It was in 1826, that a British Army deserter, posing as an American engineer named Charles Masson, recorded the existence of mounded ruins at a small town in the Punjab, Pakistan. The Punjab came under British control after 1849, and with the building of canals, roads and bridges, it became one of the most prosperous agricultural provinces of the empire. Archeological surveys undertaken in the mid-1800s led to the assumption that as the mounds were remnants of a recent culture it would be okay for the engineers constructing the Lahore-Multan railroad used brick from the Harappa ruins for track ballast. The bricks taken from the site were more than enough to furnish 100 miles of railway track, testifying to the scale of the buildings that existed there.
In 1919, the site of what turned out to be another important city, Mohenjo-daro, was visited by an Indian archeologist who found items indicating the place was very old and likely very large. Major excavations were carried out at separate periods from the 20s to the 60s when they were banned due to weathering damage to the newly exposed structures. In recent years less invasive methods have been used to gather further information.
Thousands of years ago (as of last year determined by geologic survey and modern dating methods to be at least eight thousand years) the Indus Valley civilization was larger than the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia combined. Many of its sprawling cities were located on the banks of rivers that still flow through Pakistan and India today. This culture once extended over more than 386,000 square miles (1 million square kilometers) across the plains of the Indus River from the Arabian Sea to the Ganges, and at its peak may have accounted for 10 percent of the world population. The cities were so sophisticated and well-planned, that many archaeologists believe they were conceived as a whole before construction on them begun. Lothar, a port city found in the 1950s, has the earliest known shipping docks.
The Indus script is made up of partially pictographic signs and various human and animal motifs that have been found inscribed on miniature steatite seals, terracotta tablets and occasionally on metal. As none found have been longer than 26 characters decoding them has proven impossible so far.
Well-planned street grids and elaborate drainage systems hint that the occupants of the ancient Indus civilization cities were skilled urban planners who gave importance to the management of water. Wells have also been found throughout the cities, and nearly every house contained a clearly marked bathing area and a covered drainage system. The houses were thick walled with tall ceilings to help keep them cool; flat roofs, latticed windows, and gardens were part of every home. Archeologists found a large pool surrounded by the remains of small bathing chambers on the upper level of Mohenjo-daro that may have held religious significance. It was so well sealed that it could be filled with water even today.
The civilization's prosperity and stature are evident in the artefacts, like beads, jewelry, and pottery recovered from almost every house, as well as the baked-brick city structures themselves. It appears not everyone was rich but even the poor probably got enough to eat. The cities lack ostentatious buildings like palaces and temples, and there is no obvious central seat of government or evidence of a ruler. Also, the lack of many weapons shows that the Indus people had few enemies and that they preferred to live in peace.
Farmers, traders, and craftspeople, the most commonly found artefact in the Indus Valley civilization is jewelry. Both men and women adorned themselves with a large variety of ornaments produced from every conceivable material ranging from precious metals and gemstones to bone and baked clay. Excavated dyeing facilities indicate that cotton was probably dyed in a variety of colours (although there is only one surviving fragment of coloured cloth).
Archaeologists have long wondered about the sudden decline of the Indus Valley civilization. There is no convincing evidence that any city was ever burned, severely flooded, besieged by an army, or taken over by force from within. It’s more likely that the cities collapsed after natural disasters or after rivers like Indus and Ghaghra-Hakkar changed their course and the Sarasvati dried out.
I've been fascinated by history for most of my life and deep history has enthralled me these past years as more discoveries have been made and disseminated. The subject of the Indus Valley civilization is very big and much more complex than a small blog post allows. I've even had trouble choosing just a few photos and imagined illustrations of the period to show here for the simple reason there are so many. I hope you'll be interested in looking at some of the links or checking out the subject for yourself. If you do you'll find that it's also a contentious issue because of continuing political, religious, and caste-class issues.
There is one last thing I'd like to mention before I finish and that's the fact that at the Last Global Maximum (21 thousand years ago) of the most recent Ice Age coastal sea levels around the world were 400 feet lower than they are today. 10 thousand years ago, when the enormous glaciers began to melt, it's very likely that a number of places where people lived may have been inundated by sudden overwhelming floods. Considering the areas in red on this map were once dry land it's easy to see the Indus Valley was much larger then than now, a fact that opens many possibilities about origins.
When it's hard to think about the future there's some comfort in imagining the past - at least for me..