Harappan (Indus Valley) Civilization

The Indus valley civilization is also called the Harappan civilization. Named after Harappa, the first site that was discovered, the civilization is dated between 2600 and 1900 BC. This ancient civilisation was discovered when archaeologists began excavating the sites connected with it in the 1920s.

The first sites to be excavated were Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. That is why it is also called Harappa Civilisation. At present, hundreds of sites of this culture are known. The most important cities were Harappa (Western Punjab), MohenjoDaro (Sindh), Lothal (Gujarat), Kalibangan (Rajasthan), Ropar (Punjab), Banawali and Rakhigarhi (Haryana), and Dholavira (Gujarat).

Subsistence / Food

The Harappans ate a wide range of plant and animal products, including fish. Grains found at Harappan sites include wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea and sesame. Millets are found from sites in Gujarat. Finds of rice are relatively rare.

Animal bones found at Harappan sites include those of cattle, sheep, goat, buffalo and pig. These animals were domesticated. Bones of wild species such as boar, deer and gharial are also found. Bones of fish and fowl are also found.

Agricultural Technologies

Representations on seals and terracotta sculpture indicate that the bull was known, and archaeologists extrapolate from this that oxen wer e used for ploughing. Archaeologists have also found evidence of a ploughed field at Kalibangan (Rajasthan), associated with Early Harappan levels.

Most Harappan sites are located in semi-arid lands, where irrigation was probably required for agriculture. Traces of canals have been found at the Harappan site of Shortughai in Afghanistan, but not in Punjab or Sind.


The most unique feature of the Harappan civilization was the development of urban centres. Although Mohenjodaro is the most well-known site, the first site to be discovered was Harappa.

The settlement is divided into two sections, one smaller but higher and the other much larger but lower. Archaeologists designate these as the Citadel and the Lower Town respectively. The Citadel owes its height to the fact that buildings were constructed on mud brick platforms. It was walled, which meant that it was physically separated from the Lower Town.


One of the most distinctive features of Harappan cities was the carefully planned drainage system. Roads and streets were laid out along an approximate grid pattern, intersecting at right angles.

It seems that streets with drains were laid out first and then houses built along them. If domestic waste water had to flow into the street drains, every house needed to have at least one wall along a street.


The Lower Town at Mohenjodaro provides examples of residential buildings. Many were centred on a courtyard, with rooms on all sides. The courtyard was probably the centre of activities such as cooking and weaving, particularly during hot and dry weather.

Every house had its own bathroom paved with bricks, with drains connected through the wall to the street drains. Some houses have remains of staircases to reach a second storey or the roof. Many houses had wells, often in a room that could be reached from the outside and perhaps used by passers-by.


On the Citadel, structures for special public purposes were built. These include the warehouse and the Great Bath. The Great Bath was a large rectangular tank in a courtyard surrounded by a corridor on all four sides. The uniqueness of the structure has led scholars to suggest that it was meant for some kind of a special ritual bath.

Social and Cultural Life


At burials in Harappan sites the dead were generally laid in pits. Some graves contain pottery and ornaments, perhaps indicating a belief that these could be used in the afterlife. Jewellery has been found in burials of both men and women.

Utilitarian and Luxuries

Objects of daily use that included querns, pottery, needles, flesh-rubbers (body scrubbers), etc are usually found distributed throughout settlements. Little pots of faience (a material made of ground sand or silica mixed with colour and a gum and then fired) were probably considered precious because they were difficult to make.

Rare objects made of valuable materials are generally concentrated in large settlements like Mohenjodaro and Harappa and are rarely found in the smaller settlements.

Craft Production

Chanhudaro is almost exclusively devoted to craft production, including bead-making, shell-cutting, metal-working, seal-making and weight-making.

The variety of materials used to make beads is remarkable: stones like carnelian (of a beautiful red colour), jasper, crystal, quartz and steatite; metals like copper, bronze and gold; and shell, faience and terracotta or burnt clay. Some beads were made of two or more stones, cemented together, some of stone with gold caps. The shapes were numerous - disc shaped, cylindrical, spherical, barrel-shaped, segmented. Some were decorated by incising or painting, and some had designs etched onto them.

A variety of materials was used for craft production. While some such as clay were locally available, many such as stone, timber and metal had to be procured from outside the alluvial plain. Terracotta toy models of bullock carts suggest that this was one important means of transporting goods and people across land routes. Riverine routes along the Indus and its tributaries, as well as coastal routes were also probably used.

Recent archaeological finds suggest that copper was also probably brought from Oman, on the southeastern tip of the Arabian peninsula. Chemical analyses have shown that both the Omani copper and Harappan artefacts have traces of nickel, suggesting a common origin. A distinctive type of vessel, a large Harappan jar coated with a thick layer of black clay has been found at Omani sites.

Seals, Scripts & Weights

Seals and sealings were used to facilitate long distance communication. The sealing also conveyed the identity of the sender. Harappan seals usually have a line of writing, probably containing the name and title of the owner.

Exchanges were regulated by a precise system of weights, usually made of a stone called chert and generally cubical, with no markings. The smaller weights were probably used for weighing jewellery and beads. Metal scale-pans have also been found.

End of Civilization

There is evidence that by around 1800 BC most of the Mature Harappan sites in regions such as Cholistan had been abandoned. Simultaneously, there was an expansion of population into new settlements in Gujarat, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

In the few Harappan sites that continued to be occupied after 1900 BC, there appears to have been a transformation of material culture, marked by the disappearance of the distinctive artefacts of the civilization - weights, seals, special beads. Writing, long-distance trade, and craft specialization also disappeared.

Several explanations have been put forward for the cause of end of civilization. These range from climatic change, deforestation, excessive floods, the shifting or drying up of rivers, to overuse of the landscape. Some of these causes may hold for certain settlements, but they do not explain the collapse of the entire civilization.