Indus valley civilization

Indus valley civilization

Indus valley civilization, ancient civilization that flourished from about 2500 B.C. to about 1500 B.C. in the valley of the Indus River and its tributaries, in the northwestern portion of the Indian subcontinent, i.e., present-day Pakistan. At its height, its geographical reach exceeded that of Egypt or Mesopotamia. Since 1921 this civilization has been revealed by spectacular finds at Mohenjo-Daro, an archaeological site in NW Sind, and at Harappa, in central Punjab near the Ravi River. These sites, each of which measures more than 3 mi (5 km) in circumference, were once great urban centers, the chief cities of the Indus civilization. They had large and complex hill citadels, housing palaces, granaries, and baths that were probably used for sacred ablutions; the great bath at Mohenjo-Daro was c.40 ft (12 m) long and 23 ft (7 m) wide. Beyond the citadels were well-planned towns, laid out in rectangular patterns. Houses, often two-storied and spacious, lined the town streets; they had drainage systems that led into brick-lined sewers. The economy of the Indus civilization was based on a highly organized agriculture, supplemented by an active commerce, probably connected to that of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. The arts flourished there, and many objects of copper, bronze, and pottery, including a large collection of terra-cotta toys, have been uncovered. Most notable, however, are the steatite seals, exquisitely engraved with animal figures and often bearing a line of pictographic script. On some seals are depicted a bo tree or, as some authorities hold, a Babylonian tree of life, and others have as their central figure the god Shiva, who later became preeminent in the Hindu pantheon. The writing, long a riddle to archaeologists, has yet to be satisfactorily deciphered; the language appears to be structurally related to the Dravidian languages. The origin, rise, and decline of the Indus valley civilization remain a mystery, but it seems most probable that the civilization fell (c.1500 B.C.) to invading Aryans.

See Sir John Marshall, Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization (3 vol., 1931); E. J. H. MacKay, The Indus Civilization (1935, repr. 1983); S. Piggott, Prehistoric India (1950); Sir Mortimer Wheeler, The Indus Civilization (3d ed. 1968); J. H. Hawkes, The First Great Civilizations (1973).

The Indus Valley Civilization (Mature period 2600–1900 BCE), abbreviated IVC, was an ancient civilization that flourished in the Indus River basin. Primarily centred in Pakistan (Sindh and Punjab provinces) and India (Gujarat and Rajasthan), it extends westward into the Balochistan province of Pakistan. Remains have been excavated from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Iran, as well. The mature phase of this civilization is technically known as the Harappan Civilization, after the first of its cities to be unearthed: Harappa in Pakistan. Excavation of IVC sites have been ongoing since 1920, with important breakthroughs occurring as recently as 1999.

The civilization is sometimes referred to as the Indus Ghaggar-Hakra civilization or the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. The appellation Indus-Sarasvati is based on the possible identification of the Ghaggar-Hakra River with the Sarasvati River mentioned in the Rig Veda, but this usage is disputed on linguistic and geographical grounds.

Historical context

The IVC has been tentatively identified with the toponym Meluhha known from Sumerian records. It has been compared in particular with the civilizations 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). The mature (Harappan) phase of the IVC is contemporary to the Early to Middle Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East, in particular the Old Elamite period, Early Dynastic to Ur III Mesopotamia, Prepalatial Minoan Crete and Old Kingdom to First Intermediate Period Egypt.

The language of the IVC has not yet been determined. Proto-Dravidian, Proto-Indo-Iranian, Proto-Munda, the prefixing Para-Munda and a "Language X" or "lost phylum" perhaps related or ancestral to the Nihali language have been proposed as the language.

Discovery and excavation

The ruins of Harrappa were first described in 1842 by Charles Masson in his Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Punjab, where locals talked of an ancient city extending "thirteen cosses" (about 25 miles), but no archaeological interest would attach to this for nearly a century.

