In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Indus Valley Civilization 2. General Character of Indus Valley Civilization 3. Chronology 4. Script 5. Trade 6. Decline.

Introduction to Indus Valley Civilization:

Indus valley civilization is perhaps one of the most widely written topics in Prehistoric Archaeology. In this small attempt to provide essential features of various cultural phases in India we have to be, by necessity, extremely brief in our attempt to summarize this period.

Around 2300 B.C. to 2000 B.C. a large number of sites with spectacular similarity in their cultural features mushroom all along the Indus and its tributaries and spill over in the adjoining river valleys. The total spread of this culture is now estimated to be over an area of nearly 2 million square kilometers with the river Indus forming the vibrating heartland. The features which mainly characterize this spectacular culture are many. When all these occur together the site is referred to as urban metropolis.

These features are listed below:


1. Indus seals with their specific motifs and scripts occurring in steatite, lime stone or alabaster. So far nearly 2000 such seals have been found. Copper tablets containing the same script but slightly different depictions are also known from some sites.

2. A specific fabric, shape and decoration of pottery are almost identically repeated in all these sites:

(a) A dark tan slip with well fired wheel-made fabric.

(b) Goblets with pointed base, cylindrical jars with all round perforations, jars with extended S-profile -and dishes on stand are among the most commonly repeated forms.


(c) In decoration the most common Indus type is a series of intersecting circles, pipal leaves, peacocks, humped bull and scorpions. These are executed with bold black colour bands between series of lines.

3. In addition to the above terra-cotta cakes, weights and measures, terra-cotta figurines, inlayed beads with tubular holes driven through them and large number of toys in terra-cotta form another series of common feature in this culture.

4. Finally, construction of a fortified township with underground drains, individual houses etc., usually separated from another raised structure (usually referred to as the citadel) where larger structures around a bath are constructed. All these construction show the same measurement of burnt bricks of 7: 14: 28 cm (1: 2: 4) proportions and are bound together in the same pattern. The citadel as also the lower city was surrounded by defence walls. The plaster used was mainly mud mixed with brick dust and lime.

Most of the sites where the twin city dwelling pattern has been identified are referred to as urban metropolis.


The main sites in this group are as follows:

1. Harappa on Ravi in Punjab, Pakistan.

2. Chanhu-daro on Indus in Nawabab Shah, Pakistan.

3. Mohan-jo-daro on Indus in Larkana, Pakistan.

4. Lothal in Sabarmati delta, Gujarat, India.

5. Surkotada in Kutch, Gujarat, India.

6. Kalibangan in Ganganagar, Rajasthan, India.

7. Banawali in Hissar, Haryana, India.

So far more than 200 Harappan sites have been recorded but not more than a dozen of them can be really identified as urban metropolis. (Some authors have counted as many as ninety urban centers). All these urban townships are situated near the bank of a stream or the delta of a river near the coast. Allahdino and Balakot in Pakistan and Lethal and Desalpur in Saurashtra are the examples of the coastal sites.

Initially only two large and sprouling cities of the civilization were known (Mohan-jo-daro and Harappa). But today we have 3 other sites of comparable expanse known. Ganweriwala (80 hectare) and Rakhgarhi (8 hectare) are both situated on the Ghaggar-Hakra course. Dholovra n Kutch also spreads over 50 hectare.

Within the territory of Pakistan the explorations conducted by different authorities including the department of Archaeology, University of Peshawar and Univ. of Pennsylvania, U.S.A. resulted in the discovery of many new sites in Sindh, Northern Punjab and Cholistan. M.R. Mughal who has been working this region for now nearly 3 decades has himself discovered and reported as many as 414 Harappan sites. Most of these have been found in the now dried up coast of river Hokra and the Cholistan desert.

General Character of Indus Valley Civilization:

The excavated areas reveal that the structures were built after a rectangular, or at times, parallelogram raised platform was constructed with mud-bricks, filling this to a height of 20′ to 30′. This raised dominating and overlooking area is called the citadel. There are series of rooms built along the length of a rectangular lake, called the great bath, constructed along one side of the citadel.

