British India and is now in Pakistan. The discoveries of Harappa, and the site of its fellow Indus city Mohenjo-daro, were the culmination of work beginning in 1861 with the founding of the Archaeological Survey of India in the British Raj, the common name for British imperial rule over the Indian subcontinent from 1858 through 1947.

The Twin Cities :

The ruins of two ancient cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro (both in modern-day Pakistan), and the remnants of many other settlements, have revealed great clues to this mystery. Harappa was, in fact, such a rich discovery that the Indus Valley Civilization is also called the Harappan civilization.

Harappa was a fortified city in modern-day Pakistan that is believed to have been home to as many as 23,500 residents living in sculpted houses with flat roofs made of red sand and clay. The city spread over 150 hectares (370 acres) and had fortified administrative and religious centers of the same type used in Mohenjo-daro. The modern village of Harappa, used as a railway station during the Raj, is six kilometers (3.7 miles) from the ancient city site, which suffered heavy damage during the British period of rule.

Mohenjo-daro is thought to have been built in the 26th century BCE and became not only the largest city of the Indus Valley Civilization but one of the world’s earliest, major urban centers. Located west of the Indus River in the Larkana District, Mohenjo-daro was one of the most sophisticated cities of the period, with sophisticated engineering and urban planning. Cock-fighting was thought to have religious and ritual significance, with domesticated chickens bred for religion rather than food (although the city may have been a point of origin for the worldwide domestication of chickens). Mohenjo-daro was abandoned around 1900 BCE when the Indus Civilization went into sudden decline.

The ruins of Harappa were first described in 1842 by Charles Masson in his book, Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan. In 1856, British engineers John and William Brunton were laying the East Indian Railway Company line connecting the cities of Karachi and Lahore, when their crew discovered hard, well-burnt bricks in the area and used them for ballast for the railroad track, unwittingly dismantling the ruins of the ancient city of Brahminabad.

Bison seal

Geography and time-frame :

In 1856, British colonial officials in India were busy monitoring the construction of a railway connecting the cities of Lahore and Karachi in modern-day Pakistan along the Indus River valley.As they continued to work, some of the laborers discovered many fire-baked bricks lodged in the dry terrain. There were hundreds of thousands of fairly uniform bricks, which seemed to be quite old. Nonetheless, the workers used some of them to construct the road bed, unaware that they were using ancient artifacts. They soon found among the bricks stone artifacts made of soapstone, featuring intricate artistic markings.Though they did not know it then, and though the first major excavations did not take place until the 1920s, these railway workers had happened upon the remnants of the Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization, after Harappa, the first of its sites to be excavated, in what was then the Punjab province of British India and is now in Pakistan. Initially, many archaeologists thought they had found ruins of the ancient Maurya Empire, a large empire which dominated ancient India between c. 322 and 185 BCE.Before the excavation of these Harappan cities, scholars thought that Indian civilization had begun in the Ganges valley as Aryan immigrants from Persia and central Asia populated the region around 1250 BCE. The discovery of ancient Harappan cities unsettled that conception and moved the timeline back another 1500 years,situating the Indus Valley Civilization in an entirely different environmental context.

Relief map of Pakistan including the origins of the Indus Valley empire, Mehrgarh, in the foothills of a mountain pass. Map shows Pakistan, Afghanistan, the northwest part of India and Punjab, and part of the Arabian Sea.

There is evidence of settlement in this area as early as 7000 BCE.The Indus Valley Civilization is often separated into three phases: the Early Harappan Phase from 3300 to 2600 BCE, the Mature Harappan Phase from 2600 to 1900 BCE, and the Late Harappan Phase from 1900 to 1300 BCE.

This map shows the extent of the Indus Valley Civilization during the Mature Harappan Phase. Civilization is highlighted in brown in the area of modern-day Pakistan and northern India. The rest of the map is green and is a partial map of India and the area northwest of Pakistan.

The Indus cities are noted for their urban planning, a technical and political process concerned with the use of land and design of the urban environment. They are also noted for their baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, and clusters of large, nonresidential buildings.The Indus Valley Civilization began to decline around 1800 BCE.

Urban infrastructure and architecture:

By 2600 BCE, small Early Harappan communities had developed into large urban centers. These cities include Harappa, Ganeriwala, and Mohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan and Dholavira, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Rupar, and Lothal in modern-day India. In total, more than 1,052 cities and settlements have been found, mainly in the general region of the Indus River and its tributaries.Mohenjo-daro is thought to have been built in the twenty-sixth century BCE; it became not only the largest city of the Indus Valley Civilization but one of the world’s earliest major urban centers. Located west of the Indus River in the Larkana District, Mohenjo-daro was one of the most sophisticated cities of the period, with advanced engineering and urban planning.

