Indus Valley Civilization

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INDUS VALLEY CIVILIZATION Also referred to as the Harappa culture, the Indus Valley civilization was the earliest urban, state-level society in South Asia (2600–1900 b.c.) and was contemporaneous with state-level societies in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The core area for settlements of the Indus Civilization has been found in the alluvial plains of the Indus River and its tributaries, as well as along the now dry bed of the Sarasvati-Ghaggar-Hakra-Nara river system that flowed east of the Indus. This eastern river has many modern names but is thought to be associated with the ancient Sarasvati River mentioned in the Rig Veda. Settlements of the Indus Civilization were also established in the rich agricultural regions between the Ganga and the Yamuna rivers and throughout modern Gujarat. Because of its vast extent, the term "Greater Indus Valley" has come to be accepted by most scholars as representing the territories surrounding the Indus River that include sites of this civilization.

In some circles, a new name, the Indus-Sarasvati or Sarasvati civilization, has begun to appear, based on the unsubstantiated argument that a larger proportion of the ancient sites were situated along the bed of the now dry Sarasvati-Ghaggar-Hakra-Nara River. Although the Sarasvati mentioned in the Rig Veda and later Mahābhārata texts is said to be a major river flowing to the sea, with many large and populous cities along its banks, most sites along the dry river channel are relatively small, and even the few large ones are not as large as the major cities on the Indus or its tributaries. Furthermore, the only reason so many small sites have been discovered along the dry river channels is because the region was abandoned and there was very little sedimentation and site disturbance in later times. Most of the smaller settlements along the Indus were covered by flood sediments or buried by later historical villages and cities.

The total geographic area encompassed by sites associated with the Indus Valley civilization is over 262,500 square miles (680,000 sq. km) and includes most of modern Pakistan and parts of western India and northern Afghanistan. Indus artifacts have been found at sites in Oman and the Persian Gulf region, as well as in Iran, Iraq, and various Central Asian countries, such as Turkmenistan.

Origins and Chronology

The origins of the Indus civilization can be traced to the early Neolithic settlements such as Mehrgarh, located along the borders of the major alluvial plain of the Indus River, and subsequent Chalcolithic cultures that emerged at sites like Harappa, along the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra river systems. All of these communities appear to be descended from even earlier Paleolithic peoples living in the subcontinent and are not the result of migration from outside regions.

The chronology of the Indus civilization is now based primarily on radiocarbon dates, using charcoal or burned bone from hearths, and undisturbed stratigraphic levels. While the origin and decline of specific Indus sites varies slightly from one region to the next, excavations at the site of Harappa between 1986 and 2001 have provided more than 120 radiocarbon dates that can be used to define the chronology of this major urban center and surrounding regions of the northern Indus Valley. The early Ravi Phase (3500–2800 b.c.) corresponds to the Chalcolithic period, when agricultural settlements were established in the alluvial plains and regional cultures were emerging in different regions of the northern and western subcontinent. The subsequent Kot Diji Phase (2800–2600 b.c.) represents the culmination of regional cultures and the establishment of the first small urban centers. The Harappa Phase (2600–1900 b.c.) is the major period of urban expansion and corresponds to the Bronze Age in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Some scholars refer to the Harappa Phase, which lasts for over seven hundred years, as the Mature Harappan or Mature Indus period. This long time period can now be divided into three subphases on the basis of major rebuilding episodes and site expansion, as well as changes in artifact and writing styles. The Late Harappa Phase represents the final Indus occupation of the city. From 1900 to 1800 b.c. a transitional phase can be identified, during which pottery traditions, burial practices, and other cultural patterns began to change. What followed was a longer period of transformation and eventual decline that continued until around 1300 b.c. in the region around Harappa, but may have lasted as late as 1000 b.c. in other regions to the east.

Geography and Climate

The geographical setting of the Indus civilization includes the western plateau of Baluchistan and the piedmont zone along the western edge of the Indus. Resources of wood and minerals were obtained from the northern mountains of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Two major river systems, the Indus on the west and the Ghaggar-Hakra on the east, combined to create a vast area for grazing and a fertile alluvial plain for agriculture. This plain can be divided into two regions: the Punjab in the north has higher rainfall from both the summer monsoon and the winter rains; the region of Sind in the south is flatter and semiarid, with unpredictable rainfall. The eastern border of the civilization extended from the Yamuna and Ganga rivers in the north, to the Aravalli ranges and the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, eventually ending at the mouth of the Narmada River in south Gujarat. The coastal zone bordering the Arabian Sea extended from the rugged Makran hills in the west, through the Indus delta and the Greater and Lesser Rann of Kutch, to the Gulf of Khambhat in the southeast. The large island of Kutch, the peninsula of Saurasthra, and the coastal plains of north and south Gujarat represent several distinct geographical regions, but are generally included as part of the Greater Indus Valley region.

