Indus Valley Civilisation

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Excavated ruins of Mohenjo-daro, Sindh province, Pakistan, showing the Great Bath in the foreground. Mohenjo-daro, on the right bank of the Indus River, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first site in South Asia to be so declared.

The Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) was a Bronze Age civilisation in the northwestern regions of South Asia, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, and in its mature form from 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE. Together with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early civilisations of the Near East and South Asia, and of the three, the most widespread, its sites spanning an area stretching from today's northeast Afghanistan, through much of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India. It flourished in the basins of the Indus River, which flows through the length of Pakistan, and along a system of perennial, mostly monsoon-fed, rivers that once coursed in the vicinity of the seasonal Ghaggar-Hakra river in northwest India and eastern Pakistan.


  • Although the overall socioeconomic organization changed, continuities in technology, subsistence practices, settlement organization, and some regional symbols show that the indigenous population was not displaced by invading hordes of Indo-Aryan speaking people. For many years, the ‘invasions’ or ‘migrations’ of these Indo-Aryan-speaking Vedic/Aryan tribes explained the decline of the Indus civilization and the sudden rise of urbanization in the Ganga-Yamuna valley. This was based on simplistic models of culture change and an uncritical reading of Vedic texts. Current evidence does not support a pre- or proto-historic Indo-Aryan invasion of southern Asia. Instead, there was an overlap between Late Harappan and post-Harappan communities, with no biological evidence for major new populations.
  • [Kenneth A.R. Kennedy reaches similar conclusions from his physical-anthropological data:] “Evidence of demographic discontinuities is present in our study, but the first occurs between 6000 and 4500 BC (a separation of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic populations of Mehrgarh) and the second is after 800 BC, the discontinuity being between the peoples of Harappa, Chalcolithic Mehrgarh and post-Harappan Timargarha on the one hand and the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age inhabitants of Sarai Khola on the other. In short, there is no evidence of demographic disruptions in the northwestern sector of the subcontinent during and immediately after the decline of the Harappan culture. If Vedic Aryans were a biological entity represented by the skeletons from Timargarha, then their biological features of cranial and dental anatomy were not distinct to a marked degree from what we encountered in the ancient Harappans.”
    • K.A.R. Kennedy: “Have Aryans been identified in the prehistoric skeletal record from South Asia?”, in George Erdosy, ed.: The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia, p.49. On p.42, Kennedy quotes the suggestion that “not only the end of the [Harappan] cities but even their initial impetus may have been due to Indo-European speaking peoples”, by B. and F.R. Allchin: The Birth of Indian Civilization, Penguin 1968, p. 144. quoted in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • In 1922 archaeologists started to turn up evidence of the Indus civilization. Mohenjodaro and Harappa have had most of the publicity, but new discoveries are still being made all the time....
    Common sense might suggest that here was a striking example of a refutable hypothesis that had in fact been refuted. Indo-European scholars should have scrapped all their historical reconstructions and started again from scratch. But that is not what happened. Vested interests and academic posts were involved. Almost without exception the scholars in question managed to persuade themselves that despite appearances the theories of the philologists and the hard evidence of archeology could be made to fit together. The trick was to think of the horse-riding Aryans as conquerors of the cities of the Indus civilization in the same way that the Spanish conquistadores were conquerors of the cities of Mexico and Peru or the Israelites of the Exodus were conquerors of Jericho. The lowly Dasa of the Rig Veda , who had previously been thought of as primitive savages, were now reconstructed as members of a high civilization.
    • Sir Edmund Leach. "Aryan invasions over four millennia. In Culture through Time, Anthropological Approaches, edited by E. Ohnuki-Tierney, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1990, pp. 227-245.
  • These discoveries establish the existence in Sind (the northernmost province of the Bombay Presidency) and the Punjab, during the fourth and third millennium B.C., of a highly developed city life; and the presence, in many of the houses, of wells and bathrooms as well as an elaborate drainage-system, betoken a social condition of the citizens at least equal to that found in Sumer, and superior to that prevailing in contemporary Babylonia and Egypt. . . . Even at Ur the houses are by no means equal in point of construction to those of Mohenjo-daro.
