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The Indus Valley Civilisation

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More than 4000 years ago, a powerful and sophisticated civilisation developed on the flood plains of the Indus River. Although this great urban civilisation prospered in the same era as ancient Egypt, China and Mesopotamia and encompassed an area larger any other, very little was known about it until recently. Prior to the 20th Century, the Indus Valley Civilisation had been lost to history.

In the 1820's, a British army deserter made the first record of ruins at the site of Harappa (Carr 2006). 50 years later, a British General, the head of the Archaeological Survey of India, visited the site and collected a variety of artefacts, including pottery, stone tools and seals. Despite the discovery that Harappa was in fact an ancient city, thousands of bricks were removed from the site to build houses and the ballast for a British-constructed railway! (Carr 2006, Wolpert 1993).

Nearly one hundred years later, the then director of the Archaeological Survey of India, Sir John Marshall, began a more thorough excavation of the Harappan city and a year later, 600 km south, the city of Mohenjo-daro was uncovered. The commonalities found between these two great cities and a series of small towns discovered in between, provided evidence of a civilisation that had flourished before any other in South Asia (Carr 2006, Wolpert 1993). Since this time, a growing interest among archaeologists, historians and anthropologists has lead to the excavation of over 2000 cities, towns and villages that can be identified as belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation.

When did the Indus Valley Civilisation did it flourish and where was it located?

The Indus Valley Civilisation is one of the world's oldest civilisations. From 7000 BCE, early settlements in what is now Pakistan began the cultural and technological evolution that would eventually lead to development of the great civilisation of the Indus Valley. From around 5000 BCE, villages began to take on more urban characteristics and there was cultural interaction across a wide region. Between 2500 BCE and 1900 BCE, the great cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa were at their peak and this is the period that is commonly referred to as the golden era of the Indus Valley Civilisation. From around 1900 BCE, there was a significant change in the structure and systems of the cities and regional settlements so that by around 1500 BCE, the great civilisation had come to an end (Kenoyer, 2002).

The Indus Valley Civilisation is the earliest known civilisation of South Asia, contemporary with the Bronze Age cultures of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Like these other great civilisations, it developed along the flood plains of a mighty river, the Indus River. The civilisation was named after this river because this is where the first major settlements, Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, were found. Since then, the remains of more than 2000 cities, towns, and villages have been discovered, encompassing most of modern day Pakistan and a large area of northwest India. Indus Valley remnants have been discovered as far south as Mumbai, north into the Himalayas and northern Afghanistan, west along the coast of the Arabian Sea and 1600 km to the east, beyond Delhi (See Appendix A). The total area is over 1 million square kilometres (Durrans & Knox 1982).

How did the Indus Valley Civilisation develop?

Humans have inhabited South Asia since 400 000 BCE and there is evidence that animals were domesticated as early as l0 000 years ago, which suggests that people lived as pastoral nomads from this time. It was also during this era that groups of people began to grow wheat and barley (Indus Valley (3000-1500 BCE) 2007). The first permanent settlements in the Indus Valley region appeared 9,000 years ago. During the Neolithic period, people began to form communities, establish permanent villages and use stone tools that were shaped by polishing or grinding. The earliest of these villages has been discovered in Baluchistan, Pakistan, 200 km west of the Indus Valley. This settlement is known as Mehrgarh and archaeological excavations have revealed an evolution from a hunting and gathering society to one that practiced farming, built storage facilities for grain, lived in huts made from mud bricks and domesticated animals (Archaeological Remains of Indus Valley 2007). The people of Mehrgarh also cultivated wheat and barley as their main grain crops and had herds of cattle, sheep and goats. By 3500 BCE, pottery had developed and copper implements began to appear (Durrans & Knox, 1982). The large amounts of fine ceramics found at Mehrgarh indicate that a potter's wheel was used. Ceramics became a major industry from this time. Both large jars with geometric designs and small, practical vessels have been uncovered (Kulke & Rothermund 1986). As early as 5000 BCE, there is evidence of trade with distant communities. Jewellery made from non-local materials such as copper, turquoise, lapis lazuli and marine shells has been found in burial sites at Mehrgarh (Kenoyer, 2002).

The latest phase of settlement in Mehrgarh occurred between 3000 and 2600 BCE. This society utilised many of the technologies that would later appear in the Indus Valley Civilisation. Two-storied buildings and mass production of ceramics signal the beginnings of an urban society. The use of terracotta seals depicting animals, and terracotta figurines of men and women, are seen as a direct link to the styles later used in the Indus Valley (Kulke & Rothermund 1986).

From around 3500 BCE the initial settlements in Baluchistan began to spread eastward and into the Indus Valley. Villages began to grow in size and so did the diversity and complexity of technology. As they developed, villages began to interact with each other and techniques of pottery, metallurgy and farming became more refined. It is unknown exactly how or when the societies of the Indus Valley made the transition from village to city but they had developed by around 2500 BCE. The sister cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and all of the smaller settlements in the Indus Valley grew out of the rich alluvial soil of the region and, along with the development of irrigation systems, allowed the communities to plant and harvest an abundance of a variety of crops. With a surplus of agrarian resources, the population increased, leading to a thriving, urban civilisation. The Indus River and its tributaries also provided the means to establish trade, commerce and communication with societies within the valley and beyond, connecting people over a vast and wide area (Ancient India: Indus Valley Civilization 2007, Durrans & Knox 1982).




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