Two major climate systems dominate the greater Indus Valley. The southwest summer monsoon brings rain and floods from June to August, and the winter cyclonic

General Indus chronology based on radiocarbon dates from Harappa
SOURCE: Courtesy of author.
Period 1Ravi aspect of the Hakra Phase3500 b.c.–c. 2800 b.c.
Period 2Kot Diji (Early Harappa) Phasec. 2800 b.c.–c. 2600 b.c.
Period 3AHarappa Phase Ac. 2600 b.c.–c. 2450 b.c.
Period 3BHarappa Phase Bc. 2450 b.c.–c. 2200 b.c.
Period 3CHarappa Phase Cc. 2200 b.c.–c. 1900 b.c.
Period 4Harappa/Late Harappa Transitionalc. 1900 b.c.–c. 1800 b.c.
Period 5Late Harappa Phasec. 1800 b.c.–<1300 b.c.

system contributes snow in the higher elevations and light rains throughout the Punjab and sometimes into Sind. Snow melt in the spring results in major flooding, followed by the summer monsoon and more flooding.


Over 2,600 sites have been discovered, and they include major cities (250 to 500 acres, or 100–200 hectares) such as Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Dholavira, and Rakhigarhi, as well as smaller urban centers (125 to 250 acres, or 50–100 hectares) like Ganweriwala that are located along the major river systems. Regional towns (25 to 125 acres, or 10–50 hectares) such as Kalibangan and small towns (2 to 25 acres, or 5–10 hectares) like Lothal, Chanhudaro, and Banawali were situated along important tributaries or along major trade routes between the major cities. The hinterland was dotted with villages (2.5 to 12 acres, or 1–5 hectares) such as Kot Diji, Nausharo, Balakot, and Nageshwar, as well as small hamlets (2.5 acres, or 1 hectare) that may have been country estates like Allahdino or coastal outposts such as Surkotada.

Major features of Indus sites

Perimeter walls are found around most settlements, with gateways that allowed for the control of access into and out of the settlement. These walls were probably built for defensive purposes, as well as for control of trade and protection from floods. Standardized bricks with a thickness to width to length ratio of 1:2:4 are a diagnostic feature of the Indus civilization. All domestic and public architecture throughout the Indus Valley and adjacent regions used bricks with this same strict proportion. The standardization of brick size is probably the result of craft specialization, combined with the migration of kin-related masons and brick makers to sites throughout the region, rather than highly centralized state control as proposed by early scholars.

Main streets were not paved and generally range in width from 13 or 16 feet (4–5 m), which would allow two-way cart traffic. Large sewers, sometimes covered with limestone slabs, were placed along the side of major streets and eventually emptied through the main gateways or walls out onto the plain. Many of the large drains were covered with a corbelled arch to allow the drain to pass under streets, walls, or other buildings. Narrow side streets, 6 to 10 feet (2–3 m) wide for one-way cart traffic, led into the major neighborhoods, and smaller lanes for pedestrian traffic created an irregular network linking one house to another. Small drains leading from bathing areas and latrines fed into sump pits and larger drains on the main streets. Rectangular trash bins for dumping solid waste were often located along major streets and would have been cleaned out regularly by city maintenance workers.

Baked brick architecture using standardized bricks is seen at major cities and towns, while smaller settlements used baked brick only for drains, wells, and bathing platforms. Mud brick was used for platforms and smaller dividing walls. Stone architecture is seen in regional sites with locally available stone, and there is evidence for wood and reed architecture at all sites. Gateways and important administrative or ritual structures had columned entryways with large wooden columns set on stone ring bases.

