Indus Valley/Harapan Civilization (3000/2600-1700/500 BC)


Figure 1.--This terracotta satuette is one of the few Indus artifacts showin what the prople of the Undus Valley civilization looked and how they dressed. The figure is commonly described as a priesr-king, but in fact nothing is known about the individual depicted. There are no known depictions of children, of such detail. Some scholars think girkls may be depicted on some seals.

The Indus River is the site of one of the earliest appearances of civilization. One interesting question is why civilization developed first along the Indus. Unlike Mesopotania and Egypt, there were more than one important rivers in the sub-continent. Mehrgarh is the oldest known city in the Indus Calley, dating to about 7000 BC. The people farmed barley, maize,wheat and dates and raised cattle. The early Indus River civilization dominated India for a millenium and a half (3000-1500 BC). One of the most important centers was Harappa which may date to 3500 BC. The Indus Valley civilization is also known as Harappan culture because Harsppra which was discovered by accident, was the first city to be escavated by archeologists. John Marshall began to work in the Punjab in 1921. He escavated Moen jo daro . As a result of his work and other archeologists, we now know that the Indus River civilization was one of the four great river valley civilizations where civilization first appeared. It was centered on the Indus River and thus covered a large area of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-western India. The high point of the civilzation was about 2900-1900 BC. The basis of the economy as the other river valley civiizations was agricultute. But the Indus people were also traders, handling products like lapiz azuela and teak. The civilization encompased about 2,000 towns and villages. This civilization was notable for planned cities which had straight streets. Artifacts have been found, but vert few providing images. Cotton is known to have been grown in India as early as 3,000 BC, but was almost ceratinly grown much earlier. Ancient Indians are known to have worn brightly colored clothes. The early Indus River culture is the least studied of the five great river valley cultures. When we began looking at ancient India, we assumed that given HBC's primarily European focus, our lack of information was due to the fact that we were unfamiliar with work on India. We have since found that there have been relatively few archeological finds on the early Indus River civilization and much less scholarly work. It is not precisely known why there have been relatvely few sites found. One factor may be that it was smaller civilization in terms of people and thus sites, although scholars have begun to increase population estimates. Scholars now estimate a population of about 5 million people. Another problem is that the humid climate and high water table has destroyed archeological evidence that in dry, arid Egypt and Mesopotamia has been preserved. Another possibility is that the Aryan invaders that conquered the Indus Valley people found their civilization abhorent and sought to destroy it. If the civilization had arelatively small population, this would have made it easier to destroy than a civilization with a larger population. There are only limited written records from the Indus Valley civilization and the script which has been found are still undechiphered. Thus we do not know why the Indus cities began to dissapear about 1700-1500 BC. Most scholars believe it was probably the result of climate change, in the case of India--the failure of the monsoons. The monsoon rains are central to agriculture on the sub-continent. The failure of the monsoons is widely believed probably caused the rivers to shift and dry up. The Indus itself probably did not dry up, but important tributaries probably did. Climate change may be a bit of archeologial political correctness. There are other possibilities such as invaders from central and western Asia. Whatever the cause, the population seems to have shifted eastward into the cetral part of the subcontinent. It is at this time that the Ganges becomes more important.

The Indus River

The Indus River is the site of one of the earliest appearances of civilization. The Indus is one of the world’s longest rivers, about 1,800 mi (2,900 km). Annual torrents of water from the Himalayas, carved out the vast Indus River system, creating ideal condiions for the development of agriculture. The Indus rises in southwestern Tibet and is fed by the mobsoon rains. It flows northwest through valleys of the Himalayas. After crossing into the Kashmir region, it continues northwestward and then turns south into what is now Pakistan. The tributaries from the Punjab include the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas, and Sutlej rivers. It has an average annual flow of 272 billion cu yd (207 billion cu m). This is twice that of the Nile, but less than the Ganges. The Indus not only tranported water, but also rich soil. One interesting question is why civilization developed first along the Indus. Unlike Mesopotania and Egypt, there were more than one important river on the sub-continent. The Maurya and Gupta empires woild also rise in this fertile region. Theregion today is a very different place, a largely arid plain with the dried up river beds from earlier periods. The lower Indus in the third millennium BC was lush and heavily forested. There was plentiful game as well as pastorage for domesticated animals.

