Have you heard about the ancient Indus valley cities? Well, you probably heard about Mohenjo Daro and Harappan civilization. These cities combine to claim the throne of the oldest civilization developed by humanity!
Indus valley civilization was a bronze age civilization in modern-day Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Scientists have found 1400 archaeological sites, among which 900 are in India.
Although Harappa city was discovered first in 1829 by James Lewis, he didn’t understand that the city was part of a huge ancient civilization. So, we only understood the vast range of the civilization in the 1920s when John Marshall, then ASI director, and other Indian archaeologists surveyed the Ancient ruins of Harappa.
However, we still know less about the Indus valley civilization than the Egyptian or Mesopotamian civilizations. There are still some mysteries about the largest ancient civilization. So, let us talk about that!
The language of the Indus Valley
When we consider other ancient civilizations, we know their language and understand their writing system. This clues how civilization worked, social systems, and culture.
However, the Indus Valley civilization’s writing system is still cracked! We don’t know what they mean or how they wrote! Since the 1920s, at least 100 documented attempts have been made to understand the Harappan language.
Scientists have found more than 4000 artifacts with writings on them in Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, and other Indus valley cities. But we still haven’t figured out what the symbols in their language mean.
All we know about their language is that they used a logosyllabic script like hieroglyphs to write their language, and they wrote from right to left, like Arabic. Scientists have collected small Indus valley seals with animal engravings and some symbols written on them.
But we are still searching for a Rosetta Stone-like artifact that will guide us through the language. Without something to compare the language to, we don’t even know if the language was Dravidian or Proto Tamil or some other language! This is a huge mystery of the Indus river valley.
The Age of the Indus Cities
When we think about ancient civilizations, we think of Mesopotamian, Egyptian, or Chinese civilizations. However, the discovery of Harappa in South Asia changed all that. From the earlier excavations, we know that the city of Harappa was at least 4500 years old!
It was common knowledge that the Sumerian or Mesopotamian civilization was the oldest. However, ASI and IIT Kharagpur researchers revealed that the civilization could be about 8000 years old! Their archaeological survey found pottery and other evidence of farming settlements dating back about 7500-8500 years ago!
The ancient agricultural settlements found in today’s Haryana state in India could have been established as early as 7000 BC! Although not many cities were established back then, the study found agricultural tools, pottery, toys, and other artifacts.
That’s why the period between 7000 BC to 5500 BC is called the Pre-Harappan period. Archaeologists now understand that urbanization in the Indus valley civilization began only after 5500 BC. That is still 7500 years ago!
So, how old is the actual civilization, and which is the oldest in the world? We can not say for concrete!
Society and Religion of The Indus Civilization
You must think that after decades of excavations, we should at least know the religion or their other cultural hierarchies. However, it is intriguing that we don’t know anything about monarchs, priests, temples, palaces, or anything!
However, some scholars believe that the Indus valley people were proto-Hindus. The seals in Harappan culture and Mohenjo Daro somewhat resemble Yoga, A great male God, and a mother Goddess.
We also know that cattle greatly influenced the Indus valley civilization cities. But, Even though archaeological cities show that the civilization possessed the necessary engineering skills, the Indus Valley lacks any massive palaces.
This means that religious ceremonies, if they occurred, were likely limited to individual homes, modest temples, or the open air. Only the great bath at Mohenjo Daro is widely accepted as a ritual bath place.
Also, we don’t know if the IVC society had any monarchs or priests. Because no palaces or temples have been found, it is speculated that the Indus region had no centralized ruler. Rather it was ruled by some combined rule of the city dwellers!
This is a type of culture that is unheard of in early civilizations. Other ancient cities like Sumer had a king or ruler of some sort, and most were kept under the law, like the Code of Hammurabi.
So, this mystery is yet to be resolved and can only be answered if we decipher the Indus valley script.
Urban Systems Of the Ancient Indus Systems
All the Indus valley sites lie alongside the Indus river basin; cities like Harappa and Mohenjo Daro are directly beside the Indus river today, whereas other cities like Kalibangan, Ganeriwala, Larkana, Rupnagar, etc., are alongside other smaller rivers in the Indian subcontinent.
The cities had amazing urban planning and water and drainage facilities. Take, for example, the archaeological site of Kalibangan in Rajasthan, where we discovered evidence of the world’s first plowed field. Or Rakhigarh in Haryana exhibits the same extraordinary urban planning — vast roadways and a well-organized drainage system — that characterizes this ancient civilization.
Also, Dholavira in Gujarat had reservoirs that gave us a compelling look into how sophisticated their water supply was. In addition, a step-well nearly twice the capacity of the Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro has been unearthed.
Harappa also reveals information about the scope of the trading routes, as seashells, beads, and stones unearthed from the area were unavailable locally. An astonishing discovery, however, is of a trading station located at Shortugai, near the Oxus river, close to the northern boundary of modern Afghanistan!
Lapis lazuli was quarried here and transported to the Indus River valley, as well as transported as far away as Sumeria. A thriving trade needs a consistent system of scales and measurements. We also found evidence of a centralized measuring system in IVC.
But, unlike most other ancient cultures, there is no trace of an organized military, and we are yet to unearth the great castles and combat murals that were a feature of Assyrian and Mesopotamian civilizations.
The Decline of the Indus Valley Civilization
After all these years of research, we still don’t know how the Indus valley civilization declined! Although there is an indication of invasion, it seems improbable that this was the primary cause. Furthermore, climate change appears to be the culprit in history, triggering droughts that caused mass migration that resulted in the breakdown of order and, eventually, civilization itself.
Some scientists claim that the drying of the Saraswati River, which began about 4000 years ago, was the reason behind climate change, whereas others think that a large flood hit the area. Research by the IIT Kharagpur suggests that the droughts during this period could have lasted as long as 800 years!
Various cultural aspects of the Harappan civilization are still found in later Indian and Central Asian cultures, which indicates that the empire did not fall because of an outside attack suddenly. Many researchers believe that shifts in river systems caused the big society to disintegrate into smaller settlements known as the late Harappan societies.
The environment in the Indus valley civilization had become cooler and drier by 1800 BCE, and natural events may well have changed the river systems that were the anchors of the Indus Valley civilization. The Harappans might have traveled to the Ganges valley, where they might have constructed towns and scattered farms.
These small villages and farms would not be capable of producing the same high yields that large cities like Mohenjo Daro require. Commerce with Mesopotamia and Egypt would have suffered because of diminished product output. By approximately 3700 years ago, most of the towns of the Harappan culture had been deserted, leading to the Indus valley civilization’s demise!
I feel very interested in human history. The thrill of learning about ancient Egypt, the middle east, northwest India, or China is unmatched! If you can, try to visit any major Indus valley site and learn something about the culture and rich history.
The earliest civilizations have paved the way for modern civilization to grow. We would not be here without them. So, it is our duty to learn and teach about the ancient world.