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Between myth and reality: Little known civilizations: The Indus valley


The Indus civilization is classified along with Mesopotamia and Egypt as one of the very first civilizations of history, because of the indication of the construction of cities and/or writing. But the Indus valley was the one who underwent the most geographic expansion compared to Mesopotamia and Egypt. At the beginning, archeologists thought that the colonies that were gradually uncovered in the Indus valley along the years starting in the late 1800 to 1930 and beyond came from Mesopotamia. But further excavations revealed that the Indus people had their very own characteristics.

There have been to this day some 1,052 sites of the Indus valley uncovered with 140 of them near the Ghahhar-Hakra river. Most of the other sites are spread along the whole valley and its affluents but there is also some sites located in the west, to the east, in the south and north. It covered most of what is known today as Pakistan and as far back as Afghanistan and Central Asia. With all these sites we count several big cities such as Dholavira, Lothal, Rakhigarhi, Chanhu-Daro, Kalibangan etc. and the most known are Harappa ( in Panjab) and Mohenjo-daro (in Sindh). At the peak of the Indus valley civilizations, it is estimated that it had about 5 millions inhabitants and sometimes we refer to it as the Harappean civilization or the Indusian civilization.

The reason for its emergence and shining prosperity for some seven centuries, then its brutal decline are not very well known and are still being debated along with its probable influence on antique hindu culture. It is said that its writing is still undecipherable. Two main questions stand out about the Indus valley culture: 1) did it form a state or a collection of city-states?,  2) what was the cause of its sudden and dramatic disappearance starting in the X1Xth century?. Here are 17 facts about the Indus valley civilizations.

1) It just might be the oldest civilization known. According to scientists of the IIT-Kharagpur and the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), they discovered that the Indus valley dated from 8,000 BC and not only from 5,000 or 2,900 BC like previously believed. This discovery was published in May 2016 in the magazine “Nature”. With these dates, it seems that it not only was more ancient than Mesopotamia and Egypt but also the most ancient known throughout the world.

2) Mohenjodaro and its great bath. Mohenjodaro is translated as “The Hill or Mound of the dead” in Sindhi. The great bath of Mohenjodaro is literally a pool perched on the summit of a mound of earth and confined within an enclosure of brick walls. This pool (also another one in Dholavira) suggests that the Harappeans appreciated cleanliness.,_Mohenjo-daro

3) An undeciphered writing. As the picture at the beginning of this post suggests, the Harappean writing is made up of partial pictograms along with diverse motifs of humans and animals (one of them being a unicorn). These examples above were found on steatite miniature seals, on tablets of terracotta and some on metals.

4) The great granaries of Harappa. Excavations done in Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Rakhigarhi revealed the presence of several granaries, massive structures with solid brick foundations along with pedestals for wooden structures. All the granaries have been built near the river’s edge to enable the cereal growers to easily transport their cereals with the help of boats. The great granary of Harappa also displayed a series of working platforms with circular bricks nearby that were probably used for the beating of the grain.

5) The most ancient naval dockyard known in the world at Lothal. Lothal was a flourishing and vital commercial center of the Indus valley. Its naval dockyard covered some 37 metres (120 feet) by 22 meters (72 feet) and linked the city to the Sabarmati which was the commercial route between Harappa in the Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra. During that time, the Kutch desert of today was part of the Arabian sea.

6) The fire altars of Kalibangan. It is thought with these altars that the Harappeans believed in a certain fire cult ritual. There are several of these altars in Kalibangan.

7) A game like chess. There is some proof that the inhabitants of the Indus valley liked to play with games or toys. Flat stones with grid carvings and pieces of what looks like chessman have been found. Archeologists also found cubes with six sides which might suggest that Harappeans invented dices.

8) Urban planning. A well planned network of roads and an elaborate drainage system makes us think that the inhabitants of the cities of the Indus valley were indeed competent planners and also gave a great importance to the maintenance and running of water. Water wells have been found throughout the cities and most households had a zone for a bath.