    • Marshall, Sir John, The Prehistoric Civilization of the Indus, Illustrated London News, Jan. 7, 1928, 1. quoted in Durant, Will (1963). Our Oriental heritage. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • The Indus civilization has challenged scholars’ understanding since its discovery some eighty years ago, and in recent years the application of systematic and problem-orientated research, coupled with much new and unexpected data, has overturned many previous interpretations.
  • In contrast, changes taking place in the Saraswati Valley in the early second millennium were probably a major contributor to the Indus decline. In Harappan times, the Saraswati was a major river system flowing from the Siwaliks at least to Bahawalpur, where it probably ended in a substantial inland delta. The ancient Saraswati River was fed by a series of small rivers that rose in the Siwaliks, but it drew the greater part of its waters from two much larger rivers rising high in the Himalayas: the Sutlej and the Yamuna. In its heyday the Saraswati appears to have supported the densest settlement and provided the greatest arable yields of any part of the Indus realms. The Yamuna, which supplied most of the water flowing in the Drishadvati, a major tributary of the Saraswati, changed its course, probably early in the second millennium, to flow into the Ganges drainage. The remaining flow in the Drishadvati became small and seasonal: Late Harappan sites in Bahawalpur are concentrated in the portion of the Sarawati east of Yazman, which was fed by the Sutlej. At a later date the Sutlej also changed its course and was captured by the Indus. These changes brought about massive depopulation of the Saraswati Valley, which by the end of the millennium was described as a place of potsherds and ruin mounds whose inhabitants had gone away. At the same time new settlements appeared in the regions to the south and east, in the upper Ganges-Yamuna doab. Some were located on the palaeochannels that mark the eastward shift of the Yamuna. Presumably many of the Late Harappan settlers had originated in the Saraswati Valley.
    • Jane McIntosh, The Ancient Indus Valley, 2008
  • The decline of Harappan urbanism probably had many contributing factors. The shift to a concentration on kharif cultivation in the outer regions of the state may have seriously disrupted established schedules for craft production, civic flood defense, building and drain maintenance, and other publicly organized works on which the smooth running of the state depended. The reduction in the waters of the Saraswati and the response of its farmers by migrating into regions to the east tore apart the previous unity of the Harappan state, disrupting its cohesion and its ability to control the internal distribution network.
    • Jane McIntosh, The Ancient Indus Valley, 2008
  • The anthropologists who have recently described the skeletons from Harappa remark that there, as at Lothal, the population would appear, on the available evidence, to have remained more or less stable to the present day.
  • [the Harappan religion is] “so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism”.
    • Sir John Marshall in 1931, , quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2018). Still no trace of an Aryan invasion: A collection on Indo-European origins.
  • The Indus civilization (…) is doubly remarkable: first, because it was the only complex society of either Antiquity or the modern world, that operated without social stratification and the state; and, second, in what must be a related phenomenon, because it was an agrarian society in which the villages were not oppressed by the towns (…) In sum, Indus Civilization is by far the most egalitarian of any of the pristine Old or New World civilizations, and that by a long way and by any measure.
    • Haarmann quoting Charles Keith Maisels (Early Civilizations of the Old World, Routledge, London & New York, 1999, p.252-254). , quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2018). Still no trace of an Aryan invasion: A collection on Indo-European origins.
  • The time before Islam is a time of blackness: that is part of Muslim theology. History has to serve theology. The excavated city of Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley—overrun by the Aryans in 1500 B.C.—is one of the archaelogical glories of Pakistan and the world. The excavations are now being damaged by waterlogging and salinity, and appeals for money have been made to world organizations. A featured letter in Dawn [a daily Pakistani newspaper] offered its own ideas for the site. Verses from the Koran, the writer said, should be engraved and set up in Mohenjodaro in "appropriate places": "Say (unto them, 0 Mohammed): Travel in the land and see the nature of the sequel for the guilty. . . . Say (O Mohammad, to the disbelievers): Travel in the land and see the nature of the consequence for those who were before you. Most of them were idolaters."
    • V.S.Naipaul, quoted in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a Muslim. 1995. p 199-200


  • Shortugai in Bactria, “a settlement completely Harappan in character on a tributary of the Amu Darya (…) on the foot of the ore-rich Badakshan range (…) with lapis lazuli, gold, silver, copper and lead ores. Not one of the standard characteristics of the Harappan cultural complex is missing from it.”
    • Maurizio Tosi: “De indusbeschaving voorbij de grenzen van het Indisch subcontinent”, in UNESCO exhibition book Oude Culturen in Pakistan, Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis, Brussels 1989, p.133., quoted in Elst, Koenraad (1999). Update on the Aryan invasion debate New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.

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