The Indus Valley Civilization is one of the world’s earliest civilizations, contemporary to those in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.
Last Updated: 27 Jan. 2014
The Indus Valley Civilization flourished between 3300 to 1300 BC. It was one of the earliest civilizations along with those in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt and also the largest ancient civilization in the world, spread over an area of 1,260,000 km2. Remnants have been discovered as far south as Mumbai, India and as far north as the Himalayas in Afghanistan. At its peak the Indus Valley Civilization may have had a population of close to 5 million people. The remains of this civilization remained hidden until their discovery in the early 20th century.
The ruins of this civilization tell the tale of a highly cultured people. They had an organized civic life. Cities were well planned with streets laid out in a grid-like fashion, a drainage system, multistoried houses and granaries. The similarities in plans and construction of the main cities, such as the uniform street layout and standardized brick size, indicate the possibility of a unified political structure.
Due to the fertility of the land surrounding the Indus River, farming and herding was the mainstay of the economy. The existence of granaries in Harappa and Mohenjo-daro indicate surplus of crops. The Indus people were the first to cultivate cotton for making cloth. Trade also formed a part of the economy. They traded with Mesopotamia, southern India, Afghanistan, and Persia.
Some of the earliest writing, a pictographic script, with between 400 to 600 distinct symbols has been discovered in the Indus sites. The writing appears mostly on the seals. Thousands of seals have been excavated with carved pictures of bull, bison, rhinoceros as well as imaginary creatures such as unicorns. Scholars have yet to decipher this script in its entirety as it is not entirely clear what language the Indus people spoke apart from the possibility that it was an ancient Dravidian language.
Between 2600 to 1700 BC Harappa was one of the largest cities in the Indus Valley Civilization with a population of up to 40,000 people. It is still a living city, located in Sahiwal district of Punjab where the remnants of Harappa’s citadel wall, made of mud brick, are visible.
Mohenjo-daro, located in Larkana Sindh, was once a metropolis of great importance in the Indus Valley Civilization. Mohenjo-daro means mound of the dead in Sindhi. The city had a central marketplace with a central well and public bath known as the Great Bath. A famous bronze statue discovered there is known as the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-daro.
Around 1800 – 1700 BC the Indus Valley Civilization began to decline, reasons for which are not entirely clear. However historians believe it could be due a combination of factors including the Indus River altering its course, frequent flooding, climatic change and invasions by the Indo-Aryan tribes from the north.
Hussain, Jain. An Illustrated History of Pakistan (Book 1). Karachi: Oxford UP, 1981.
PBS The Story of India: Indus Valley Civilization topic page with videos