In today’s 5th post on the Indus Valley Civilization, we’ll further examine the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, list the many accomplishments of the Indus Valley Civilization, observe its rapid decline, and the beginnings of its metamorphosis into the profoundly different Vedic culture. This will conclude our investigation of the IVC, which was introduced because its beginnings in the 33rd century B.C. are included in the Raising Up Pharaoh series of novels.
Harappa & Mohenjo-Daro Jewelry: gold headbands and agate necklace. BBC
Inventions commonly attributed to the IVC are the button, ruler, and step well. Less commonly attributed are proto-dentistry at Mehrgarh; municipal water works including ceramic sewers, brick public baths, and flush toilets throughout the Harappan-phase cities; orthogonal alignment of streets to the cardinal coordinates, ceramic brick construction, a brick enclosed harbor at Lothal, and plowing in orthogonal rows In Kalibangan; and creative ways of making jewelry. They also had a written language which has yet to be deciphered, but with 400 symbols it is certainly a worthy invention, and its earliest artifactual evidence around 3200-3300 BC places its origin at about the same time as the first scripts in Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro. Adil Najam’s Blog.
Harappan is the name given to this 3300 to 1500 BC phase of the IVC because Harappa was the first IVC city to be recognized and excavated as a major archaeological site. Mohenjo-Daro is larger, better excavated, and was perhaps the largest city in the world at the time. The Harappan civilization contained over 1,000 cities and villages.
The city of Harappa was founded around 3300 BC and finally abandoned around 1300 BC. It is located on a former course of the Ravi River (also known as Iravati in the Rig Veda) , which has since dried up. Its civilization peaked between 2600 and 1900 BC. It covered 250 acres and housed 23,500 residents.
Mohenjo-Daro was built around 2600 BC and abandoned around 1700 BC. It is located on a Pleistocene ridge rising from the flood plain on the west bank of the Indus River. The ridge put it above the floodplain which at that time was bordered on the west side by another river which has since dried up. The city covers 750 acres and once housed around 40,000 on a street grid with rectilinear buildings, mostly constructed of fired and mortared brick. The city has two levels, the upper being raised about 40 feet is called the Citadel, which includes public baths and a large residential structure able to house 5,000. The city had no walls but guard towers on the west side and some fortifications on the south side. The city was destroyed and rebuilt seven times, and it is conjectured that the destruction came from floods. A romantic-adventure movie placed in 2600 BC Mohenjo-Daro is being produced by Disney-India and other partners for worldwide release on August 12, 2016.
Cemetery H Culture. Source: “Rigvedic geography” by Dbachmann.
The Cemetery H culture developed out of the northern IVC about 1700 BC. Cremation is first found in Indian burials in Cemetery H, and is a distinct change in a fundamental characteristic of the IVC culture. No anatomic differences were found between those buried here and those buried earlier in the IVC, which I suppose is attested by the cremated bones. What is apparent at Cemetery H is the fact that the once-isolated cremations at Kalibangan and Lothal, which we focused on previously, have now become the mainstream, and I would be looking for fire altars and Shiva worship as the popular worship. Such would not be an exclusive worship because Indo-Aryan worship evidenced in the Rig Veda was polytheistic. Thus, we see evidence of the beginning of the Vedic Period and end of the primacy of Mother Goddess worship and burials.
2007 Map Showing Thar, Thal, and Great Indian Deserts East of Indus. mapsofworld.com
It is likely but not necessary that the coincident change of religion was sufficient reason for the collapse of the pacifistic Harappan culture and rise of the martial Vedic culture. There is also evidence of three major earthquakes in the Indus Valley: 2900 BC, 2600 BC, and 1800 BC. The 2600 BC quake brought down the early Harappan phase at Kalibangan, but the city was rebuilt into the mature Harappan phase only to be abandoned around 2100-2000 BC when the Sarasvati River dried up. This was a major river system in the Rig Veda, and many Harappan IVC cities would have been affected. Much of the Sarasvati riverbed and of the former Harappan IVC is now located in the Dhar and Great Indian Deserts in the map below. These rivers very likely dried up as a consequence of the 4.2 Kiloyear Event which caused agricultural crises in Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Arabian peninsula, and China. Moreover, as the Indus Valley has been seismically active (see earthquakes above), this Stanford paper is worth reading. The 1800 BC earthquake (see above) could have delivered the coup de grace to the last Harappan optimists.
