Indus Valley Civilization Part-1

The Indus Valley Civilization was a cultural and political group that did well from around 7000 BCE to around 600 BCE in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Its modern name comes from the fact that it was in the valley of the Indus River, but it is also called the Harrapan Civilization and the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization.

These last names come from the Sarasvati River, which was mentioned in the Vedas and ran next to the Indus River, and the ancient city of Harappa, which was the first ancient city found in the modern era. None of these names come from ancient texts because, even though scholars think this civilization created a writing system (called Indus Script or Harappan Script), it hasn’t been figured out yet.

All three names are made up by modern people, and nothing is known for sure about how the civilization started, grew, went downhill, and ended. Even so, modern archaeology has come up with a likely timeline and periods:

Introduction to Indus Valley Civilization

People now often compare the Indus Valley Civilization to the much better-known cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, but this is a fairly new trend. The discovery of Harappa in 1829 CE was the first sign that a similar civilization existed in India. By that time, Egyptian hieroglyphics had been deciphered, sites in Egypt and Mesopotamia had been dug up, and the scholar George Smith was about to translate cuneiform (l. 1840-1876 CE). Archaeological excavations of the Indus Valley Civilization started much later than those of Egypt and Mesopotamia. As a result, many of the achievements and “firsts” that have been credited to Egypt and Mesopotamia may have been done by the people of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, both in modern-day Pakistan, are the best-known excavated cities from this culture. Both are thought to have had between 40,000 and 50,000 people living in them at one time, which is amazing when you consider that most ancient cities only had about 10,000 people living in them. It is thought that the civilization had more than 5 million people, and its territory covered 900 miles (1,500 km) along the Indus River and then spread out in all directions. Sites from the Indus Valley Civilization have been found near the border of Nepal, in Afghanistan, on the coasts of India, and around Delhi, to name just a few places.

Between about 1900 and 1500 BCE, the civilization started to fall apart for reasons nobody knows. At the beginning of the 20th century CE, it was thought that this was caused by an invasion of light-skinned people from the north called Aryans, who defeated the rulers at that time. This idea, which is called the “Aryan Invasion Theory,” has been shown to be false. People now think that the Aryans, whose ethnicity is linked to the Iranian Persians, moved to the area peacefully and mixed their culture with that of the native people. The term “Dravidian” is now used to describe anyone of any ethnicity who speaks one of the Dravidian languages.

Scholars don’t know why the Indus Valley Civilization fell, but they think it may have had something to do with climate change, the drying up of the Sarasvati River, a change in the path of the monsoon, which watered crops, overpopulation in the cities, a drop in trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia, or a combination of any of the above. Many of the sites that have been found so far are still being dug up, and future finds may give us more information about the history and fall of the culture.

Discovery and Early Digging of Indus Valley Civilization

Some scholars think that the symbols and writings on the artefacts of the Indus Valley Civilization are a writing system, but they haven’t been deciphered yet. Because of this, archaeologists usually don’t try to figure out where the culture came from because it would be guesswork. So far, we only know what we do about the civilization from the things that have been found at different sites. So, the best time to tell the story of the Indus Valley Civilization is when its ruins were found in the 19th century CE.

James Lewis, better known as Charles Masson, was a British soldier in the artillery of the East India Company Army from around 1800 to 1853 CE. In 1827 CE, he and another soldier ran away from the army. So that the authorities wouldn’t find him, he changed his name to Charles Masson and went on a series of trips all over India. Masson was a big fan of numismatics (the study of coins) and was especially interested in old coins. He ended up excavating old sites on his own by following different leads. He found Harappa in 1829 CE, which was one of these places. He seems to have left the site quickly after writing down what he saw, but because he didn’t know who could have built the city, he gave it to Alexander the Great during his campaigns in India around 326 BCE, which was not true.

When Masson went on his adventures and went back to Britain, he was forgiven for leaving his post. In 1842, he wrote a book called Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, and the Punjab. This book caught the attention of the British authorities in India, especially Alexander Cunningham. Sir Alexander Cunningham, a British engineer in India who lived from about 1814 to 1893 CE and was interested in ancient history, started the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1861 CE. This is an organisation whose goal is to make sure that excavation and preservation of historical sites are done in a professional way. Cunningham started digging at the site and published his interpretation in 1875 CE, in which he named and described the Indus Script. However, this was incomplete and didn’t say much because Harappa was still alone and not connected to any known ancient civilization that could have built it.

John Marshall, who lived from 1876 to 1958 CE and became the new director of the ASI in 1904 CE, went to Harappa and found evidence of an ancient civilization that had not been known before. He told the site to be completely dug up. Around the same time, he heard about another site a few miles away that the locals called Mohenjo-daro, which means “the mound of the dead,” because animal and human bones and other things were found there. In the 1924–1925 season, excavations began at Mohenjo-daro. The similarities between the two sites made it clear that the Indus Valley Civilization had been found.

