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Indus Valley Civilisation- History, Cities, End of Indus Valley Civilisation

Indus Valley Civilisation

The Indus Valley Civilization, one of the world’s oldest urban civilizations, flourished around the banks of the Indus River in what is now modern-day Pakistan and northwest India. Thriving from approximately 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, this ancient civilization was characterized by its advanced urban planning, sophisticated drainage systems, and an intricate understanding of trade and commerce.

Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, the two major cities of the civilization, exhibited remarkable features such as well-planned streets, public buildings, and an efficient water supply network. The people of the Indus Valley engaged in extensive trade networks, reaching regions as far as Mesopotamia. Archaeological findings include distinctive seals, pottery, and sculptures, providing glimpses into their artistic and technological achievements.

Despite its remarkable advancements, the Indus Valley Civilization faced an enigmatic decline, leaving behind numerous unanswered questions. The legacy of this ancient civilization lies in its contributions to urban planning, trade, and cultural development, shaping the understanding of early human societies.

Phases of Indus Valley Civilisation

Early Harappan Phase From 3300 BCE to 2600 BCE

  • Associated with the Hakra Phase in the Ghaggar-Hakra River Valley region.
  • The earliest instances of the Indus Script, dating back to 3000 BCE, are linked to this phase.
  • Characterized by a centralized authority and a growing urban lifestyle.
  • Establishment of trade networks during the Early Harappan Phase.
  • Evidence points to the cultivation of crops like peas, sesame seeds, dates, and cotton during this phase.

Mature Harappan Phase à From 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE

  • Commencing around 2600 BCE, this phase witnessed the transformation of early Indus Valley Civilization communities, such as Harappa and Mohenjodaro in Pakistan, and Lothal in India, into significant urban centers.
  • The site of Kot Diji, situated in the Sindh district of Pakistan, serves as a crucial point marking the shift from the ‘Early Harappan Phase’ to the ‘Late Harappan Phase.

Late Harappan Phase From 1900 BCE to 1300 BCE

  • Signs of a decline in the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) became evident around 1800 BCE, leading to the abandonment of most cities by 1700 BCE.
  • Several factors, including external conflicts, floods, droughts, and chemical changes, have been proposed to explain this sudden decline, as discussed in detail later.
  • Despite the decline, elements defining the ancient Indus Valley Civilization persisted in later cultures.
  • Current archaeological evidence suggests the existence of Late Harappan Culture until 1000-900 BCE.

Cities of Indus Valley Civilisation

S. No. Site Excavated By    Present Location  Important Findings
1. Harappa Daya Ram Sahini in 1921 Situated on the bank of river Ravi in the Montgomery district of Punjab (Pakistan).
  • Sandstone statues of Human Anatomy
  • Granaries
  • Bullock carts
2. Mohen- jo Daro (Mound of Dead) R.D Banerjee in 1922 Situated on the Bank of River Indus in Larkana district of Punjab (Pakistan).
  • Great bath
  • Granary
  • Bronze dancing girl
  • Seal of Pasupathi Mahadeva
  • Steatite statue of Beard man
  • A piece of woven cotton
3. Sutkagendor Stein in 1929 In southwestern Balochistan province, Pakistan on the Dast river
  • A trading point between Harappa and Babylon
4. Chanhudaro N.G Majumdar in 1931 Sindh on the Indus River
  • Bead makers shop
  • The footprint of a dog chasing a cat
5. Amri N.G Majumdar in 1935 On the bank of the Indus River – Sindh, Pakistan
  • Antelope evidence
6. Kalibangan Ghose in 1953 Rajasthan on the bank of the Ghaggar River
  • Fire altar
  • Camel bone
  • Wooden plough
7. Lothal R.Rao in 1953 Gujarat on the Bhogavo River near the Gulf of Cambay
  • First manmade port
  • Dockyard
  • Rice husk
  • Fire altars
  • Chess-playing
8. Surkotada J.P Joshi in 1964 Gujarat
  • Bones of horses
  • Beads
9. Banawali R.S Bisht in 1974 Hisar district of Haryana
  • Beads
  • Barley
  • Evidence of both pre- Harappan and Harappan culture
10. Dholavira R.S Bisht in 1985 Gujarat in Rann of Kachchh
  • Water harnessing system
  • Water reservoir
  • 1st IVC Site in India to have received the ‘World Heritage Site’ Status by UNESCO

Society and Political System

  • Archaeological findings do not immediately reveal a clear centre of authority or depictions of individuals in positions of power within Harappan society. The exceptional uniformity seen in Harappan artifacts, such as pottery, seals, weights, and bricks with standardized sizes and weights, suggests the presence of some form of authority and governance. Over time, three primary theories have emerged regarding the governance or system of rule in the Harappan civilization.
  • The first theory suggests the existence of a single state that governs all the communities within the civilization. This is based on the similarity in artifacts, the presence of planned settlements, the standardized ratio of brick size, and the establishment of settlements near sources of raw materials.
  • The second theory proposes that there was no single ruler but rather multiple rulers, each representing one of the urban centres, including Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, and other communities.
  • Finally, experts have theorized that the Indus Valley Civilization might not have had rulers in the way we understand them today, and instead, everyone enjoyed equal status within the society.