These rooms have separate and individual stairs leading to the bath. The backyard of these rooms joins with a huge structure which is believed to be the granary. Towards the southern side of the citadel occurs a huge hall-like structure without any post-holes for supporting the roof.

Further south is the cemetery from where a large collection of skeletons has been made. A separate mound in the east shows the evidence of a line of small rooms apparently for labourers or soldiers and large pounding platforms with burnt wheat. Surrounding this complex of buildings, there is found the defence wall with two entrances.

The river flows just below the granary from the north-west side of the excavated region. The living quarters or villages are found in another corner separated from the main citadel complex but within the defence wall. All these structures are erected with burnt bricks of same size and in the same pattern of binding all over and repeated identically in all metropolitan centres.

The residential area shows considerable variation in the size of dwelling. There are houses which are single roomed ones and there are others which have more than dozen rooms with passages, courtyard and bathrooms with individual boundary walls. Drains were covered and led to lanes outside which in turn were connected to soakage pits.

Many of these houses are provided with stairways indicating an upper floor. Some of these rooms are as big as 20 ft × 23 ft in size. In many houses private wells have been dug with 3- 4 ft circular mouths. A separate mound occurs in most of these sites where a line of small rooms, apparently for labourers or soldiers, is found.

Some of the most significant objects found in these sites are a large number of seals, beads, naturalistic statues, chess­boards, weights and measures, terracotta figurines, metal utensils and weapons, stone axes and chert blades. The weights seem to have 1: 6 fragment systems. The measuring rod shows that the unit of length was 13.2 inches and perhaps the lowest fraction was 0.367 inches. Terracotta figurines include some toys, wheeled carts and some grotesque human forms which might be used as some form of folk-cult objects.

Chronology of Indus Valley Civilization:

Chronology of Indus Valley civilization has not yet been fixed beyond doubt. This is primarily because first the calibration of the radio-carbon dates had to be corrected on the basis of researches coming out from the radio carbon laboratories; secondly scholars seem to be not really in agreement about where they should begin to count the emergence of the Indus culture.

This will be amply demonstrated by the fact that what was earlier termed as Pre-Harappan has now been included as Early Harappan. Likewise Mature Harappan is renamed as urban phase of Harappan. And what was considered as Late Harappan is now renamed as Post Urban phase of Harappan.

Initially Sir John Marshall estimated the Indus Valley civilization as having emerged around 3100-2750 B.C. Mortimer wheeler subsequently re-examined the archaeological evidences specially the seals of Mesopotamian culture and established a contact of sorts with the Indus. On the basis of the latter and the similarities Wheeler felt that the civilization ranged between 2500 to 1500 B.C.

D.P. Agrawal also tried to re-establish the date and announced that Indus ranged between 2350 to 1700 B.C. In the recent years many more C-14 dates from a larger number of sites have become available. These indicate that Early Harappans decidedly occur earlier than 2500 B.C. and may even be as old as 3000 B.C.

The date for Mature Harappans or Urban Harappans is estimated to be 2500 B.C. to 2000 B.C. Late Harappan or Post Urban Harappan in the same light is pushed to 2000-1500 B.C. and it is believed that at some sites it might even extend to 1200 B.C. The interlocking of P.G.W. which is an iron using culture at Mitathal or Ganga-Jamuna sites should surely be taken as the Late Harappans continuing to survive till very young period.

The Great Bath:

The pool measures about 39 ft by 23 ft and is approximately 8 ft deep. The stairs into the pool terminate on platforms which are a little over a foot from the bottom of the pool. This platform extends right across from one side to the other and is 3 ft in width. The pool is rendered water-proof by lining it with bitumen.

There is also evidence that the steps were covered by wooden treads slotted into the sides of the stairs and fixed with bitumen. There are channels to bring water to the bath from a well or a channel cut from the river depending on the site. Arrangements for periodic cleaning of the bath are evidenced from the man-holes made at some sites.