House plans were quite varied with many different styles, but most had a central courtyard and surrounding rooms with a private entrance off the main street. Some houses did open out directly onto the street, and these may have been shops with domestic quarters in the back or on the second story. Most houses had separate bathing and toilet rooms located adjacent to the street. Bathing platforms were made with closely fitted bricks and had drains leading to street drain. Latrines were located next to the bathing area and consisted of reused large storage vessels buried up to the rim, with a few bricks set along one edge of the rim to allow a person to squat more comfortably. A large water vessel with water and a small dipper were often placed next to the commode for washing up after using the latrine.

Wells for providing clean drinking water are common at most Indus sites. Some sites had only one well, but larger cities needed more water, and at Mohenjo-Daro archaeologists have estimated that as many as seven hundred wells would have been scattered throughout the city. Wells were almost always made using specially designed wedge-shaped bricks (or stone at Dholavira) to create a strong cylindrical structure. Some settlements like Harappa had only a few wells and appear to have obtained water from the nearby river or large reservoirs constructed at the edges of the city. Reservoirs found at Lothal and Dholavira were lined with brick or stone with gypsum plaster to make them waterproof. Catchment drains for collecting water to fill reservoirs are found at the site of Dholavira and were separate from the sewerage drains. Drainage channels were constructed at sites like Dholavira and Lothal for directing river flow into the reservoirs.

Public areas for markets are found in front or inside the major gateways and in various neighborhoods at large sites. Large buildings were discovered at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa that may have been used for public rituals, or by centralized administrators, but there is still much controversy regarding their precise function due to the lack of proper excavation and precise recording during the early excavations. The so-called Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro may have been used for ritual public bathing, and the large building next to it may have been the foundation of a large hall or possibly even a palace. This building has been commonly referred to as the "Granary," but there is no evidence that it was used to store grain or any other produce.

Specialized architecture has been found at Mohenjo-Daro that may represent a meeting hall and a dyer's shop or laundry; a large building complex with a double staircase entryway may be a palace or temple. At Harappa circular brick platforms were discovered that excavators thought were used for processing grain, but recent excavations do not support this interpretation.

Indus Writing

The Indus script appears to have been developed indigenously and was not borrowed from West Asia. It has its foundation in early written symbols dating to the Ravi Phase (3500–3300 b.c.) at the site of Harappa and at approximately the same time from other sites in the greater Indus Valley region. This script became more standardized during the Kot Diji Phase (c. 2800–2600 b.c.) into what can be called the Early Indus script. By 2600 b.c. a fully developed Indus script was being used throughout the Indus Valley in an area that was twice the size of ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt.

The Indus script was usually written from right to left. This is confirmed through an analysis of sign sequences carved on seals and on the basis of writing on pottery shards that shows the sequence of strokes. More than 4,200 objects containing Indus script have been discovered, and most of these come from the sites of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (over 3,700). Scholars have defined between 400 and 450 distinct Indus script signs or graphemes. Most scholars agree that the writing is based on a logo-syllabic system in which each sign means a word, a syllable, or a sound. However, some signs appear to represent pictographs (of a man or a fish, and so on) and when used alone they might represent an idea or an entire story. The use of ideographs with a logo-syllabic writing system suggests that there were many different ways of using the writing.

The Indus writing has not yet been deciphered, and there is no hope of a breakthrough until a bilingual text or longer inscriptions with Indus script have been discovered. Because the script was no longer used after 1900 b.c., it is not possible to connect it to later writing systems and known historical languages. Dravidian languages are now spoken primarily in South India, but some of the place names and river names, such as the Nara and Porali rivers in Sindh and Baluchistan, may represent Dravidian or Mundari (Austro-Asiatic) languages. Indo-Aryan languages may have been present in the northern Indus region and Baluchistan, while Sino-Tibetan languages may have been spoken in the far north at sites such as Shortughai. Remnants of earlier Neolithic languages that have no relation to any of the four major modern language families also may have been present in the region. Since urban centers are by their very nature places where people from different cultures come together, it would not be surprising to have many different language speakers present in the cities. As was common in Mesopotamia and Egypt, traders and elites from each group could have used the same writing system for inscribing their names or words for commodities. Words and names from any one of these four or five language families may have been written in the Indus script during the seven hundred years when the script was being used.