9) Urban life. The prosperity and stature of the city (Harappa) are evidenced in the artefacts found. But one fact remains clear: there are no temples or palaces and there is no central governement settings and also no direct proof of a leader. Also, the lack of arms shows that the Indus people had no enemies and preferred to live in peace.

10) The love of fashion. The artefacts most often found from the Indus civilization are its jewelry pieces made from precious gems and metals to bones. Excavated dyeing facilities denote that coton was probably dyed in a variety of colors. The use of cinnabar and vermillion attest to the fact that they used some cosmetics.

11) Intriguing figurines. Figurines of terracotta, steatite and metal showing woman in different postures are the most common found. The most interesting and famous figurines are the one of the statite bearded enigmatic possible king or priest, the bronze dancer and the chariot in terracotta.

12) Commerce without money. Seals and weights found on the ruins of the cities suggests a system of barter that was closely controlled and guarded. The main commercial partner was Mesopotamia. The city of Ur in Mesopotamia had some harrapean products such as pearls, poteries etc.

13) The seal of Pashupati Mahadev. A famous seal depicts a seated figure in a posture reminiscent of the lotus, surrounded by animals. It represents a divinity named Pashupati Mahadev worshiped by the Indusians. It is considered as the precursor of the vedic God Shiva.

14) The cult of Mother Earth. It is largely accepted that the Harappeans venerated a Mother Goddess. With all the figurines of this goddess unerthed it is suggestive that Mother Earth or the fertility cult was indeed popular.


15) Strange burials. Bodies are disposed in rectangular or oval graves dug in the earth with funeral objects such as jewelry, seals and terracotta.

16) The mysterious massacre of Mohenjo-daro. 44 squeletons are found scattered in one street in Mohenjodaro. All of them are flattened and lie in unnatural positions but nothing is known why and how this happened.

17) Decline and decadence. There is no evidence that the Indus culture was burned, severely inundated or attacked by armed forces. It is believed that it declined because of climactic changes around the Indus river.

What do you think?

13 points

Written by HistoryGal

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  1. Hello history Gal, Read your work again. This is one of my favorite era and areas to ponder on. I did not know anything about that city Kalibangan and it’s fire rituals. I wonder if something from their rituals was picked up by the Zoroastrians later for their fire rituals? Not surprised that this area could be one of the oldest civilizations. I think several placed around the world had civilization during the ice age period. That would explain things like pieces of broken ceramics found in Eastern Europe dating from 13,000 BCE. Alexander the Great did have a hard time in the Indus. He had bloody battles with each city state. He did defeat them all but it was exhausting. There was one city that submitted to Alexander. They cut off the head of their king and presented it to Alexander and said they would be happy to pay taxes and tributes to him. Alexander was wounded in one of his battles in the Indus. He spent at least 7 weeks in Taxila. That is north of the Indus. He manage to recover his health. And his bisexuality sort of arose there. Taxila is where he met Roxanne. Wonderful article.

    • Thank you for your enlightened comment. Yes I remember that Alexander the Great was in the Indus valley and did battle and that it was a long and arduous trek for him and his army. I really enjoyed writing this post but I wished I was allowed much more than 7200 characters to write with. Oh well… Thank you for your visit, your reading, your fantastic comment and your up vote. I know that Virily is having problems lately and I, being here in Canada, have had problems with comments, up voting and even loading up Virily. But apparently they are working on it. So let up hope they will get up and running smoothly again.

  2. I am curious about the statement that Mohenjo Daro is the oldest civilization (8000BC). Paying attention to the section that mentions “transporting their cereals with help of boats” and “Its naval dockyard” and so on, is it possible that they to do or have relations with other contemporary civilizations?

    • There is evidence that they did commerce with Mesopotamia but at what date they started I am not sure. Of course the estimate given by the Hindu Archeological Society might also be wrong. Thank you for your excellent question. There is one last answer I can give you. The Indus valley culture was spread over a very wide area. They were also trading within themselves so that is probably why they had such a huge dockyard and commercial route.

      • That is what I mean if they trade with Mesopotamia, that means The Indus valley culture and Mesopotamia are at the same time, at least not far apart. It is different if they only trade in their own broad cultural environment.
        Thank you for the additional explanation, dear friend.

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