The Priest-King:

At Harappa a structure of 52 ft × 40 ft with almost 4 ft thick walls filled with mud brick forms a kind of public building. Here in one room was found a bearded head carved in limestone. It is 6.9 inches high. The rounded head and equally round face is extremely well carved and show the upper lip shaven like many other representations known from Sumarian sites.

The hair is bunched in a bun at the back. The beard is also cut in a round fashion to give the face an oval appearance. The ear is flat and formless. The eyes are slit like and designed for shell in-lay. Bound on the forehead is a band with a circular amulet on the forehead. The band is tied at the back with V-like strands hanging from the back. A similar band is tied on the right arm.

The shawl is decorated with engraved trifoil designs and these are also designed for inlay. There are few more similar fragments of statues recorded from this site. One of these is a 16.5 inches high seated figure of a man with his hands resting on knees. The depiction of the eyes and the decorations of shawl, presence of the forehead bands etc. in this man compares with both priestly and king-like attributes and hence the name Priest-King.

Lothal Dock:

Of the many surprising features of the Indus Valley towns the so called Dock found at Lethal is perhaps the most spectacular feature of an advanced civilization. This is a rectangular depression 219 × 37 meters and is enclosed on all the three sides by fired brick walls. This is connected to the acropolis by a great platform of 249 m × 23 metres measurement which has been interpreted as “the wharf”.

There is also a spill way described in one of the walls which shows evidence of wooden sluice doors on grooves. Some authors have refuted this interpretation of the structure and have argued that this kind of structures are quite commonly known even today and are used as fresh water tanks in coastal regions which do not have any rivers in the neighbourhood.


Harappa or the Indus Valley civilization is almost synonymous with the characteristic seals that have been found almost invariably associated with the urban centers. The bulk of the seals are prepared on steatite carved intaglio. Most of these are square in shape with a perforated boss at the back. A minority of these is cylindrical in shape or made on copper or even stone.

A group of them shows such animals as water buffalo, humped bull, the Indian rhinoceros, elephant, tiger or gharial. There is another group of them which shows mythical animal forms or symbols like swastika, crosses or loops, finally, there are others which appear to be deity like figures sitting with animal horn as head dress. There is some showing a powerful man holding two hapless tigers by the throat.

In one depiction a ram before the same horned figure is taken to indicate sacrifice. Almost all these depictions carry some inscriptions which are still waiting an acceptable deciphering. One of the recent attempts of reading these scripts, which has gained fairly good acceptance, claims them to be a form of Proto-Dravidian script. It is believed that most of the writings are names of individuals.

Script of Indus Valley Civilization:

The decipherment of Indus script has been one of the biggest challenges in archaeology. Numerous attempts have been made and these include those brave ones done through computer aided method. Yet, we seem to be facing constantly new opinions. The latest among these is the one done by Dr. N.K. Verma of Bhagalpur who discovered the Harappan scripts being used by Santhals of Chhotanagpur as symbols in their rituals even today.

The scripts are available in the form of pictographic signs on seals, tablets, pottery and stamps. They are both positive as also negative impressions. Although usually square to rectangular in shape these script bearing seals can also be circular or even cylindrical. The scripts occur with masterly carved miniature animal or human figures.

In the recent years at Dholavira excavations, the scripts occur as large letters on a big board. Experts have identified nearly four hundred different characters in total and the evidences known till date seem to indicate that these characters occur in a series. A minimum of 5 characters and a maximum of seventeen characters are known to occur in a series.

In some the characters are also repeated. Experts feel that these were written from right to left and since there are no evidences of two lines of writing occurring together it is hard to say if the second line was written from left to right similar to some known writings. The script maintains uniformity over vast area of spread and also the long span of duration of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Earlier some scholars felt that Indus script represents an ancient and emergent form of Indo-European or Sanskrit. Earlier Fairservis and Porpola opined that it is a proto- Dravidian script. Fairservis had opiniated that it is Proto Elamite. S.R. Rao linked it with the Phoenicians while Langdon links it with Brahma. However the consensus still holds it as a proto-Dravidian script.