The production of seals and tablets was a highly specialized craft that was strictly controlled by the elite traders and rulers of the cities. New research at Harappa has been able to provide a new chronology for the writing and to better define the wide range of contexts in which the writing was used by literate elites. The script is found on square seals made of stone, engraved with symbols and animal motifs. The most common animal on the seals is a mythical unicorn, while other seals are carved with a bull, an elephant, or even a rhinoceros. Seals were used to stamp into clay sealings on goods to document and control trade, and also possibly for ritual purposes. Steatite and terra-cotta tokens include script and what appear to be numbers. Some of these tokens may have been used for accounting, and others appear to have been used for ritual purposes. Script is found inscribed on clay lumps that were used as sealings to lock storehouses. Merchants incised messages directly on large jars filled with trade goods to indicate the contents or the destination. Script was also painted or molded on pottery to define ownership or for ritual purposes. Examples of script have been found on tools and personal items that may indicate personal identification or ritual protection. Writing was also used in combination with narrative depictions of myths and religious ceremonies, possibly identifying the main characters or deities, or the name of the ritual. At the two largest cities, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, distinctive copper tablets with script and animal motifs may be the earliest evidence for city coinage in South Asia, a thousand years before the introduction of stamp-marked silver coins of the Achaemenid Empire.

Most inscriptions are only five to seven signs long and are very small, ranging in size from .4 to .8 inches (1 to 2 centimeters) in height. However, one example of what appears to be a public signboard has been discovered in a side room of the major northern gateway on the citadel mound at Dholavira. Made with white gypsum inlay, the signboard had ten script signs that are around 14 inches (37 centimeters) high and 10 inches (26 centimeters) wide. The board may have been mounted above the gateway for all to see, but this does not mean that everyone in the city was literate. The distribution of seals and writing in distinct areas of Harappa suggests that only certain segments of the population had seals and that, even though writing was found on artifacts throughout the city, the production of seals and the use of writing were restricted to the elites.

Sociopolitical Organization

Scholars are currently divided on how to best describe the political organization of the Indus cities. Although most agree on the presence of a highly stratified social organization and the presence of multiple urban centers, some feel that these cities were not organized as state-level societies but were basically large chiefdoms. The main argument for chiefdom society is that no large central buildings that could represent temples, palaces, or administrative structures have been identified. Another argument is that there are no royal burials, which are a common feature in the early states of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. The opposite position, which is supported by most scholars, is that the Indus was organized as a state-level society, but that it had a decentralized political and ideological organization.

In this model, several competing classes of elites dominated the four or five major cities. In the course of seven hundred years, different individuals and communities would have been dominant, but no single community was able to rule long enough to establish a high degree of centralization. Merchants, ritual specialists, and individuals who owned resources such as land, livestock, and raw materials would have maintained different levels of control in different regions. These communities shared a common ideology and a standardized economic system and used a common script. In contrast to the large cities, the smaller settlements, which included more agriculturalists and herders, may have been less rigidly stratified and segregated than the larger cities. The largest cities, such as Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Dholavira, and Rakhigarhi, may have been relatively independent city-states with direct political control over their immediate hinterland. Trade and exchange of important socio-ritual status items demonstrate that the cities and villages were politically and economically integrated, and they therefore appear to be integrated on a general ideological level as well.

There is no evidence for the presence of a military or the use of warfare in the integration of the hinterland around the major cities. In contrast to the patterns seen in Mesopotamia and Egypt, there are no depictions of people being captured, attacked, or subjugated. Even though large city walls with impressive gateways surrounded all of the major settlements, there is no evidence that these walled cities were ever attacked or burned. The city walls and gateways were probably guarded by armed watchmen, and the discovery of bronze arrow heads, spears, and daggers indicate that they had the technological capability to protect themselves against bandits and raiders, as well as to wage warfare. The absence of conclusive data for warfare does not support a model for a peaceful civilization, and it is not unlikely that there were occasional battles and violent conflicts.

Indus Religion and Belief Systems

Without the aid of written texts it is difficult to reconstruct the Indus religion. They made clay figurines of animals, men, and women that probably were used in special rituals. Some of the female figurines are thought to represent Mother Goddess images, while others are possibly toys for children. Soft limestone was used to carve small sculptures of deities or important people such as the famous "Priest-King" found at Mohenjo-Daro. Harder stone was carved into nude male sculptures that have been found at the site of Harappa. These images were probably used in special domestic rituals to represent deities.