In 1856, British engineers John and William Brunton were laying the East Indian Railway Company line connecting the cities of Karachi and Lahore. John wrote: "I was much exercised in my mind how we were to get ballast for the line of the railway." They were told of an ancient ruined city near the lines, called Brahminabad. Visiting the city, he found it full of hard well-burnt bricks, and "convinced that there was a grand quarry for the ballast I wanted", the city of Brahminabad was reduced to ballast. A few months later, further north, John's brother William Brunton's "section of the line ran near another ruined city, bricks from which had already been used by villagers in the nearby village of Harappa at the same site. These bricks now provided ballast along of the railroad track running from Karachi to Lahore."

In 1872–75 Alexander Cunningham published the first Harappan seal (with an erroneous identification as Brahmi letters). It was half a century later, in 1912, that more Harappan seals were discovered by J. Fleet, prompting an excavation campaign under Sir John Hubert Marshall in 1921–22 and resulting in the discovery of the hitherto unknown civilization at Harappa by Sir John Marshall, Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni and Madho Sarup Vats, and at Mohenjo-daro by Rakhal Das Banerjee, E. J. H. MacKay, and Sir John Marshall. By 1931, much of Mohenjo-Daro had been excavated, but excavations continued, such as that led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler, director of the Archaeological Survey of India in 1944. Among other archaeologists who worked on IVC sites before the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 were Ahmad Hasan Dani, Brij Basi Lal, Nani Gopal Majumdar, and Sir Marc Aurel Stein.

Following the partition of British India, the bulk of the archaeological finds were inherited by Pakistan where most of the IVC was based, and excavations from this time include those led by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1949, archaeological adviser to the Government of Pakistan. Outposts of the Indus Valley civilization were excavated as far west as Sutkagan Dor in Baluchistan, as far north as at Shortugai on the Amudarya or Oxus River in current Afghanistan.


The mature phase of the Harappan civilization lasted from c. 2600 to 1900 BCE. With the inclusion of the predecessor and successor cultures—Early Harappan and Late Harappan, respectively—the entire Indus Valley Civilization may be taken to have lasted from the 33rd to the 14th centuries BCE. Two terms are employed for the periodization of the IVC: Phases and Eras. The Early Harappan, Mature Harappan, and Late Harappan phases are also called the Regionalisation, Integration, and Localisation eras, respectively, with the Regionalization era reaching back to the Neolithic Mehrgarh II period. "Discoveries at Mehrgarh changed the entire concept of the Indus civilization," according to Ahmad Hasan Dani, professor emeritus at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad. "There we have the whole sequence, right from the beginning of settled village life.

Date range (BCE) Phase Era
5500-3300 Mehrgarh II-VI (Pottery Neolithic) Regionalisation Era
3300-2600 Early Harappan (Early Bronze Age)
3300-2800 Harappan 1 (Ravi Phase)
2800-2600 Harappan 2 (Kot Diji Phase, Nausharo I, Mehrgarh VII)
2600-1900 Mature Harappan (Middle Bronze Age) Integration Era
2600-2450 Harappan 3A (Nausharo II)
2450-2200 Harappan 3B
2200-1900 Harappan 3C
1900-1300 Late Harappan (Cemetery H, Late Bronze Age) Localisation Era
1900-1700 Harappan 4
1700-1300 Harappan 5


The Indus Valley Civilization encompassed most of Pakistan, extending from Balochistan to Sindh, with an upward reach to Punjab from east of the Jhelum River to Rupar on the upper Sutlej; recently, Indus sites have been discovered in Pakistan's northwestern Frontier Province as well. Other IVC colonies can be found in Afghanistan while smaller isolated colonies can be found as far away as Turkmenistan and in Gujurat. Coastal settlements extended from Sutkagan Dor in Western Baluchistan to Lothal in Gujarat. An Indus Valley site has been found on the Oxus River at Shortughai in northern Afghanistan, in the Gomal River valley in northwestern Pakistan, at Manda on the Beas River near Jammu, India, and at Alamgirpur on the Hindon River, only 28 km from Delhi. Indus Valley sites have been found most often on rivers, but also on the ancient seacoast, for example, Balakot, and on islands, for example, Dholavira.

