Thousands of years ago, in the fertile valley of the great Indus River, a civilization emerged in what are now India and Pakistan . This is the Indus civilization, which archaeologists also call the Harappan civilization, which is the name of one of its largest cities.
Until 2600 BC, people from different but related societies lived in villages and small towns in different parts of the Indus region. Around this time, these groups eventually came together and created a society that built large and sophisticated cities, as well as producing an advanced civilization with a culture that had a form of writing. This civilization lasted until 2000 BC.
The Indus River is one of the largest in the world; rises in the Himalayas, crosses Pakistan and empties into the Arabian Sea . After leaving the mountains to the north, the five main tributaries run through a plain called the Punjab (meaning “five rivers” in the local language). Further south, all five join the Indus, which continues to the sea. The southern part of the plain is known as Sind, an ancient name for India that gave the seafaring Sindbad its name.
The people of the Indus Civilization lived in the Punjab and Sindh, depending on the Indus River (and another river that has long been dry) for water to irrigate their farms . They also lived on the coast of the Arabian Sea, where they built ports to trade. Rugged hills and mountains form the western border of the Indus Valley, and it was there that the people of this culture found many useful materials, such as brightly colored stones, to use as tools and ornaments. They also found flint (with which they made stone tools) in the low hills near the coast. To get these materials, the people of most of the Indus Valley had to rely on merchants, who supplied them.
Farmers had lived in the Indus Valley from 6,500 B.C. or maybe before. These people lived in simple town houses made of adobes. They made jewelry from seashells, lapis lazuli, and turquoise. They buried many objects with their dead, so that the people they loved would be well provided for in the afterlife.
Around 5,000 BC, these early farmers began making pottery and soon developed other remarkable skills . Artisans began to make beautiful jewelry from rare stones and shells, as well as copper tools and weapons. They even learned to create artificial materials such as faience, which, made from a mixture of partially melted sand, looks almost like glass. As people began to spend more time making things, they had less time to farm, so they began to trade their produce for food . This exchange was an important step towards a new type of society, in which there were different occupations, different hierarchies and different levels of power.
In the year 3000 B.C. approximately, the Indus Valley was already occupied by several societies of this type. Archaeologists call this time, between 3200 B.C. and 2600 BC. the Early Harappan period. Most people in Early Harappan society continued to live in agricultural villages.
The society in the initial Harappa
Villages were often surrounded by a wall or built on clay platforms so that the annual flooding of the river would not wash away their houses. They also met in towns with up to 5,000 inhabitants. These places attracted many artisans and the cities thus became the place of specialized work . The cities were also places where merchants lived, who were in charge of transporting goods from one place to another throughout the region. As the population became richer, they began to surround themselves with expensive objects and build large houses . Some cities even have distinct neighborhoods, separated by walls, the rich and powerful in one and the poor in another. These changes suggest that Early Harappan society was becoming complex cultures.
Society enel Harappa Plena
During the century between 2600 and 2500 BC, society underwent major changes that produced what archaeologists call the Full Harappan culture . This culture was based on city life and archaeologists have discovered five major cities in the Indus region. Mohenjodaro, in Sindh, was the largest, although the city of Harappa, in the Punjab, is almost as big as it (each housed 50,000 people) . The other three cities were about half that size. In many ways, these cities were expanded versions of the Early Harappan cities. Each city had different sections - each surrounded by a wall - and some were built on huge brick platforms. Certain sections contained residential neighborhoods, while others housed government buildings.
The public buildings of Harappa and Mohenjodaro appear to be of different types . The archaeologist who first excavated them identified what he thought they were:huge granaries for storing the public supply of grain, a large sacred bath or pool, and a meeting place. However, today's archaeologists are not so sure about the function of these large and well-thought-out structures. Unlike in other early civilizations, it has not yet been possible to identify the palaces of their rulers or the main temples.
The residential areas of the cities were planned in a very logical way, with an orthogonal distribution based on streets from north to south that intersected with streets from east to west forming blocks . The houses of the settlers had approximately the same design, with rooms around an open space. Stairs lead to the upper floors or the roof, while the windows have elements to hold shutters against them. This arrangement meant that families could live and work both indoors and outdoors, depending on the weather, and sleep on the roof during the heat of summer. Some houses were larger than the others and had small outbuildings, perhaps for servants.