Many of the seals have narrative scenes that appear to represent ceremonies and mythological scenes. One famous seal from Mohenjo-Daro shows a deity with horned headdress and bangles on both arms, standing in a pipal (sacred fig) tree. Seven figures in procession and a kneeling worshiper sit before the deity, with a human head resting on a small stool. Since no temples have been identified, it is possible that worship took place under trees as depicted on this seal. Some terra-cotta tablets have narrative scenes stamped on both sides. At Harappa, one such tablet shows a figure, possibly a female deity, grasping two tigers by the throat and standing above an elephant. On the reverse is a narrative scene depicting the killing of a water buffalo in the presence of a priest or deity seated in yogic position. Such narrative scenes indicate the presence of a highly developed mythology and iconography, and similar motifs are widespread at sites throughout the larger Indus region. Some of the iconography seen on Indus seals and the use of specific symbols, such as the swastika and mandalas, were incorporated into later Vedic, Brahmanical, Jain, and Buddhist religious traditions. Even though there is no direct historical connection, some Indus symbols and narratives do appear to have been incorporated into religious traditions that are today collectively referred to as Hinduism. For example, the famous seal from Mohenjo-Daro with a horned deity seated in yogic position surrounded by wild animals has often been compared to later Hindu representations of Siva as "Lord of the Beasts."

The Indus people buried their dead in wooden coffins along with many pottery vessels that were probably filled with food for the afterlife. Most individuals, both male and female, were buried with some simple ornaments, such as shell bangles or copper rings and agate beads. Elaborate ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones were never included in the burials and must have been inherited by the living relatives. No royal burials have been found.

Trade and Technology

The Indus cities were connected with rural agricultural communities and distant resource and mining areas through strong trade networks. They used pack animals, riverboats, and bullock carts for transport. This trade is reflected in the widespread distribution of exquisite beads and ornaments, metal tools, and pottery that were produced by specialized artisans in the major towns and cities. Cotton, lumber, grain, livestock, and other foodstuffs were probably the major commodities of this internal trade. There was also external trade with Central Asia and Iran by overland routes. Trade with the Arabian Gulf region and the distant Mesopotamian cities, such as Susa and Ur, was conducted by sea and may have been dominated by middlemen living along the Indus coast or Oman.

Indus artisans produced a wide range of utilitarian and decorative objects using specialized techniques of stone working, ceramics, and metallurgy. They did not erect stone sculptures to glorify the power of the elites, and most of the art and symbolic objects were relatively small and in many cases even made in miniature. Objects made with exotic materials and complex technologies were probably produced for the wealthy merchants and the ruling classes, while more simple objects made with local materials and simple technology were presumably for ordinary people. Ranking or stratification within the society as a whole appears to have been reinforced by the use of various raw materials and manufacturing processes that resulted in finished objects with different relative values.

Pottery with a red slip and black painted designs were made in all the major settlements for use in rituals and possibly in marriage ceremonies. Motifs on the pottery are usually arranged in panels and include the intersecting circle, fish-scale, and pipal leaf design, combined with floral and geometric patterns, as well as animals and birds. Plain pottery was produced for everyday use, including disposable goblets with pointed bases that were common in the major cities. Copper and bronze were used to make ornaments, tools, mirrors, pots, and pans. Bone, shell, and ivory were used to make tools, ornaments, gaming pieces, and especially inlay for furniture. Silver and gold utensils and ornaments and fine ceramic objects, such as stoneware bangles and glazed faience ornaments, also were produced. The glazed faience of the Indus is much stronger and more durable than terra-cotta and was used to make beads, bangles, buttons, inlay, and small vessels for holding pigments or perfume. Natural stones were prepared in specific ways to enhance their color and accentuate the natural patterns of the stone. Artificially colored stone, faience, and painted terra-cotta ornaments were created as imitations of the natural stones.

Evidence for wool and cotton textiles is found preserved on copper tools and reveals the presence of a well-developed spinning and weaving tradition. Recent analysis of threads preserved inside copper beads suggests that wild tussar silk was also being used. The textile industry would have been an important source of wealth to large cities that could maintain extensive cotton fields and large numbers of craftsmen and -women.


The Indus rulers and merchants developed and maintained a highly standardized weight system for taxation and control of trade in specific commodities. Cubical stone weights were usually made from a special type of banded chert or agate and range in weight up to 24 pounds (10,865.0 grams). The smaller weights were probably used in the weighing of precious stones, metals, and perfumes or incense, while the larger weights may have been used for assessing the taxes for larger quantities of grain, foodstuffs, and other commodities. Each graduated weight is double the weight of the previous weight category. These distinctive weights have been found at all settlements of the Indus region as well as in settlements on the periphery, where Indus merchants may have obtained raw materials or traded finished products.