Archaeological remains at the lower town of Lothal. The bricks are uniform in size and are gray-brown colored. They are in a field of dead grass and are bordered by low-lying green trees and shrubs.

Harappa was a fortified city in modern-day Pakistan that is believed to have been home to as many as 23,500 residents living in sculpted houses with flat roofs made of red sand and clay. The city spread over 150 hectares—370 acres—and had fortified administrative and religious centers of the same type used in Mohenjo-daro.Both cities had similar organization and featured citadels, central areas in a city that were heavily fortified—protected with defensive military structures.The remains of the Indus Valley Civilization cities indicate remarkable organization; there were well-ordered wastewater drainage and trash collection systems and possibly even public baths and granaries, which are storehouses for grain.Harappans demonstrated advanced architecture with dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms, and protective walls. These massive walls likely protected the Harappans from floods and may have deterred military conflicts.

The Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro: Amid the brick ruins of a 3rd-millennium BCE city, stairs descend on two sides into a large, rectangular brick-lined pit.  Wooden stakes and wire encircle the perimeter, preventing entry by modern-day tourists.

Indus Valley Cities:

The cities of the ancient Indus Valley consisted of highly functional, multistory buildings and structures constructed with uniform, kiln-burnt bricks. There is evidence of urban planning due to the uniformity of size and the style of the brickwork, as well as the organization of streets and neighborhoods into grid patterns, much like many current cities.

The first-known sanitation system, whereby waste-water was directed into covered drains that lined major streets and where clean water was obtained from wells in a designated room in the home, was employed in the ancient Indus Valley. This system of sewage and drainage is quite remarkable and was more advanced than some seen even today.

The Indus Valley Civilization is also known for developing a unified system of weight and measurement, as well as a decimal system and the first known use of negative numbers. In 2001, it was discovered that people from the early Harappan period had knowledge of proto-dentistry with the excavation of the first evidence of drilled human teeth.

Art in the Indus Valley :

The Indus Valley period is well documented through the wealth of artifacts that were excavated from its magnificent cities. It is widely believed that most of the inhabitants of Indus Valley cities were tradespeople and artisans. Archaeologists have excavated sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry, elaborate beadwork, and anatomically detailed figurines in terracotta , ceramic, bronze, lead, tin, and steatite from the ancient Indus Valley area.

A number of bronze, gold, stone, and terracotta figures of girls in dance poses reveal the presence of some dance forms from the time, and a harp-like instrument depicted on a seal indicates the use of stringed musical instruments.

Similarities in the iconography and construction of excavated artifacts suggest the considerable mobility and trade networks of the Indus Valley inhabitants. Raw materials found only in distant regions, such as lapis lazuli and steatite, were imported for artistic use. It is believed that the trade networks of the Indus Valley reached as far as Afghanistan, coastal Persia, northern and western India, Mesopotamia , and Egypt.

This is a photo of the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-daro. Full-length statuette of a nude female figure with long, lean legs and stylized facial features. She wears a stack of bracelets and a large necklace.

The Fall of Harappan Culture:

The remains of their walls yield clues about the culture that thrived in the Indus Valley. Clay figurines of goddesses are proof that religion was important. Toys and games show that even in 3000 B.C.E., kids — and maybe even adults — liked to play. Pottery, textiles, and beads are evidence of skilled craftsmanship and thriving trade

It was this intensive devotion to craftsmanship and trade that allowed the Harappan culture to spread widely and prosper greatly. Each time goods were traded or neighbors entered the gates of the cities to barter, Indus culture was spread.Eventually, though, around 1900 B.C.E, this prosperity came to an end. The integrated cultural network collapsed, and the civilization became fragmented into smaller regional cultures. Trade, writing, and seals all but disappeared from the area.

Many believe that the decline of the Harappan civilization was a result of Aryan invasions from the north. This theory seems logical because the Aryans came to power in the Ganges Valley shortly after the Indus demise of the Indus Valley Civilization. Because there is little evidence of any type of invasion though, numerous historians claim that it was an environmental disaster that led to the civilization’s demise. They argue that changing river patterns disrupted the farming and trading systems and eventually led to irreparable flooding.

Although the intricate details of the early Indus Valley culture might never be fully known, many pieces of the ancient puzzle have been discovered. The remains of the Indus Valley cities continue to be unearthed and interpreted today. With each new artifact, the history of early Indian civilization is strengthened and the legacy of this ingenious and diverse metropolis is made richer.

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