The rulers of these cities were very concerned about drinking water and sewage. Every city block had a well (some houses have private wells), and they built an elaborate system to drain away sewage and excess rainwater.
Life in the city
Most artisans lived and worked in cities. These specialized workers made a large number of highly prized goods, such as metal tools and weapons, shell bracelets, beads, stoneware (a ceramic almost as hard as rock), bracelets, cotton cloth, stone seals, and pottery.> . Some of their abilities were so sophisticated that we still don't really understand how they made those items.
Many of these products required a great deal of work. For example, a bead maker needed to work for two weeks to produce a single large bead of carnelian (a red stone similar to quartz). Those large carnelian beads were a highly prized and expensive item during the Harappan era, and rich people wore necklaces and belts that could take a year of work to make. Less wealthy people wore clay beads painted red. Foreigners also valued these carnelian beads, and traders brought them to Sumer (in what is now southern Iraq) and other places.
Life in the countryside
Despite the great level of the cities of the Full Harappan civilization, life in the fields remained extremely important . Archaeologists know of more than 1,500 Full Harappan settlements and almost all of them are towns. But even they contain solidly built houses and their inhabitants enjoyed the same drainage systems as city dwellers. Farmers relied on irrigation to bring water to their fields, where they grew mainly wheat and barley, as well as legumes, sesame, and vegetables. In some areas farmers also grew wheat and cotton. Animals such as sheep, zebu (a humped cow), and water buffalo provided milk and meat. The residents of the villages had to work very hard not only to feed themselves, but also the inhabitants of the cities.
Creating a writetype
The Harappan culture is one of those that invented a type of writing . This mysterious way of writing was not an alphabet, like the current one, but used 40 different signs to represent syllables (such as "ba" , “bi” , “ta” , “you” etc.) and some complete words. Other early scripts from other parts of the world also used a complicated system that mixed syllables and words, but none of these are related to the Harappan script.
Although archaeologists have found hundreds of inscriptions, they are all very short and have not yet been deciphered . The inscriptions appear on ceramic objects and copper tools, as well as on various stone, shell, or ivory objects; its intention was to report the name of the craftsman or the owner of the objects.
The end of an era
Sometime around 2000 BC, the Indus civilization began to change again. People left the cities to go live in the countryside and the artisans stopped making their most elaborate and expensive products, at the same time that the merchants stopped using seals to mark their properties. The Indus people also abandoned writing . Instead of the Full Harappan style, many different styles of making pottery and other objects appeared in different parts of the Indus. It seems as if the people have returned to the way of life that had prevailed centuries before. Nobody knows what could have been capable of generating such a change, although some consider that climate change could have had something to do with it. Farmers may no longer be able to provide enough supplies to cities, so people had to migrate.
It may be that the appearance of a new people, called the Vedic Aryans, who came to the Indus from central Asia, also had something to do with the process .
The people of the Indus civilization made large numbers of stone seals (more than 2,000 have been discovered) . The stamps are square, with a rounded back and a flat front, and an engraved image. The images on the seals were usually of animals; the most frequent is a bull, but it could also be a rhinoceros, an elephant, a
water buffalo, a unicorn or any other animal. A line of writing, most likely the owner's name, title, or job title, is engraved over the image of the animal. It seems that these seals were used as property marks . For example, a merchant could mark his goods by tying a rope around him, fastening the knot with a lump of clay, and pressing his
stamp on clay. When it dried, the only way to untie the knot was to break the seal.
Since seals were used to make impressions, the engravings had to be in the negative (like writing on a mirror), so that people could read the reverse result.
An efficient drainage
The people who built the cities of the Indus Civilization understood that it was necessary to create a system to evacuate sewage water and excess rain. So they equipped the cities with a sophisticated system of sewers and sinkholes, allowing that waste to run under the city and into the plain around the settlement .
Inlets in each house carried sewage to sewers that ran alongside residential streets. Many of them were open, in order to collect excess rain that would otherwise have flooded the streets. The sewers emptied into sewers that ran under the streets.
Even by modern standards, this system created by the city's architects is an impressive feat of engineering. The sewers were made of baked bricks, which are preserved for a long time, and at various points along their route they had tanks for solid waste to accumulate and not
clog the sewers . Archaeologists unearthed a culvert in the city of Harappa that had a 1.5-meter-high arched roof. The Indus drainage system was very advanced - very few civilizations have anything similar - and it was not equaled until modern times.
