Indus Valley Civilisation

Bronze Age civilisation in South Asia

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.

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.

Quotes edit

  • Not often has it been given to archaeologists, as it was given to Schliemann at Tiryns and Mycenae, or to [Aurel] Stein in the deserts of Turkestan, to light upon the remains of a long-forgotten civilization. It looks, however, at this moment, as if we were on the threshold of such a discovery in the plains of the Indus.
    • Marshall, John in Lahiri, Nayanjot, Finding Forgotten Cities, quoted in Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • Indians have always been justly proud of their age-old civilization and believing that this civilization was as ancient as any in Asia, they have long been hoping that archaeology would discover definite monumental evidence to justify their belief. This hope has now been fulfilled.
    • Marshall, John, quoted in Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • Taken as a whole, [the Indus Valley people’s] religion is so characteristically Indian as hardly to be distinguished from still living Hinduism.
    • Marshall, John, (ed.), Mohenjo-daro and the Indus Civilization,, vol. 1, p. vi. in Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • ‘A continuous series of cultural developments links the so-called two major phases of urbanization in South Asia . . . The essential of Harappan identity persisted.’
    • Shaffer Jim G., ‘Reurbanization: The Eastern Panjab and Beyond’, , pp. 60, 58 & 63. in Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • 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.
  • The dating of the Vedic age as well as the theory of an Aryan invasion of India has been shaken. We are required to completely reconsider not only certain aspects of Vedic India, but the entire relationship between Indus civilization and Vedic culture. . . . One of the most intriguing pieces of evidence is afforded by the dating of the disappearance of the River Saraswati. . . . Also, no evidence has been found of any large scale violent conflicts. . . . Astronomical evidence allow[s] us to set precise dates to certain passages in the Rgveda. . . . The certainty seems to be growing that the Indus civilization was carried out by the Vedic Indians. (34-38)
    • Klostermaier's Survey of Hinduism (1994) in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. ch 13
  • 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.
  • The standard view, based on the evidence available, had been that the fertile Indus Valley had housed the Harappan civilization between about 3000 and 1700 B.C. It was gradually absorbed or disappeared when horse-borne Aryans moved downward from the north, perhaps as peaceful migrants or possibly as warlike invaders. This did not suit the Hindu nationalists because it implied that an indigenous civilization had given way to one from outside and that their own culture might have foreign elements. As Madhav Golwalkar, the spiritual father of today’s Hindu nationalists, wrote in the 1930s, “The Hindus came into this land from nowhere, but are indigenous children of the soil always, from times immemorial.” Of course, this was an absurdly simplistic view of the ways peoples and civilizations develop and commingle. They are not flies stuck forever the same in amber but much more like rivers with many tributaries.
  • 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
  • Neglect in protecting our heritage of natural resources could prove extremely harmful for the human race and for all species that share common space on planet earth. Indeed, there are many lessons in human history which provide adequate warning about the chaos and destruction that could take place if we remain guilty of myopic indifference to the progressive erosion and decline of nature’s resources. Much has been written, for instance, about the Maya civilization, which flourished during 250–950 AD, but collapsed largely as a result of serious and prolonged drought. Even earlier, some 4000 years ago a number of well-known Bronze Age cultures also crumbled extending from the Mediterranean to the Indus Valley, including the civilizations, which had blossomed in Mesopotamia. More recent examples of societies that collapsed or faced chaos on account of depletion or degradation of natural resources include the Khmer Empire in South East Asia, Eastern Island, and several others. Changes in climate have historically determined periods of peace as well as conflict. The recent work of David Zhang has, in fact, highlighted the link between temperature fluctuations, reduced agricultural production, and the frequency of warfare in Eastern China over the last millennium. Further, in recent years several groups have studied the link between climate and security. These have raised the threat of dramatic population migration, conflict, and war over water and other resources as well as a realignment of power among nations. Some also highlight the possibility of rising tensions between rich and poor nations, health problems caused particularly by water shortages, and crop failures as well as concerns over nuclear proliferation.
  • 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
  • There is one curious fact in regard to the beginnings of Indian history. For the Indus Valley culture, we have abundant archaeological data, but no written evidence. For the early Vedic culture we have abundant written evidence but no archaeological data.
    • (Majumdar 1959, 6). in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
    • Up until the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization in 1922, images of virile, blond, northern tribes swooping across the mountain passes on chariots and overpowering the primitive and ill-equipped natives they found on their way were presented as the standard version of the early history of the subcontinent.
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • Hitherto it has commonly been supposed that the pre-Aryan peoples of India were . . . black skinned, flat nosed barbarians. . . . Never for a moment was it imagined that five thousand years ago, before the Aryans were heard of, Panjab and Sind . . . were enjoying an advanced and singularly uniform civilization of their own . . . even superior to that of contemporary Mesopotamia and Egypt. . . . there is nothing that we know of in prehis- toric Egypt or Mesopotamia or anywhere else in western Asia to compare with the well- built baths and commodious houses of the citizens of Mohenjodara. . . . nothing that we know of in other countries at this period bears any resemblance, in point of style, to the miniature faience models . . . which . . . are distinguished by a breadth of treatment and a feeling for line and plastic form that has rarely been surpassed in glyptic art. (v-vii)
    • Sir John Marshall (1931) in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • With Indra, whose epithet in the Rgveda is purandara 'fort-destroyer', as his chief protagonist, Wheeler had a dramatic script that he could have marketed in Hollywood. "Indra stands accused" was his lighthearted, but later regretted, caricature of the principal culprit behind the demise of the great civilization
