Indus Valley Civilization: Harappa & Mohenjo-Daro

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  • 0:01 A Mysterious Civilization
  • 1:26 Two Cities
  • 2:33 A Period of Peace and…
  • 5:12 A Mysterious Decline
  • 6:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore the mysterious Indus Valley civilization, which was located in modern Pakistan and reached its high point between about 2500 BCE and 1900 BCE.

A Mysterious Civilization

The Indus Valley civilization remained hidden for centuries, lost in the ravages of time, buried under mounds of rubble. Then, in the late 19th century, British workers building a railroad in what is today Pakistan found something unusual and extremely interesting. They uncovered an ancient city. After World War I, archaeologists descended upon the area and, throughout the 1920s, they excavated the city, discovered another city, and unearthed a whole network of towns and villages.

Historians call this discovery the Indus Valley civilization and tell us that it was founded about 3300 BCE, when some farming settlements grew into sophisticated cities. The civilization reached its peak about 2500 BCE and flourished until about 1900 BCE, when it began to decline. It disappeared by about 1500 BCE.

By looking at evidence buried for centuries, historians have discovered quite a bit about the Indus Valley civilization, but many mysteries still remain about daily life, types of government, religion, and even the civilization's decline. Perhaps one of these mysteries will be solved, but for now, let's focus on what we do know about this amazing culture.

Two Cities

The civilization appears to have been centered on two great cities that historians and archaeologists have named Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. These cities were built on high ground to prevent flooding from the Indus River and, in lower areas, buildings were actually raised up on high platforms. The cities' streets followed a rectangular grid, and mud brick houses, some of which had two or three stories and even an interior courtyard, lined the streets. The residents of many of these homes enjoyed running water and indoor plumbing that was connected to a city-wide sewer system.

The cities also featured a variety of public buildings, including citadels (perhaps the homes of the cities' rulers), public bathhouses, and even huge granaries for storing and grinding grain. Indeed, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were quite sophisticated and advanced for their era, and their residents seemed to be very concerned with cleanliness and public well-being.

A Period of Peace and Prosperity

The inhabitants of the Indus Valley civilization seem to have enjoyed a long period of peace and prosperity. Archaeologists have discovered little evidence of violence, military organizations, or war. Instead, they have uncovered some important clues about agricultural activities, trade, and administration. Let's take a look at each of these in turn.

Agriculture was highly important to the Indus Valley. Most people actually lived in small farming villages and focused their time and efforts on growing food to feed themselves and the residents of the cities. They grew wheat, barley, peas, and lentils; harvested many varieties of vegetables and fruit, including melons, dates, and grapes; and raised domestic animals like cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, and maybe even elephants. Hunting and fishing supplemented people's diets, and farmers developed irrigation systems to make good use of their water supply.

Indus Valley people seem to have been quite adept in the realm of trade, also. City residents made tradable goods like pottery, cotton cloth, and beads, and traders sold these as well as food in cities and villages throughout the civilization. Trade spread further abroad, too, and there is evidence that traders imported gold, silver, copper, lead, wood, and gemstones from as far away as China, Afghanistan, Persia, and Mesopotamia. Traders traveled short distances in wooden carts pulled by bulls, but for longer trips, they traveled by river and by sea.

The Indus Valley civilization seems to have developed a system of administration to keep track of its urban, agricultural, and trade activities. Archaeologists have discovered many samples of writing in the area, and while no one has been able to decipher this writing yet, scholars have noticed 400 to 600 different symbols.

Much of this writing appears in conjunction with the stone seals that archaeologists keep finding in the Indus Valley. These small, flat seals are usually oblong or square and feature pictures of animals like cattle, elephants, tigers, crocodiles, rhinoceros, and even unicorns. They were probably used to mark property, record the payment of taxes, or document administrative duties. So far, archaeologists have uncovered over 3,500 of these seals.

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