Weights and measures
Trade was very important to the people of the Indus Valley, so they developed a uniform system of weights and measures, used throughout the region to regulate trade in goods . Most of the weights found at Mohenjodaro are cube-shaped and made from a stone called chalcedony. The standard weight was about 14 grams. There were two systems:one for small things and one for larger and heavier things.
At first it was thought that the small weights followed a binary system (1,2,4, 8,16,32,64) and the others a decimal system; but subsequent finds seem to disprove this theory and have left archaeologists clueless as to how the system worked. Smaller weights have been found in goldsmiths' shops; the larger ones needed a rope or metal ring to lift them up. Marked strings tell us that standard measurements for length also existed.
Mohenjodaro was the largest of the Indus Valley Civilization cities. When these great cities were discovered in the 1920s, it was recognized that this civilization was, along with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian, one of the great cultures of the ancient world. A team of British archaeologists, led by John Marshall, began excavating Mohenjodaro in 1922. In a decade of work, they unearthed large areas of the city and provided us with a rare picture of what life in this Indian city had been like during ancient times.
Size and population
Mohenjodaro is located on the right bank of the Indus, in the region known as Sind, in what is now Pakistan . By ancient standards, the city was huge, with an area of 2.6 square kilometers and 50,000 inhabitants. A city of this size had to rely on its farmers and ranchers for its food supply. Some of the people who lived there may have cultivated gardens and fields, but most had other occupations.
Artisans worked in workshops to make delicate ceramics, stone and shell beads, as well as other products typical of this civilization. Other city dwellers ran shops selling goods or organized trading expeditions across the Indus Valley and beyond. Some wealthy families may have owned country property or invested in trading firms or workshops. There is no doubt that government officials and priests lived in the city, but excavations have so far not found much evidence of their presence.
The city contained several mounds separated by lower stretches of land . The mounds were formed by people building their houses on previously destroyed buildings. By carefully digging through the different levels of buildings, archaeologists have discovered how the city has changed over the centuries. Marshall found some 500 years of reconstructions. He also discovered how the inhabitants of the city organized their lives.
Mohenjodaro bears every trace of having been built according to a predetermined plan. The site has two parts:to the west a small raised mound and to the east a much larger group of mounds, both separated by several hundred meters of open space .
The eastern zone, the largest, contained the residential areas, where most of the people lived and worked.
In this section of the city, wide avenues formed a regular grid from north to south and from east to west. The avenues were connected to a regular network of smaller streets and paths between houses.
Residents of Mohenjodaro seem to have liked privacy, since the entrances and windows faced the secondary streets, while without openings they faced the avenues . The houses were of different models. The smallest were simple houses with terraces, each with a single room. However, most of the houses had several rooms and a patio where the family could work outdoors. The larger houses had more rooms and several patios; some even had partially separate rooms for servants. Houses often had stairs leading to upper floors or to the roof, where the family could sleep on hot summer nights. Many of the houses had bathrooms and toilets, connected by pipes to an elaborate sewage system that ran under the houses.
The high mound to the west has a very different character. This sector of Mohenjodaro was basically a gigantic platform measuring 366 by 183 meters and about 12 meters high. On it there were several buildings that may have had a religious or civil function.
One of these buildings had a large container of water 2.4 meters deep, almost like a large swimming pool, in the center. The pond was carefully constructed of brick and plaster, and caulked with asphalt to make it waterproof. Two ladders led into the pool from opposite ends. Surrounding the tank was a porch with columns supporting a cover; the entire structure was in turn surrounded by several groups of rooms. The building, which archaeologists called "the great bath" , probably had a religious function and may have been used in rituals that needed the purifying effects of water.
Next to the great bath is another building, which archaeologists called the barn. The only thing that remains of this structure is a series of slightly separated square blocks, with narrow ventilation shafts between them . It is clear that the blocks served as the foundation for the building that once stood on this spot, but no one knows if it was actually a barn.
A third building, at the other end of the platform, was named the Assembly Hall. It is a large open hall, with rows of pillars to support the roof, a suitable design for gatherings of people.