Agriculture and Animal Husbandry

The Indus subsistence system was highly diverse due to the many different environments in which people lived. Wheat and barley cultivation, supplemented by animal husbandry, was the foundation of the urban centers in the core alluvial regions, but millets and possibly rice were cultivated in Gujarat. Animal husbandry was dominated by humped zebu (Bos indicus) cattle, but also included non-humped cattle (Bos taurus), water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), sheep, and goats. Fishing, hunting of wild fauna, and the collection of wild fruits supplemented the major crops and animal foods. Wheat and barley agriculture was practiced primarily during the winter growing season, and crops such as cotton and millet were probably cultivated after the summer monsoon. The presence of two growing seasons made it possible to create enough surpluses to support large cities and trade networks.

Due to the nature of the topography and the intensity of floods along the Indus and its tributaries, it was not possible to maintain major canals for irrigation. Most cultivation in the alluvium was based on adequate rainfall and opportunistic agriculture where crops could be planted along the banks of oxbow lakes and slower streams. Along the piedmont zone of Baluchistan, some Indus settlements constructed diversion canals for directing floodwaters to fields, and there is some evidence for the construction of small irrigation canals near the site of Shortughai in northern Afghanistan.

Decline and Legacy

Around 1900 b.c. there is evidence for a transitional phase during which many characteristic features of the Indus civilization begin to fall out of use. This transition represents a reorganization of power among the ruling elites of the Indus cities, but does not reflect the intrusion of new people or the invasions of Indo-Aryans, as has been proposed in the past. The Indus script and square seals with unicorn and other animal motifs gradually disappeared. Cubical weights for taxation and trade were no longer used, possibly because the major trade networks began to break down.

Different factors leading to the decline and reorganization of the Indus civilization have been identified. The overextension of political and trade networks led to eventual fragmentation. In addition, the lack of a military to reinforce integration would have had a direct impact on political and economic organization. The Sarasvati-Ghaggar-Hakra river system in the east began to dry up, and the changing river systems disrupted the agricultural and economic system. Eastern communities began to gradually migrate to the larger urban centers along the Indus or into new agricultural areas of the Gangetic Plain and Gujarat. The processes involved in this transformation were more rapid in some areas, but by around 1300 to 1000 b.c. a new social order emerged, dominated by Vedic communities who used horses for ritual sacrifice and warfare, spoke Indo-Aryan languages, and worshiped new deities.

Although certain distinguishing aspects of the Indus civilization disappeared, many other aspects of Indus craft technology, art, agriculture, and possibly social organization continued among the Late and post-Harappan cultures. These cultural traditions eventually became incorporated in the new urban civilization that arose during the Early Historical period, around 600 b.c.

Jonathan Mark Kenoyer

See alsoChalcolithic (Bronze) Age ; Goddess Images ; Harappa ; Mohenjo-Daro


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HARAPPA The Indus Civilization was first discovered in the course of exploratory excavations at Harappa by Alexander Cunningham in 1856 and 1872. Major excavations between 1920 and 1934, directed by Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni and Madho Sarup Vats, found that the site had been badly looted of bricks, but important inscribed seals, architecture, figurines, and sculptures were discovered that have contributed greatly to our understanding of Indus culture. Subsequently, numerous excavations were conducted by different officers of the Archaeological Survey of India and, after 1947, by the Pakistan Department of Archaeology and Museums.

Harappa is situated on a low Pleistocene terrace between two major tributaries of the Indus River, the Ravi and the ancient Beas (now the Sutlej). One-third of the ancient site is occupied by the modern city of Harappa, which is still an important regional center for agriculture and craft production. Harappa was connected by trade to Mohenjo-Daro in the south, as well as to distant regions such as Central Asia, the Persian Gulf, and Mesopotamia.