There is evidence of dry river beds overlapping with the Hakra channel in Pakistan and the seasonal Ghaggar River in India. Many Indus Valley (or Harappan) sites have been discovered along the Ghaggar-Hakra beds. Among them are: Rupar, Rakhigarhi, Sothi, Kalibangan, and Ganwariwala. According to J. G. Shaffer and D. A. Lichtenstein, the Harappan Civilization "is a fusion of the Bagor, Hakra, and Koti Dij traditions or 'ethnic groups' in the Ghaggar-Hakra valley on the borders of India and Pakistan."

According to some archaeologists, over 500 Harappan sites have been discovered along the dried up river beds of the Ghaggar-Hakra River and its tributaries, in contrast to only about 100 along the Indus and its tributaries; consequently, in their opinion, the appellation Indus Ghaggar-Hakra civilisation or Indus-Saraswati civilisation is justified. However, these politically inspired arguments are disputed by other archaeologists who state that the Ghaggar-Hakra desert area has been left untouched by settlements and agriculture since the end of the Indus period and hence shows more sites than found in the alluvium of the Indus valley; second, that the number of Harappan sites along the Ghaggar-Hakra river beds have been exaggerated and that the Ghaggar-Hakra, when it existed, was a tributary of the Indus, so the new nomenclature is redundant. "Harappan Civilization" remains the correct one, according to the common archaeological usage of naming a civilization after its first findspot.


There are several theories as to the origin of the Indus Valley civilization. The earliest hypothesis was that it was an early form of a Vedic and early Sanskrit civilization which would come to dominate most of South Asia, which was presumed to have been characterized by influence from Indo-European migrations. However, this theory began to be rejected when no signs of the traditional culture associated with the Vedas was uncovered in that of the Indus Valley. The absence of horses amongst the many realistic representations of animals was also considered significant, considering the importance of horses and chariots to the culture described in the Vedas. Detailed bone analysis has revealed that the horse itself was introduced to the subcontinent only at the beginning of the second millennium B.C., which contributes to the chronological problem with this theory. Finally, the concept of urban life which dominates the Indus Valley civilization is foreign to the more rural lifestyle which is described in the Vedas.

The next theory put forward was that the civilization was of proto-Dravidian origin. This theory was first proposed by researchers from Russia and Finland who attempted to show that Indus valley symbols could be derived from the Dravidian language group. Today, the Dravidian language family is concentrated mostly in southern India and northern Sri Lanka, but pockets of it still remain throughout the rest of India and Pakistan (the Brahui language), which lends credence to the theory. 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. However, the proto-Dravidian origin theory is far from being confirmed due to an emphasis on linguistic connection while evidence of a broader cultural connection remains to be found.

Early Harappan

The Early Harappan Ravi Phase, named after the nearby Ravi River, lasted from circa 3300 BCE until 2800 BCE. It 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 from around 3000 BCE.

The mature phase of earlier village cultures is represented by Rehman Dheri and Amri in Pakistan. Kot Diji (Harappan 2) 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.

Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making. Villagers had, by this time, domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates and cotton, as well as various animals, including the water buffalo. Early Harappan communities turned to large urban centres by 2600 BCE, from where the mature Harappan phase started.

Mature Harappan

By 2600 BCE, the Early Harappan communities had been turned into large urban centers. Such urban centers include Harappa and Mohenjo Daro in Pakistan and Lothal in India. In total, over 1,052 cities and settlements have been found, mainly in the general region of the Indus Rivers and their tributaries.


A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture is evident in the Indus Valley Civilization making them the first urban centers 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, alternately, accessibility to the means of religious ritual.

As seen in Harappa, Mohenjo-daro and the recently partially excavated Rakhigarhi, this urban plan included the world's first urban sanitation systems. 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.

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.