Craft, Technology and Artefacts

The Indus Valley Civilization is the earliest known urban culture in the Indian subcontinent and the largest among the four ancient civilizations, which also include Egypt, Mesopotamia, and China. This society in the Indus River Valley dates back to the Bronze Age, spanning approximately 3300-1300 BCE. Stretching across modern-day India and Pakistan, it covered an area comparable to Western Europe.

The significant cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro emerged around 2600 BCE along the Indus River Valley in present-day Sindh and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. Their exploration in the 19th and 20th centuries yielded crucial archaeological insights into the civilization’s technology, art, trade, transportation, writing, and religion


The people of the Indus Valley were really good at making things and measuring stuff. They created a system of weights and measures that were all the same, with a small division marked on an ivory scale. The bricks they used to build their cities were also the same size.

In building cities, they did impressive things like making dockyards, granaries, and walls for protection. Their systems for getting rid of waste and drainage were better than what other places had at the same time, and even better than some places in Pakistan and India today.

They were also skilled at making seals, which are like stamps, with pictures of animals on them. These seals were often found in the cities. The Indus Valley people were good at working with metals like copper and bronze, and they made beautiful things with a special gemstone called Carnelian.


Excavation sites in the Indus Valley have uncovered various examples of the culture’s art, such as sculptures, seals, pottery, gold jewelry, and detailed figurines made of terracotta, bronze, and steatite, commonly known as Soapstone.

Among the discoveries are figurines made of gold, terracotta, and stone. Notably, a figure known as the “Priest-King” with a beard and patterned robe was found. Another bronze figurine, called the “Dancing Girl,” is just 11 cm tall and depicts a female figure in a pose suggesting a choreographed dance enjoyed by the people of the civilization. Terracotta works included animals like cows, bears, monkeys, and dogs. In addition to figurines, the Indus River Valley people are believed to have crafted necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments.

Script and Religion


  • Harappans are thought to have used a kind of writing called the Indus Script, made up of symbols. At Harappa, written texts on clay and stone tablets were discovered, dating back to 3300-3200 BCE. They had trident-shaped, plant-like markings. This Indus Script suggests that writing in the Indus River Valley Civilization developed on its own, separate from the writing in Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt.
  • About 600 different Indus symbols have been found on seals, small tablets, ceramic pots, and various other materials. These inscriptions are usually very short, often just four or five characters long, and sometimes even smaller. The longest inscription on a single surface, which is less than 1 inch (2.54 cm) square, has 17 signs. The characters are mostly pictures, but there are also abstract signs that seem to have stayed the same over time.
  • It’s believed that the writing was mainly done from right to left, but it’s not clear if this script represents a complete language. Since there’s no “Rosetta Stone” to compare it with other writing systems, the symbols have remained a mystery to linguists and archaeologists.


  • The religion of the Harappan people is not entirely clear and is still a matter of speculation. Many believe that they worshipped a mother goddess symbolizing fertility. Unlike civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley Civilization doesn’t seem to have had temples or palaces that clearly indicate religious rituals or specific gods. Some seals from the Indus Valley show a swastika symbol, which later became a part of Indian religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
  • These seals also depict animals, with some showing them in processions and others featuring imaginary creatures. This has led experts to wonder about the role of animals in the religion of the Indus Valley. For example, a seal from Mohenjo-Daro shows a creature that’s half-human and half-buffalo attacking a tiger. This might be a reference to a Sumerian myth about a monster created by Aruru, the Sumerian goddess of earth and fertility, to battle Gilgamesh, the hero of an ancient Mesopotamian epic poem. This suggests the influence of international trade on Harappan culture.