Harappa & Mohenjo-daro

Western scholars already knew about the Hindu texts called the Vedas and other great Indian works like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, but they didn’t know what culture made them. At the time, racism made it hard for them to say that the works were made by people from India. This made archaeologists at first think that Harappa was a colony of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia or maybe an Egyptian outpost.

Harappa, on the other hand, didn’t look like Egyptian or Mesopotamian architecture. There were no temples, palaces, or other large buildings, and there were no names of kings or queens, stelae, or royal statues. The city was made up of 150 hectares (370 acres) of small clay-roofed brick houses. There was a citadel, walls, and the streets were laid out in a grid. This showed a high level of skill in urban planning, and when the archaeologists looked at the two sites, it was clear that they were dealing with a very advanced culture.

In both cities, homes had flush toilets, sewers, and drainage systems that were even more advanced than the early Romans‘. Wind catchers, which came from Persia, were attached to the roofs of some buildings to cool the home or administrative office. At Mohenjo-daro, there was a great public bath in a courtyard with steps leading down into it.

As more sites were found, the same level of sophistication and skill was shown, and it became clear that all of these cities had been planned ahead of time. The cities of the Indus Valley Civilization were planned and built before they were fully inhabited. This is different from other cultures’ cities, which usually grew out of smaller, rural communities. Also, they all seemed to be working toward the same goal, which pointed to a strong central government with a good bureaucracy that could plan, pay for, and build such cities.

Between 1944 and 1948 CE, excavations at both sites were led by the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who lived from 1890 to 1976 CE. His racialist views made it hard for him to believe that people with dark skin had built the cities. Still, he was able to figure out the layers of Harappa and lay the groundwork for the later periodization of the Indus Valley Civilization.


Pre-Harappan: Around 7000–5500 BCE

Early Harappan: Around 5500 BCE to 2800 BCE

Mature Harappan – c. 2800 – c. 1900 BCE

Late Harappan – c. 1900 – c. 1500 BCE

Post-Harappan: between about 1500 and 600 BCE

Wheeler’s work gave archaeologists a way to figure out when the civilization started, when it started to fall apart, and when it finally ended. As was already said, the chronology is mostly based on physical evidence from Harappan sites and what is known about their trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia. Lapis lazuli, to name just one product, was very popular in both cultures. Before the Indus Valley Civilization was found, scholars knew it came from India, but they didn’t know exactly where until then. Even though this semiprecious stone would still be brought in after the Indus Valley Civilization fell, it is clear that some of it came from this area at first.

Pre-Harappan: Around 7000–5500 BCE. This is the Neolithic period, which is best shown by sites like Mehrgarh, which show evidence of the domestication of plants and animals and the making of tools and pottery.

Early Harappan, around 5500–2800 BCE: Trade was well-established with Egypt, Mesopotamia, and maybe even China. Ports, docks, and warehouses were built by people who lived in small villages near waterways.

Harappa reached its peak around 2800–1900 BCE: when the great cities were built and many people moved to cities. The cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are both doing well around 2600 BCE. Other cities, like Ganeriwala, Lothal, and Dholavira, are built using the same plans. Hundreds of other cities are built in the same way, and this process keeps going until there are more than 1,000 cities all over the land.

Late Harappan (around 1900–1500 BCE): The civilization fell apart around the same time that a wave of Aryans came from the north, most likely the Iranian Plateau. Climate change, which caused flooding, drought, and famine, has been shown by physical evidence. People have also said that the loss of trade with Egypt and Mesopotamia played a role.

Post-Harappan, around 1500–600 BCE: The cities are deserted, and the people have moved south. By the time Cyrus II the Great invades India in 530 BCE, the civilization has already fallen.

Things about culture in Indus Valley Civilization

Most of the people seem to have been artists, farmers, and businesspeople. There are no palaces or temples, and there are no signs of an army. People think that the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro was used for religious purification rituals, but this is just a guess. It could have just as easily been a public pool for fun. It looks like each city had its own governor, but it is thought that there must have been some kind of centralised government to keep the cities the same.

Archaeologists think that small soapstone seals about an inch and a half (3 cm) in diameter were used to identify people in trade. They were among the thousands of artefacts found at the different sites. Like the cylinder seals of Mesopotamia, it is thought that these seals were used to sign contracts, give permission to sell land, and prove the origin, shipment, and receipt of goods in long-distance trade.