    • (Wheeler 1953, 92).3 in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • George Dales (1964) pointed out the obvious: "Where are the burned for- tresses, the arrowheads, weapons, pieces of armor, the smashed bodies of the invaders and defenders? Despite the extensive excavations at the largest Harappan sites, there is not a single bit of evidence that can be brought forth as unconditional proof of an armed conquest and destruction on the scale of the Aryan invasion" (38).
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • Kenoyer (1991b) sums up the situation: "Any military conquest that would have been effective over such a large area should have left some clear evidence in the archaeological record. . . . evidence for periods of sustained conflict and coercive militaristic hegemony is not found" (57).
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • This continuum of the archaeological record stretches from the seventh millennium B.C.E. right down through the Early, Mature, Late, and Post-Harappan periods. Of course, as in any cultural area over the course of time, there are regional variations and trans- formations, but no sudden interruptions or abrupt innovations that might alert archaeologists to an intrusive ethnic group: "There were no invasions from central or western South Asia. Rather there were several internal cultural adjustments reflecting altered ecological, social and economic conditions affecting northwestern and north-central South Asia" (Shaffer 1986, 230). More than everything else, this lack of cultural discontinuity has caused an ever-increasing number of South Asian archaeologists to question: Where are the supposedly invading Aryans in the archaeological record?
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • A primary reason that Indian archaeologists have become disillusioned with the whole enterprise of the Indo-Aryans is because they have been offered, and initially accepted, a progression of theories attempting to archaeologically locate the Indo-Aryans on the grounds of the philological axiom that their nature was intrusive. These theories have successively proved to be wrong or questionable. The course of scholarship in the last century has evolved from images of blond, soma-belching, Germanic supermen "riding their chariots, hooting and tooting their trumpets" as they trampled down the inferior aboriginal Dasa (Singh 1995, 56),58 through speakers of an Indo-Aryan language destroying the highly advanced civilization of the superior Dasa; to discrete trickles of Indo- Aryan speakers possibly coexisting in a neighborly fashion in the cities of the Indus Valley with the hospitable Dasa. As a result many archaeologists have become frustrated with the whole Aryan-locating enterprise and jettisoned the linguistic claims altogether. Failure to find any tangible evidence whatsoever of the Aryans has resulted in the present trend among many South Asian archaeologists, which is toward considering the indigenousness of both the Indo-Aryans and the Dasa, period. As we saw in the greater Indo- European problem among Western scholars, in India, too, there is a chasm between many archaeologists and Western historical linguists, particularly since there are so few historical linguists in India itself and so little contact with linguistic theories originating in the West. Accordingly, the debate in India has been primarily conducted among archaeologists, with a growing number rejecting the whole idea of anything but indigenous origins for the various developments of the protohistoric archaeological record.
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • B. B. Lai (1997) is a little more cautious in denying the nomadic character of the Indo- Aryans: "Just as there were cities, towns and villages in the Harappan ensemble (as there are even today in any society) there were both rural and urban components in the Vedic times. Where then is the 'glaring disparity' between the cultural levels of the Harappan and Vedic societies?" (285). S. P. Gupta (1996) elaborates on this perspective: Once it becomes reasonably clear that the Vedas do contain enough material which shows that the authors of the hymns were fully aware of the cities, city life, long-distance over- seas and overland trade, etc. . . . it becomes easier for us to appreciate the theory that the Indus-Saraswati and Vedic civilizations may have been just the two complementary ele- ments of one and the same civilization. And this, it is important to note, is not a presup- position against the cattle-keeping image of the Vedic Aryans. After all, ancient civiliza- tions had both the components, the village and the city, and numerically villages were many times more than the cities. In India presently there are around 6.5 lakhs of villages but hardly 600 towns and cities put together. . . . Plainly, if the Vedic literature reflects primarily the village life and not the urban life, it does not at all surprise us." (147)
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • Sites such as Harappa continued to be inhabited and are still important cities today. . . . Late and post-Harappan settlements are known from surveys in the region of Cholistan, . . . the upper Ganga-Yamuna Doab,. . . and Gujarat. In the Indus Valley itself, post-Harappan settlement patterns are obscure, except for the important sites of Pitak. . . . This may be because the sites were along the newly-stabilized river systems and lie beneath modern vil- lages and towns that flourish along the same rivers. (Kenoyer 1991b, 30)
    • in Bryant, E. F. (2001). The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture : the Indo-Aryan migration debate. Oxford University Press. chapter 9
  • The ethos of the ancient Indian Civilization is shaped during the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Periods.
    • Eltsov, Piotr Andreevich, From Harappa to Hastinapura, quoted from Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • There appear to be many continuities [between the Indus and later historical cultures]. Agricultural and pastoral subsistence strategies continue, pottery manufacture does not change radically, many ornaments and luxury items continue to be produced using the same technology and styles . . . There is really no Dark Age isolating the protohistoric period from the historic period.
    • Kenoyer, J.M., ‘The Indus Civilization’, Wisconsin Academy Review, Madison, March 1987, p. Danino, M. (2010). The lost river : on the trail of the Sarasvatī. Penguin Books India.
  • It is also evident that previous theories of wholesale population migration and invasions... are not acceptable in the light of archaeological evidence.
    • D.L. Heskel , in : Frontiers of the Indus Civilization by B. B. Lal and S. S. Gupta (eds, 1984), 343. quoted in Kazanas, N. (2003). Final reply: Indo-Aryan migration debate. Journal of Indo-European studies, 31(1-2), 187-240.

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