Discovery

Until recently, it ws assumed that Aryan invaders from central Asia brought civilization To South Asia. It was seen as a late-developing river valley civilization of much less importance than Mesopotamioa, Egypt, and China. The discoveries at Harapa and other Indus Valley sites changed this. We now know that the Indus Valley civilization developed much earlier than previously believed. And the dicovery of many other sites reveal a civilization of some size and extent,

Origins

One of the great mysteries of the Indus/Harapan people is who they were and where they came from. The language could provide clues, but we know little about it. The script that has been found offers only limited clues because it has not yet been dechiphered.

Urban Centers

This civilization was notable for planned cities which had straight streets. Mehrgarh is the oldest known city in the Indus Valley, dating to about 7000 BC. Harapan towns are intreaging, in part for their similarity. They are laid out on a similar grid design. The towns had efficient system of drains and sewers that led to and from the houses. Not until the Roman Empire do we have similar sophisticated use of water and plumning. The early Indus River civilization dominated India for a millenium and a half (3000-1500 BC). One of the most important centers was Harappa which may date to 3500 BC. The Indus Valley civilization is also known as Harappan culture because Harappa, which was discovered by accident, was the first city to be escavated by archeologists. The civilization encompased about 2,000 towns and villages, many of which were msthematically planned. These are the world's first planned cities. The largest city was Mohenjo-Daro. The people lived in baked mud brick houses two and three stories high, and had sewage systems. Each home had its own private drinking well and its own private bathroom. Clay pipes led from the bathrooms to sewers located under the streets. Some scholsars are convinced that Indus cities did not develop slowly over time. This suggests whoever built these cities seems to have have developed the mathematics and technology in some other place.

Discovery

The Indus River Valley civilization disappeared entirely from histoty. It was unknown even by the peoples who lived near the ancient cities which were covered by sand. The first reports of the civilization came from Harappa as a result of British railroad building (mid-19th century). John Marshall began to work in the Punjab (1921). He escavated Mohenjo-Daro. As a result of his work and other archeologists, we now know that the Indus River civilization was one of the four great river valley civilizations where civilization first appeared.

Area

The Indus River civilization was centered on the Indus River and thus covered a large area of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and north-western India.

Chronology

There is no precise chronology of the Indus Valley people. Archeologists begin to note agricultural development salong the Indus (about 3200 BC). The high point of the Indus Valley civilzation was about 2900-1900 BC. The Atyan invasions occur (about 1600-1500 BC).

Econonomy

The basis of the economy as the other river valley civiizations was agricultute. The Indus people used irrigation to water their fields. The people farmed barley, maize, wheat, dates, and a variety of vegetables and fruits. They also developed cotton agriculture. Several animals, including the long-horned, humped bull, were domesticated and bred. Cotton appears to hzve been the pricipal plant used for clothing. It was woven and dyed. Wheel-made pottery was made and decorated with animal and geometric motifs. They also became skilled metal workers. Depictions of fish on the seals suggest that fishing was an important part of the economy. The long-horned bull was a central image in the Indus culture and interestingly remains important in subsequent Indian iconography. The Indus people were a bronze Age culture. Copper and bronze were in use. They used bronze tools. The Indus people benefitted from contacts with Mesopotamia. Some scholsars believe that they may have acquired bronze technology from the Sumerians. They did not, however, develop iron technology. The Indus people were also traders, handling products like lapiz azuela and teak. The Indus culture developed in contact with Mesopotamia. Trade was carried out through the sea as far as Oman and Mesopotamia.

Governmental Organization

Nothing is known about the governmental organization. There are no known images of rulers in the seals, but one terra-cotta sculpture masy bevsome kind of priest-king (figure 1). Archeologists believed that there was probably a centralized administration of some kind, because of the general cultural uniformity. Agricultural societies, especially those involving irrigation works almost by definition reqired some kind of centralized authority. The source of authority may have been a priestly or a commercial oligarchy. Curiously, archeologists have not dound any evidence of palaces or large estates that would suggest kingship.