People had made the wheel, carts pulled by cattle, and boats with flat bottoms that were wide enough to carry trade goods. They may have also made the sail. In agriculture, they knew about and used irrigation, canals, and different tools. They also set up different areas for grazing cattle and growing crops. Several figurines, amulets, and statuettes in the shape of women show that fertility rituals may have been done to get a good harvest and help women get pregnant. People think that the people may have worshipped a Mother Goddess and a male consort who was shown as a horned figure with wild animals. The culture’s religious beliefs, on the other hand, are unknown, so any guesses must be just that: guesses.

Their level of artistic skill is clear from the many statues, soapstone seals, ceramics, and jewellery pieces that have been found. The most famous piece of art is a bronze statue called “Dancing Girl.” It is 4 inches (10 cm) tall and was found at Mohenjo-daro in 1926 CE. The piece shows a teenage girl with her right hand on her hip and her left hand on her knee. Her chin is up, as if she is weighing a suitor’s claims. The Priest-King, a figure made of soapstone that is 6 inches (17 cm) tall and shows a bearded man with a headdress and an armband, is also a very impressive piece.

One of the most interesting things about the art is that what looks like a unicorn shows up on more than 60 percent of the personal seals. There are many different pictures on these seals, but Keay says that the unicorn is on 1156 of the 1755 seals and sealings found at mature Harappan sites. He also says that the seals have markings that have been interpreted as Indus Script. This suggests that the “writing” on the seals has a different meaning than the image. The “unicorn” might have been a person’s family, clan, city, or political group, and the “writing” might have been their personal information.

The theory of decline and Aryan invasion

There is no clear answer to the question of what the seals were, what the “unicorn” stood for, or how the people worshipped their gods. Likewise, there is no clear answer to the question of why the culture declined and died. Between about 1900 and 1500 BCE, people slowly stopped living in cities and moved south. As was said, there are a number of ideas about this, but none of them are perfect. One theory says that the Gaggar-Hakra River, which Vedic texts link to the Sarasvati River and which ran next to the Indus River, dried up around 1900 BCE, forcing many people who had lived near it to move. Sites like Mohenjo-daro that have a lot of silting suggest that there was a lot of flooding, which is given as another cause.

Another thing that could happen is a drop in trade goods that are needed. At the same time, both Mesopotamia and Egypt were having problems that could have stopped trade for a long time. The Late Harappan Period roughly coincides with the Middle Bronze Age in Mesopotamia (2119–1700 BCE), when the Sumerians, who traded a lot with the people of the Indus Valley, were trying to get rid of the Gutian invaders and the Babylonian king Hammurabi was taking over their city-states as he built up his empire. In Egypt, this time period corresponds to the end of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE), when the weak 13th Dynasty ruled just before the Hyksos came and the central government lost power and authority.

Theory of the Aryan Invasion

Western scholars had been translating and interpreting India’s Vedic literature for more than 200 years before Wheeler started digging. During that time, they came up with the idea that the subcontinent was once ruled by the Aryans, who brought high culture to the whole land. This theory grew slowly and at first in a good way. In 1786, an Anglo-Welsh philologist named Sir William Jones (who lived from 1746 to 1794 CE) wrote a book. Jones, who read a lot of Sanskrit, noticed that it had a lot in common with European languages. He thought that all languages must have come from the same place and called this place “Proto-Indo-European.”

Later, when Western scholars tried to find Jones’s “common source,” they came to the conclusion that from the north, somewhere around Europe, had conquered the lands to the south, especially India, establishing culture and spreading their language and customs,

Wheeler dug up the sites in the 1940s CE, these ideas had been floating around for well over 50 years. Before the 1960s, most scholars, writers, and academics didn’t realise that the word “Aryan” originally meant a group of people and had nothing to do with race. Archaeologist J. P. Mallory said that “as an ethnic designation, the word [Aryan] is most properly limited to the Indo-Iranians”. Early Iranians called themselves Aryans, which means “noble,” “free,” or “civilized.” This term was used for more than 2,000 years until European racists changed it to serve their own goals.

The Aryan Invasion Theory helped Wheeler figure out what the sites meant, and it also showed that the theory was right. The Aryans were known to have written the Vedas and other important works, but they arrived in the area too late for it to be true that they had built the impressive cities. It is possible, however, that they had destroyed them. Wheeler knew about the Aryan Invasion Theory, just like every other archaeologist at the time, and used it to explain what he found. By doing this, he gave the theory more credibility, which made it more popular and accepted.

The first known urban culture on the Indian subcontinent is the Indus civilization, often known as the Indus valley civilization or the Harappan civilization. Although the southern sites may have continued further until the second millennium bce, the nuclear dates of the civilization seem to be about 2500-1700 bce. The Indus civilization was the largest of the three early civilizations in the world (the other two are those of Mesopotamia and Egypt.

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