The purpose of the citadel remains debated. In sharp contrast to this civilization's contemporaries, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt, no large monumental structures were built. There is no conclusive evidence of palaces or temples—or of kings, armies, or priests. Some structures are thought to have been granaries. Found at one city is an enormous well-built bath, which may have been a public bath. Although the citadels were walled, it is far from clear that these structures were defensive. They may have been built to divert flood waters.

Most city dwellers appear to have been traders or artisans, who lived with others pursuing the same occupation in well-defined neighborhoods. Materials from distant regions were used in the cities for constructing seals, beads and other objects. Among the artifacts 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 Civilization. Some of the seals were used to stamp clay on trade goods and most probably had other uses as well.

Although some houses were larger than others, Indus Civilization 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, though clear social leveling is seen in personal adornments.


The people of the Indus Civilization achieved great accuracy in measuring length, mass, and time. They were among the first to develop a system of uniform weights and measures. Their measurements are said to be extremely precise; however, 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, was approximately 1.704 mm, the smallest division ever recorded on a scale of the Bronze Age. Harappan engineers followed the decimal division of measurement for all practical purposes, including the measurement of mass as revealed by their hexahedron weights.

These chert weights were in a perfect ratio of 4:2:1 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.

Unique Harappan inventions include an instrument which was used to measure whole sections of the horizon and the tidal lock. In addition, Harappans evolved some new techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead and tin. The engineering skill of the Harappans was remarkable, especially in building docks after a careful study of tides, waves and currents. The function of the so-called "dock" at Lothal, however, is disputed.

In 2001, archaeologists studying the remains of two men from Mehrgarh, Pakistan, made the discovery that the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation, from the early Harappan periods, had knowledge of proto-dentistry. Later, in April 2006, it was announced in the scientific journal Nature that the oldest (and first early Neolithic) evidence for the drilling of human teeth in vivo (i.e., in a living person) was found in Mehrgarh. Eleven drilled molar crowns from nine adults were discovered in a Neolithic graveyard in Mehrgarh that dates, from 7,500-9,000 years ago. According to the authors, their discoveries point to a tradition of proto-dentistry in the early farming cultures of that region.

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).

Arts and culture

Various sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry and anatomically detailed figurines in terracotta, bronze and steatite have been found at the excavation sites.

A number of gold, terra-cotta and stone figurines of girls in dancing poses reveal the presence of some dance form. Also, these terra-cotta figurines included cows, bears, monkeys, and dogs. Sir John Marshall is known to have reacted with surprise when he saw the famous Indus bronze statuette of a slender-limbed dancing girl in Mohenjo-daro:

Many crafts "such as shell working, ceramics, and agate and glazed steatite bead making" were used in the making of necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments from all phases of Harappan sites and some of these crafts are still practiced in the subcontinent today. 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. Terracotta female figurines were found (ca. 2800-2600 BCE) which had red color applied to the "manga" (line of partition of the hair). Hindu History. . The BBC names a bath and phallic symbols of the Harappan civilization as features of the "Prehistoric religion (3000-1000BCE)".. Phallic symbols resembling the Hindu Siva lingam have been found in the Harappan remains.

Many Indus valley seals show animals. One famous seal shows a figure seated in a posture reminiscent of the Lotus position and surrounded by animals was named after Pashupati (lord of cattle), an epithet of Shiva and Rudra..

In the earlier phases of their culture, the Harappans buried their dead; however, later, especially in the Cemetery H culture of the late Harrapan period, they also cremated their dead and buried the ashes in burial urns, a transition notably also alluded to in the Rigveda, where the forefathers "both cremated (agnidagdhá-) and uncremated (ánagnidagdha-)" are invoked (RV 10.15.14).

Late Harappan

Around 1800 BCE, signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE, most of the cities were abandoned. However, the Indus Valley Civilization did not disappear suddenly, and many elements of the Indus Civilization can be found in later cultures. Current archaeological data suggests that 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. Archaeologists have emphasised that, just as in most areas of the world, there was a continuous series of cultural developments. These link "the so-called two major phases of urbanisation in South Asia".

A possible natural reason for the IVC's decline is connected with climate change that is also signaled for the neighboring areas of the Middle East: The Indus valley climate grew significantly cooler and drier from about 1800 BCE, linked to a general weakening of the monsoon at that time. Alternatively, a crucial factor may have been the disappearance of substantial portions of the Ghaggar Hakra river system. A tectonic event may have diverted the system's sources toward the Ganges Plain, though there is complete uncertainty about the date of this event as most settlements inside Ghaggar-Hakra river beds have not yet been dated. Although this particular factor is speculative, and not generally accepted, the decline of the IVC, as with any other civilization, will have been due to a combination of various reasons. New geological research is now being conducted by a group led by Peter Clift, from the University of Aberdeen, to investigate how the courses of rivers have changed in this region since 8000 years ago in order to test whether climate or river reorganizations are responsible for the decline of the Harappan. A 2004 paper indicated that the isotopes of the Ghaggar-Hakra system do not come from the Himalayan glaciers, and were rain-fed instead, contradicting a Harappan time mighty "Sarasvati' river.


In the aftermath of the Indus Civilization's collapse, regional cultures emerged, to varying degrees showing the influence of the Indus Civilization. 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 until today.

See also



  • (1997). Origins of a Civilization: The Prehistory and Early Archaeology of South Asia. New York: Viking.
  • (1995). The Archaeology of Early Historic South Asia: The Emergence of Cities and States. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Aronovsky, Ilona; Gopinath, Sujata (2005). The Indus Valley. Chicago: Heinemann.
  • Basham, A. L. (1967). The Wonder That Was India. London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
  • Chakrabarti, D. K. (2004). Indus Civilization Sites in India: New Discoveries. Mumbai: Marg Publications.
  • Dani, Ahmad Hassan (1984). Short History of Pakistan (Book 1). University of Karachi.
  • Dani, Ahmad Hassan; Mohen, J-P. (eds.) (1996). History of Humanity, Volume III, From the Third Millennium to the Seventh Century BC. New York/Paris: Routledge/UNESCO.
  • Gupta, S. P. (1996). The Indus-Saraswati Civilization: Origins, Problems and Issues.
  • Gupta, S. P. (ed.) (1995). The lost Sarasvati and the Indus Civilisation. Jodhpur: Kusumanjali Prakashan.
  • ; et al. (2004). "Recent Marine Archaeological Finds in Khambhat, Gujarat". Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology (1): 141–149.
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark (1998). Ancient cities of the Indus Valley Civilisation. Oxford University Press.
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark (1991). "The Indus Valley tradition of Pakistan and Western India". Journal of World Prehistory 5 1–64.
  • Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark; Heuston, Kimberly (2005). The Ancient South Asian World. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Kirkpatrick, Naida (2002). The Indus Valley. Chicago: Heinemann.
  • Lahiri, Nayanjot (ed.) (2000). The Decline and Fall of the Indus Civilisation.
  • Lal, B. B. (1998). India 1947-1997: New Light on the Indus Civilization.
  • Lal, B. B. (1997). The Earliest Civilisation of South Asia (Rise, Maturity and Decline).
  • Lal, B. B. (2002). The Sarasvati flows on.
  • McIntosh, Jane (2001). A Peaceful Realm: The Rise And Fall of the Indus Civilization. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • Mughal, Mohammad Rafique (1997). Ancient Cholistan, Archaeology and Architecture. Ferozesons.
  • Parpola, Asko Study of the Indus Script. . (50th ICES Tokyo Session)
  • Possehl, Gregory (2002). The Indus Civilisation. Walnut Creek: Alta Mira Press.
  • Rao, Shikaripura Ranganatha (1991). Dawn and Devolution of the Indus Civilisation.
  • Shaffer, Jim G. (1995). Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia.
  • Shaffer, Jim G. (1999). Aryan and Non-Aryan in South Asia..
  • Shaffer, Jim G. (1992). Chronologies in Old World Archaeology. Second Edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Witzel, Michael (2000). "The Languages of Harappa". Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies

External links

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