The End of Indus Valley Civilisation

  • The Indus Valley Civilization, which was a very advanced ancient society, started to decline around 1800 BCE. This decline was probably because of changes in the weather and people moving away. The two main cities of this civilization, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, eventually disappeared. Harappa is important because it was the first city discovered by modern archaeologists.
  • People used to trade with a place called Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), but that trade also stopped. The advanced systems like drainage and baths in the cities were either covered up or stopped working. They also stopped writing, and the standard weights and measures they used for trade and taxes were not used anymore.
  • Some people think the decline happened because another group of people, called the Aryans, invaded and took over. This idea suggests that the peaceful people of the Indus Valley were defeated by the Aryans, who had better weapons and horses. However, not everyone agrees with this theory. Some think that the skeletons found were not from a war but were just people who were buried quickly because the cities were becoming empty. Later, some people believed that the Indus people didn’t disappear suddenly but instead became part of a larger group called the Aryans who migrated to northwest India.

Climate Change Theory  (C. 1800-1500 BC)

  • Some experts think that a long time ago, the place where the Indus Valley people lived, called the Harappan society, faced big problems. One idea is that a river, called Saraswati, started to dry up, and this changed the weather. Some people also say there might have been a big flood in that area.
  • Changes like cutting down a lot of trees, floods, or a river changing its path could be really bad for the Harappan society. It could make crops not grow well, people go hungry, and diseases spread. Evidence from old skeletons suggests that many people might have gotten sick from a disease called malaria, which mosquitoes often spread. This would have caused problems in their cities.
  • Another bad change in their weather might have been heavy rains from winds called monsoons. Monsoons can be good or bad for a place, depending on if they help or harm farming. The monsoons that used to come to the Indus River Valley helped with farming and big cities like Harappa. But around 1800 BCE, things changed.
  • The weather got cooler and drier, and the monsoons may have moved away. This means the water they needed would have dried up, so the Harappans might have moved to another place called the Ganges basin. There, they made small communities with fewer resources, and they didn’t trade with other places like they used to. By about 1700 BCE, most of the cities where the Indus Valley people lived were left empty.

Legacy of Indus Valley Civilisation

The legacy of the Indus Valley Civilization, despite its decline and disappearance, continues to influence our understanding of early human societies and urban civilizations. Several aspects contribute to the enduring legacy of this ancient civilization:

  • Urban Planning and Architecture: The Indus Valley Civilization showcases remarkable urban planning and architectural achievements. Grid-like street layouts, advanced drainage systems, and multi-story buildings in cities like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro highlight their innovative approach to city planning. These elements have inspired urban planning concepts in modern times.
  • Trade and Economic Practices: The Indus people engaged in extensive trade networks, connecting regions as far as Mesopotamia. Their use of standardized weights and measures for trade and taxation reflects advanced economic practices. The legacy of their trade networks can be observed in the subsequent development of commerce and economic systems.
  • Cultural Artifacts and Symbols: Distinctive artefacts such as seals with the yet undeciphered Indus Script, pottery, sculptures, and jewellery provide insights into the cultural and artistic expressions of the civilization. These artefacts serve as valuable historical records and artistic inspirations.
  • Agricultural Practices: The reliance on agriculture, supported by the seasonal monsoons in the Indus River Valley, left a legacy in agricultural practices. The cultivation of crops like wheat, barley, and cotton persisted in the later cultures of the Indian subcontinent.
  • Social Organization: Though much about their social structure remains speculative, the Indus Valley Civilization likely had a complex social organization. Elements of this organization, such as distinct neighbourhoods, may have influenced later societies.
  • Technological Advancements: Technological achievements, including advanced drainage systems and craftsmanship in pottery and metallurgy, showcase the sophistication of the Indus people. Their innovations paved the way for subsequent developments in technology.
  • Mystery and Exploration: The mysterious aspects of the Indus Valley Civilization, including the undeciphered script and the reasons for its decline, continue to captivate historians and archaeologists. Ongoing research and exploration contribute to our understanding of this ancient civilization.

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What was the geographical extent of the Indus Valley Civilization?

The Indus Valley Civilization extended from Sutkagendor (in Balochistan, Pakistan) in West to Alamgirpur (Western UP) in the East; & from Mandu (Jammu) in the North to Daimabad (Ahmednagar, Maharashtra) in the South.

Which was the first city of Indus Valley Civilization to be discovered?

Harappa was the first city of the Indus Valley Civilization to be discovered in 1921 by Daya Ram Sahni.

In which time period did the Indus Valley Civilization exist?

The Indus Valley Civilization existed from the time period 3300 BCE to 1900 BCE.

Name some of the important sites of the Indus Valley Civilization?

Some of the important sites of the Indus Valley Civilization existed in both Pakistan - Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Amri & India – Kalibangan, Lothal, Surkotada, Banawali, Chhanhudaro, Dholavira.

What is the most prominent religious figure of Indus Valley Civilization?

Unicorn is the most prominent religious figure of Indus Valley Civilization.

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