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. 

Further Excavations

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 number. 


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. 

Symbol System

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 mass-produced. 


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 Creatures. 

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.