Trade during Indus Valley Civilization:

The occurrence of lapis lazuli, silver, gold, lead and other precious stones and metals in the Harappan urban centres definitely indicates connection with places of origin of these noble materials, i.e. Iran, Afghanistan and the regions adjoining them. The occurrence of possible grain collection centres coupled with this positive evidence can be taken to indicate a possibility of trade.

The uniform measures and scales can be finally taken to nail the above evidences and demonstrate of the existence of organized and advanced trade. Once trade is accepted, Harappan urban growth and its widespread influence become explainable.

Authors speculate that both river and maritime routes as also land routes were used by these traders. This leads us almost to the threshold of accepting the existence of a bureaucracy in Harappan civilization. The argument of a proper statehood having emerged on the Indus basin during this civilization rests mainly on the above set of logics.

The generalizations attempted in the article cover up many individual features present at each of the sites excavated so far. Consequently it will be worth our while to very briefly consider the excavation report of some of the well-known sites.

Decline of Indus Valley Civilization:

Generation of Archaeolwe ogists has come out from the schooling of an ‘Aryan invasion theory’ to explain the decline of Indus Civilization. It was believed that the ‘Aryans’ coming by way of Afghanistan invaded north-west India and overthrew the walled cities. Based on several Indian literary sources this event was believed to have taken place around 1500 B.C.

Indirectly evidences of sorts found in the two sites at that time (Mohenjodaro and Harappa) were linked with incidents and characters described in the Rigveda. Thus, Indra who is described as the destroyer of forts (Purandara) is shown as having destroyed the fortified Harappan cities in order to earn that name. Layers of ash and evidence of fire were likened to the description of Indras destroying Dravidian castles by putting them ablaze.

Obviously these inferential theories had no or very little conclusive archaeological evidences to stand on. Absence of proper dates for many isolated surface finds from further west prevents us from ascribing confirmed dates for many events in the Indus where strikingly similar objects have been recovered.

Likewise a lack of our understanding of the true functioning of the Indus society acts as one of many such hurdles. Both Gordon Childe and Sir Mortimer Wheeler, despite these hurdles had continued to maintain that the decline of Indus Valley is linked with the ‘Aryan’ invasion of these regions.

Marshal and Mackay, who have conducted the main excavation at the two major sites, had originally commented that repeated flooding of the Indus had eventually led to the destruction of the civilization. Cities must have been deserted during this devastating flood and this must have made it easy for the Barbarians to take over.

It still does not explain why the decline of the civilization as observed in the northern sites is not similar in kind when compared with the same in Saurashtra. But at least this was based on archaeological evidences such as reinforcement of the walls and river silt depositions in the site. Recently Lambrick proposed a slightly modified theory of repeated shifting of the river basin.

Raikas has proposed an elaborate argument of another modified process of sudden flooding and inundation of the entire region. According to Raikes a massive tectonic movement caused the formation of a dyke like feature across the Indus a little south of Mohenjodaro. This created both silting and inundation of the areas north of Mohenjodaro and dried off the river below this site.

Thus, in either direction it caused disaster to both cities and their primary economic base. But Raikes’ theory met with strong opposition from most of the archaeologists working in the field. According to these critics no such evidence of tectonic activity or any kind of dyke structure large enough to stop the river flow is known or reported so far.

If by the term ‘Aryan’ one were to understand the culture which has harnessed horses to chariots and those who spoke Indo-European language besides having fire worship etc., we can scarcely hope to demonstrate these characters from archaeological ruins, (with the exception of few claims made recently) It is true that the earliest reference of war chariots is known from Samsi-Adad (1800 B.C.) in north Syria but, for the Harappan sites, we are yet to demonstrate the presence of horse conclusively.

In the Boghaz keui tablets dated to 1380 B.C. referring to a war treaty of the Hittites one can see the mention of such Rigvedic gods’ names as Mitra, Varuna and Indra. But again this is nearly 400 years later than the date of the end of Indus Civilization. Under the circumstances as above an “Aryan Invasion” as a direct causative force for the decline would not seem very tenable. This would mean that the arrival of the Indo-European speakers and the cause of the decline of Indus Valley have to be treated as mutually exclusive phenomena separated by time.