Clothing and Adorment

Artifacts have been found, but relatively few providing clear images of the Indus Valley peole and how they dressed. The images come from clay seals and terraotta figures. Argeologists have found large numbers of small figurines of women. These statuettes differ from those found in other early sites in the level of detail given to hairstyles and jewelry. Women wore jewelry including gold and precious stone. They also had lipstick. A statue shows a women wearing a bracelet similsar in design to those worn in modern India. Clothing is somewhat more difficult to depict in detail. The impression is that men amd women dressed in robes or draped cloth. . The depictions of adult clothes are vasluable in that it is very unlikely that there were basically different styles and garments for children. Ancient Indians are believed to have worn brightly colored clothes. Clothes were made from cotton. Cotton is native to India and is known to have been grown in India as early as 3,000 BC, but was almost ceratinly grown much earlier.

Children

We know virtually nothing about children in the Indus Valley civilization. There is every reasion to believe that childhood in the Indus valley would have been similar to tht in Mesopotamia, but there is no real evidence. We do note that toys have been found among the artifacts. This includes some of the village sites at a very early stage contained tiny carts with clay wheels. There were even tiny clay pots caries in the carts. These may be some of the very e earliest children's toys. Certainly they are the earliest really sophiticated toys. The crear\tion of such toys does suggest a concern with childhood. An appreciation of the importance of playbis a very modern concept. Toys of course have been found in the other river valley civilizations, but the Indus toys seem remarkavly sophisticated.

Scholarship

The early Indus River culture is the least studied of the five great river valley cultures. When we began looking at ancient India, we assumed that given HBC's primarily European focus, our lack of information was due to the fact that we were unfamiliar with work on India. We have since found that there have been relatively few major archeological studies on the early Indus River civilization.

Studies

It is not precisely known why there have been relatvely few sites found. One factor may be that it was smaller civilization in terms of people and thus sites, although scholars have begun to increase population estmstes. Scholars now estimate a population of about 5 million people. Another problem is that the humid climate and high water table has destroyed archeological evidence that in dry, arid Egypt and Mesopotamia has been preserved. Another possibility is that the Aryan invaders that conquered the Indus Valley people found their civilization abhorent and sought to destroy it. If the civilization had arelatively small population, this would have made it easier to destroy than a civilization with a larger population.

Language and Writing

There are only limited samples of Indus Valley civilization (Harappan) script. While about 4,000 artifacts with script have been found, most have only about five characters. Most of these items were seals. This makes any study of script very difficult. And as a result, the script which has been found still have not been dechiphered. The origins of the script fate to the fourth millenium B.C. The script gradually developed into what seems a mature writing system (26th and 20th centuries BC). As the Indus civilization seems to have disappered abruptly, it has no lingustic descendants in the modern world. The fact that the language the script is based on is completely unknown language greatly complicates the problem of dechiperment. The number of characters/signs suggests that the Indus script is probably logophonetic. This neans it had both signs which had meanings and signs representing phonetic values. The language appears to be an isolate. It is not known if the language is related to other Indian language. It is even unknown whether the early Indus scripts were truly a writing system. Although the Indus people were in contact with Mesopotamia, there are no known bilingual texts. Unless such a text is found, decioherment seems unlikely.

Desintegration

The abscence of decho\perable records means that we do not know why the Indus cities began to dissapear about 1700-1500 BC. Some scholsrs beliece the end came very suddenly rather than gradually. Many scholars believe that it was probably the result of climate change, in the case of India--the failure of the monsoons. The monsoon rains are central to agriculture on the sub-continent. The failure of the monsoons is widely believed probably caused the rivers to shift and water volumes fall. The Indus with reduced columes was no longer to support the intensive irrigation system. Some of the tributaries may hve even dried up. Climate change may be a bit of archeologial political correctness. There are other possibilities such as invaders from central and western Asia. And of course a society weakened by declining agricukltural production would have been less able to resist foreign invasion. Whatever the cause, the population seems to have shifted eastward into the cetral part of the subcontinent. It is at this time that the Ganges becomes more important.

Impact

The nomadic Aryan invaders that moved into the Indus Valley (about 1700 BC) were hearderscthat had little interest in agriculture and the Indus irrigation system that supported it. The Indus civilization thus did not survive to be the cultural and geographical center from which a continuous civilization developed like that developed in Egypt and Mesopotamia and later vin China. Thusit is unclear as to just what elements of Indus culture were transmitted to the subsequent civilizations which developed on the Indian subcontinent.






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Created: 4:56 AM 12/10/2009
Last updated: 2:40 AM 2/18/2011