Map of Dry Sarasvati (aka Ghaggar-Hakra) River under Thar Desert. Source.
On top of the natural disasters leading to 1700 BC, the IVC religious system was a shambles. Who would blame the Harappan folks for losing faith in their ancient Mother Goddess’s ability/willingness to protect them and switching to the fire god Shiva as the object of their worship. After all, the Indo-Aryans are everywhere, murderous, and fond of fire and sacrifice. Since we can’t beat them, maybe we should join them. Similar thinking has been the end of many subsequent pacifistic cultures. Why not the Harappans?
Whatever the unknowable truth about their motivations—lacking written records—that looks like what happened based upon the Rig Veda, replacement of the city-dwelling culture with the pastoral Vedic culture, and eastward expansion of the new culture looking to replace the rich pastures and farmland lost to desert.
The Harappan Phase of the IVC lasted 1,600 years from 3300 to 1700 BC. This same period in Mesopotamia started with Sumer’s Uruk period and ended with the Elamite invasion, fall of the Sumerian civilization (destruction of Ur), and migration of the Amorites to the Mediterranean coastlands. Likewise, this period starts in Egypt with the predynastic kings and ends with the fall of the Middle Kingdom upon the arrival of the Hyksos, thus beginning the Second Intermediate Period.
What is notable about 3300 BC is that, while the Sumerian civilization was already formed and robust, the other two were just getting started. What is remarkable about the year 1700 BC is that the IVC’s Harappan culture, Mesopotamia’s Sumerian culture, and Egypt’s Middle Kingdom collapsed before foreign cultures. The Harappans fell to a powerful Indo-Aryan influence which is chronicled by the Rig Veda. Sumer fell to an invasion from Elam, which bordered the Indo-Aryan hotbed to their east. And Egypt fell to the Hyksos from the north, who used horses and chariots (Indo-European cultural influence), and who themselves felt pressure from arriving Amorites. It appears the Indo-Aryan expansion was creating primary and secondary pressures across Eurasia. This is most notably identified by the emergence of horse-drawn chariot warfare.
Let’s wrap-up our 37 post analysis of what the world looked like from the end of the last Ice Age through the time of my novels in 3,203 BC to the collapse of the Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia, the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, and Harappan Civilization in the Indus Valley. But, I don’t want you to do so without reviewing that period in the context of the entire world’s cultures. So here are some helpful links:
History of India. This is a powerful Indian web site. Study the left-hand menu, and start by clicking the Indus Valley. After going through the IVC, you can access vastly more about India.
World History Timeline: India. This a powerful graphic engine that will initialize in the Time Maps History Atlas with “India and South Asia.” Stay there and click your way through the India map from 3500 BC on. Once done, and if you’re inclined, click Atlas on the header bar, and pick another area of the world.
Mesopotamian Timeline. This is a powerful ancient history website. Once you’ve reviewed the Mesopotamian timeline on the first page, you might profitably examine the rest of the site for your future reference.
Ancient Egyptian Timeline. This powerful site is dedicated to Ancient Egypt. Once you’ve reviewed the Egyptian timeline on the first page, you might profitably survey the rest of the site for your future reference.
World History Timeline. We’ve used this website above, but this time it starts on a page with a single timeline of top historical events all over the world. Note the control bar on the top of the left panel. Start by clicking 9000-4000 BC. When finished with that, do the next two timelines. The lowest timeline isn’t yet live.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s exercise of what Hercule Poirot calls “your little grey cells.” If you have followed this Raising Up Pharaoh blog all the way from the first post, you have already acquired a broader overview of prehistory than 99% of the world’s college-educated population.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke