Ancient Indus River Valley
Civilization thrived from 3300-1700 BC. Its name Harappan
Civilization is based on the first unearthed city of Indus Valley.
Indus Valley Civilisation
Duration: 3300 BC to 1700 BC
Indus Valley Civilization was an ancient civilization that thrived in
the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river valleys, now in Pakistan, along with
the northwestern parts of India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. The
civilization, which is also known as Harappan Civilization, lasted from
3300 BC to 1700 BC. The discovery of the Ancient Indus River Valley
Civilization was made, when the Harappan city, the first city of Indus
Valley, was excavated.
The first description of the ruins of Harappa is found in the Narrative
of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and Punjab of Charles
Masson. It dates back to the period of 1826 to 1838. In 1857, the
British engineers accidentally used bricks from the Harappa ruins for
building the East Indian Railway line between Karachi and Lahore. In the
year 1912, J. Fleet discovered Harappan seals. This incident led to an
excavation campaign under Sir John Hubert Marshall in 1921-1922. The
result of the excavation was discovery of Harappa by Sir John Marshall,
Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni and Madho Sarup Vats and Mohenjodaro by
Rakhal Das Banerjee, E. J. H. MacKay, and Sir John Marshall.
Even though most of the Mohenjodaro city had been unearthed by 1931,
the excavation campaigns continued to be undertaken. Sir Mortimer
Wheeler, the then director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI),
led one such campaign in 1944. After the partition of India in 1947, the
area of the Indus Valley Civilization was divided between India and
Pakistan. In 1949, Sir Mortimer Wheeler conducted excavations as the
Archaeological Adviser to the Government of Pakistan. The next three
decades were full of discoveries of the remnants of civilization.
The Ancient Indus River Valley Civilization extended from Balochistan
to Gujarat and from the east of the river Jhelum to Rupar. Some time
back, a number of sites were also discovered in Pakistan's NW Frontier
Province. Harappan Civilization covered most of Pakistan, along with the
western states of India. Even though most of the sites have been found
on the river embankments, some have been excavated from the ancient
seacoast and islands as well. As per some archaeologists, the number of
Harappan sites, unearthed along the dried up river beds of the
Ghaggar-Hakra River and its tributaries, is around 500. Apart from that,
those along the Indus and its tributaries are approximately 100 in
The three main phases of the Indus Valley Civilization are:
- Early Harappan (Integration Era)
- Mature Harappan (Localization Era)
- Late Harappan (Regionalization Era)
Early Harappan Phase
The Early Harappan Phase lasted from 3300 BC to 2800 BC. It is related
to the Hakra Phase, identified in the Ghaggar-Hakra River Valley. The
earliest examples of the Indus script date back to 3000 BC. This phase
stands characterized by centralized authority and an increasingly urban
quality of life. Trade networks had been established and there was also
domestication of crops. Peas, sesame seeds, dates, cotton, etc, were
grown during that time. Kot Diji represents the phase leading up to
Mature Harappan Phase.
Mature Harappan Phase
By 2600 BC, Indus Valley Civilization had entered into a mature stage.
The early Harappan communities were turning into large urban centers,
like Harappa and Mohenjodaro in Pakistan and Lothal in India. The
concept of irrigation had also been introduced. The following features
of the Mature Phase were more prominent:
Approximately 1052 cities and settlements belonging to the Indus Valley
Civilization have been excavated till date, mainly in the general region
of the Ghaggar and Indus Rivers and their tributaries. The artifacts
discovered in these cities suggest a sophisticated and technologically
advanced urban culture. The concept of urban planning is also widely
evident. There is also the existence of the first urban sanitation
systems in the world. the sewerage and drainage system found in the each
and every city of Indus Valley comes across as even more efficient than
those in some areas of Pakistan and India today.
Dockyards, granaries, warehouses, brick platforms and protective walls
have been found in almost all the cities of the Indus Valley
Civilization. The evidence suggests that most city dwellers were traders
or artisans, who lived with others belonging to the same occupation in
well-defined neighborhoods. Social equality seems to be widely prevalent
in the cities of Indus Valley, though there are some houses that are
bigger than the others.
The people of Indus Valley are believed to be amongst the first to
develop a system of uniform weights and measures. Their smallest
division was approximately 1.704 mm. Decimal division of measurement was
used for all practical purposes. The brick weights were in a perfect
ratio of 4:2:1. The numerous inventions of the Indus River Valley
Civilization include an instrument used for measuring whole sections of
the horizon and the tidal dock. The people of Harappa evolved new
techniques in metallurgy and produced copper, bronze, lead and tin. They
also had the knowledge of proto-dentistry and the touchstone technique
of gold testing.
Arts and Culture
Various sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry and figurines in
terracotta, bronze and steatite, etc, have been excavated from the sites
of the Ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Other crafts that have been
unearthed include shell works, ceramics, agate, glazed steatite bead
making, special kind of combs, etc. There is also evidence of seals,
toys, games and stringed musical instruments in the Indus Valley.
Trade and Transportation
Trade seems to the major occupation of the people of the Harappan
Civilization. The main forms of transport include bullock carts and
boats. Archaeologists have also discovered an enormous, dredged canal
and docking facility at the coastal city of Lothal. The pottery, seals,
figurines, ornaments, etc, of the civilization show great similarities
with those of Central Asia and the Iranian plateau, indicating trade
with them. Then, there are signs of maritime trade network between the
Harappan and Mesopotamian civilizations also.
The major cultivated cereal crop was naked six-row barley, a crop
derived from two-row barley. However, not much information is available
on the farmers and their agricultural methods.
As many as 400 distinct Indus symbols have been found on seals, ceramic
pots and other materials excavated from the Indus Valley. Typical Indus
inscriptions are, at the most, four or five characters in length and
quite small. The longest inscription on any object is 26 symbols long.
Indus symbols have been found on ritual objects also, many of which were
The large number of figurines found in the Indus Valley Civilization
suggests that the Harappan people worshipped a Mother Goddess, who
symbolized fertility. Some of the seals of that time also have the
swastikas engraved on them. Then, there are some others in which a
figure is seated in a yoga-like posture and is surrounded by animals.
The figure is quite similar to that of Lord Pashupati, the Lord of
Late Harappan Phase
The signs of a gradual decline of the Indus River Valley Civilization
are believed to have started around 1800 BC. By 1700 BC, most of the
cities were abandoned. However, one can see the various element of the
Ancient Indus Valley Civilization in later cultures. Archaeological data
indicates the persistence of the Late Harappan culture till 1000-900 BC.
The major reasons of the decline of the civilization are believed to be
connected with climate change. Not only did the climate become much
cooler and drier than before, but substantial portions of the Ghaggar
Hakra river system also disappeared.