Although this is the type-site for the Harappa culture, most of the popular focus shifted to Mohenjo-Daro, where spectacular architectural remains were well preserved. Nevertheless, Harappa's most important contribution is that it is the only major city that has revealed the full sequence of occupation, beginning from the earliest farming village to the rise and eventual decline of the city. The mounded ruins of ancient Harappa consist of three large walled sectors and several smaller suburbs that cover approximately .6 square miles (150 hectares). The original settlement was probably a single village during the earliest part of the Ravi Phase, around 3500 b.c. As it grew in size, it split into two sections, and by the Kot Diji Phase (2800–2600 b.c.) there is evidence for two distinct mounds that appear to have been surrounded by separate mud-brick perimeter walls. During the Harappa Phase (2600–1900 b.c.), these walled areas were enlarged, and new perimeter walls were built to enclose each sector of the urban center. Gateways at strategic locations in the walls allowed the dominant elites in each sector to control access into and out of their neighborhoods. Economic as well as political competition probably stimulated the continuing expansion of the site during the 700 years of the Harappa Phase. Three periods of settlement growth and expansion can be defined, and these are associated with the construction of new suburbs, changes in seals and writing, new pottery forms, specialized crafts, and changing trade networks.

Excavations in the walled suburb of Mound F have revealed some of the most famous structures at the site, dating from the middle and latter part of the Harappa Phase. Discoveries of a large furnace for firing pottery, a hoard of copper tools, and a hoard of jewelry suggest that prosperous merchants and craftsmen inhabited this part of the site. The so-called granary was built around 2450 to 2200 b.c. on a massive mud-brick foundation over 164 feet (50 m) north-south and 131 feet (40 m) east-west. There is no evidence that this structure was used for storing grain or other commodities. Almost two hundred years later, we see the construction of circular brick platforms that were thought to have been used for husking grain, but re-examination of these circular platforms has not uncovered any evidence of grain or chaff. Another important set of buildings, constructed around the same time as the circular platforms, appear to have been constructed with identical floor plans and orientation as part of a housing project. Although originally referred to as workmen's quarters, these houses are substantial brick structures that could have housed merchants and traders.

During the Late Harappa Phase (1900–1300 b.c.), some areas of the city were overcrowded, possibly as a result of refugees from regions to the east, where the Sarasvati-Ghaggar-Hakra River was beginning to dry up. Harappa is the only excavated Indus site where there is strong evidence demonstrating the gradual transition from the Harappa to the Late Harappa Phase. Continuities in some technologies and art styles and changes in other aspects of technology indicate that the transition was neither abrupt nor the result of replacement by new people. However, in the end there was a major change in religion, and the Harappan extended burials were replaced by pot burials that contained the secondary burial of long bones and skulls. We know from later Vedic texts that the people who came after the Harappans spoke an Indo-Aryan language and practiced a very different religion. After the Late Harappan period, the region was not abandoned, but the upper levels of the site were destroyed, and fragments of Gupta brick architecture and sculpture dating to around a.d. 320 to 454 are all that remains of what must have been a very large Early Historic city.

Jonathan Mark Kenoyer

See alsoIndus Valley Civilization ; Mohenjo-Daro


Kenoyer, Jonathan Mark. Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Meadow, Richard H., and Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. "Excavations at Harappa 1993: The City Walls and Inscribed Materials." In South Asian Archaeology 1993, edited by A. Parpola and P. Koskikallio. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1994.

——. "Excavations at Harappa 1994–1995: New Perspectives on the Indus Script, Craft Activities, and City Organization." In South Asian Archaeology 1995, edited by B. Allchin and R. Allchin. New Delhi: Oxford and IBH Publishing, 1997.

Possehl, Gregory L. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2002.

Indus Valley civilization

views updated May 23 2018

Indus Valley civilization. Early civilization, known especially through the excavations of Harappā and Mohenjodaro (both now in Pakistan), the religious characteristics of which continued into Vedic religion after the Āryan invasion. The civilization lasted c.2300–1750 BCE. The reconstruction of the religious beliefs is based mainly on the figures and images, and on scenes depicted on seals; the script has not been deciphered in a way that has met with universal assent. The worship of the Mother Goddess was prominent, in association with the tree of fertility.


views updated May 23 2018

Harappā. Archaeological site and modern name of a city of the Indus Valley civilization, on the left bank of the Rāvī River in the Pañjāb, in what is now Pakistan. Harappā was the first of two major Indus Valley cities to be discovered by archaeologists; hence the Indus Valley civilization is designated the ‘Harappā culture’. The site of Harappā was first excavated, 1924–1931, and again after the Second World War.