Week 16: Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilization

I. History of Rediscovery of the Indus Valley Civiliza-
A. Indus Civilization collapsed before the composition
of the hymns collected in the Rigveda, the oldest
historical document of India (1200 B.C.).

B. Several seals discovered and published in mid &
late 19th century from Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa:
script "clearly not Indian."

C. In the years 1914-1920 two expeditions began work
at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, and in 1924 Sir John
Marshall announced to the world the discovery of a
forgotten civilization; launched a decade of inten-
sive excavations. Now more than 1,000 settlements
of Indus civilization known across an area of 1.25
million sq km, bigger than that of Egypt or 3rd-mil-
lenium-BC Mesopotamian empires.
II. The Region (1000 miles NW-SE & 750 miles along Arabian Sea)
A. North: Punjab; highlands, relatively high rainfall,
site of Harappa)

B. South: Sind; very hot & arid, agriculture restricted
to irrigated lands along river bottoms; site of

C. Delta of Indus & coast; port city of Lothal in Gujarat
Plain at SE margin of Harappan area
III. The pre-Harappan sequence
A. First settled village life at sites like Mehrgahr as
early as 6500 B.C. ; has a pre-ceramic but agricul-
tural component (cattle, sheep, goat, barley). Small,
four-sided houses, some of air-dried mud brick.
Later ceramic component (5000 BC) has wheat,
cotton (probably first domesticated in Indus), brick 
structures & brick-lined burials; clay models of
humans; copper (not widespread till after 4000 BC);
conch shell from the Arabian Sea, & turquoise &
lapis-lazuli (from Iran & Arghanistan). Mehrgahr
now covers several ha and included large granaries; 
Cotton suggests at least some irrigation.

B. "Regionalization Era": between 5000 & 2600 BC
village farming and cattle pastoralism spread
throughout Indus Basin; fancy burnished, incised,
& painted ceramics appear after 4000 BC. First seals
appear soon after, made of clay, stone, & bone,
mostly with geometric motifs, but some with ab-
stract symbols that may indicate person's name or a
vessel's content.

C. Settlements such as Kot Diji and Harappa appar-
ently founded late 4th millenium B.C. ("Early In-
dus"); these may be ultimately West Asian popu-
lations who had been in S. Asia since 6000-4500 BC,
possibly spoke a language related to proto-Elamite,
& the ancestor of modern Dravidian languages.
["Mounted Nomads of the Steppe" (Aryans) appar-
ently arrive in late 2nd millenium B.C. with I-E
language.] Potter's marks begin to be found on un-
painted ceramic vessel bases 3600 BC & may con-
tribute to development of later script.
IV. Phenomenal period of population growth from 2600
BC-2000 BC in Indus region resulting in 4-tiered
settlement hierarchy with 4 true cities, including
Mohenjo-Daro and Harrappa. Sequence at Harappa,
based on recent excavations:
A. Settlement on natural plain ca. 3200 B.C., covered
with thick marshy forests and flood-plain with
semi-arid shrubs; earliest settlement found under
Mound E, on high land in midst of a rich alluvial
plain. Economic basis is cattle pastoralism and
grain and cotton agriculture. Increased uniformity
within greater Indus area and demise of regional

B. Massive mud-brick walls built ca. 2550 B.C., which
is also the best date for the major emergence of
Indus Valley polities, the use of writing, weights,
Harappan-type ceramic designs, etc. Many towns
exhibit burning just before this. Habitation areas
constructed along grid of streets running N-S, E-W.
Segregated areas for habitation & craft activities es-
tablished. Maritime trade across Gulf of Oman &
Persian Gulf towards west established or greatly

C. Site reached maximum size 2300-1900 B.C. Great
fortified N-S aligned "citadel" built or enlarged at
this time on platform 400 x 200 x 7 m; platform
would have taken several years to construct even
with 15-20K people working on it. Surrounded by
massive walls. Features include:
1. 9-m-wide N-S avenue
2. Great Bath surrounded by colonnaded halls,
flanked on east by 8 small rooms
3. Granary to west of GB that once supported large
timber structure, underlain by grid of air ducts
4. "The College" NE of Granary, large complex of
rooms & courtyards; served as palace or admini-
strative center?
D. Decline apparently abrupt after 1900 B.C. Last con-
struction at Mohenjo-daro (1900-1800 BC is of poor-
ly constructed huts of used & often broken bricks;
kilns built in middle of streets; painted pottery dis-
appears; steatite seals w/Indus script give way to
seals bearing geometrical motifs such as the swas-
tika; groups of unburied skeletons (death from mal-
aria?) Floods, invasion, earthquakes, droughts have
all been invoked as causal factors. Focus of civili-
zation shifted to Ganges Plain to the east, away
from wheat, and towards rice cultivation.

E. Distinguishing characters of civilization include
little evidence for warfare; great kings; large
temples; pantheons of deities; slavery; class distinctions 
(+) palaces, etc. They did have clans, moieties,
primary & subsidiary chiefs, emphasis on wealth in
cattle, town markets, a precise measuring system, &
of course a writing system.

F. Script known from some 4000 objects, mostly
squarish tablets of steatite, often with pierced boss
at back. Possibly used as badges or marriage tali
(still given to women on marriage in certain parts of
India). Often found in habitation debris. Usually
have two graphically displayed subjects: the first is
usually an animal (e.g., "unicorn bull") taking up
most of the space; the second is some writing, usu-
ally above the animal, often just 5-6 signs. Script
contains about 400 signs altogether (syllabic?).
No bilingual texts translating Indus text into a
known script has been found.

Questions for Film "Pakistan: Mound of the Dead"
1. What dates does the film give for the height of the Indus 
civilization? How does this compare with information from lecture?

2. What does Mohenjo-daro mean?

3. What evidence is there that Mohenjo-daro suffered floods 
from the Indus?

4. List at least three possible causes for the decline of this 
civilization that are entertained by the film; which seems to 
be favored?