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Indus Valley Civilization

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Harappan Civilization

ca. 3000-1500 BC

Harappan Civilization

One of the most fascinating yet mysterious cultures of the ancient world is the Harappan civilization. This culture existed along the Indus River in present day Pakistan.  It was named after the city of Harappa which it was centered around.  Harappa and the city of Mohenjo-Daro were the greatest achievements of the Indus valley civilization. These cities are well known for their impressive, organized and regular layout. Over one hundred other towns and villages also existed in this region. The Harappan people were literate and used the Dravidian language. Only part of this language has been deciphered today, leaving numerous questions about this civilization unanswered.

Back to "Indus Valley Civilization" Chronology

Artifacts and clues discovered at Mohenjo-Daro have allowed archaeologists to reconstruct this civilization. The similarities in plan and construction between Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa indicate that they were part of a unified government with extreme organization. Both cities were constructed of the same type and shape of bricks. The two cities may have existed simultaneously and their sizes suggest that they served as capitals of their provinces. In contrast to other civilizations, burials found from these cities are not magnificent; they are more simplistic and contain few material goods. This evidence suggests that this civilization did not have social classes. Remains of palaces or temples in the cities have not been found. No hard evidence exists indicating military activity; it is likely that the Harappans were a peaceful civilization. The cities did contain fortifications and the people used copper and bronze knives, spears, and arrowheads.

The Harappan civilization was mainly urban and mercantile. Inhabitants of the Indus valley traded with Mesopotamia, southern India, Afghanistan, and Persia for gold, silver, copper, and turquoise. The Mesopotamian model of irrigated agriculture was used to take advantage of the fertile grounds along the Indus River. Earthlinks were built to control the river's annual flooding. Crops grown included wheat, barley, peas, melons, and sesame. This civilization was the first to cultivate cotton for the production of cloth. Several animals were domesticated including the elephant which was used for its ivory.

Most of the artwork from this civilization was small and used as personal possessions. The first objects unearthed from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were small stone seals.  These seals were inscribed with elegant portrayals of real and imagined animals and were marked with the Indus script writing.  The seals suggest a symbolic or religious intent. Stone sculptures carved in steatite, limestone, or alabaster depict a male figure who may have represented a god. Pottery figures were shaped into humans and animals. Very few bronze figures have been recovered.

The Harappan civilization experienced its height around 2500 BC and began to decline about 2000 BC. The causes of its downfall are not certain. One theory suggests that the Aryan people migrated into this area. Aryan religious texts and human remains in Mohenjo-Daro suggest that the Aryans may have violently entered the area, killing its inhabitants and burning the cities.

However, another theory supported by more recent evidence suggests that this civilization may have begun to decline before the Aryans arrived. The inhabitants of the Indus valley dispersed before the Aryans slowly entered the area as a nomadic people. The Aryans were then able to take over this area since most of the inhabitants had previously left. One cause of the dispersal of the Harappans could have been a result of agricultural problems. Topsoil erosion, depletion of nutrients from the soil, or a change in the course of the Indus River may have forced these people to leave their towns and move northeastward in search of more fertile land.


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"Indus Civilization." The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 1992 ed.

Schellinger, Paul, et al., eds. International Dictionary of Historical Places. Vol. 5. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1996.

Spodek, Howard. The World's History. Volume 1: to 1500. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc., 1998.

Illustrations from: The Ancient Indus Valley <http://www.harappa.com/har/har0.html>.  Copyright J.M. Kenoyer/Dept. of Archaeology and Museums, Govt. of Pakistan.  Used by permission.

Edited by: Christine Beukhof
Researched by: Ann Musser
Written by: Emily Swanson

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