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The Indus Valley: An Introduction

Also known as the Harappan Civilisation, the Indus Valley is a unique but highly sophisticated civilisation. Located in the Indian Subcontinent, near the Indus River, the Indus Valley dates from around 3300 to its fall in 1500BC.

The following post is a series of notes I have compiled based on a lecture by Mark Kenoyer:

A series of future posts will include further sources and target each aspect of this incredible culture thematically. From the lack of warfare and rulers, to trade and urban planning.




  • Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro

  • Covers one of greatest regions than other societies

  • Interconnected, trade and genes between other civilisations

  • Each civilisation evolved on own trajectory, based on what works for them, sharing knowledge with others

  • Evolve alongside others in Indian subcontinent (Bactro-Margiana, Helmand, Baluchistan, Malwa, Ganga-vindhya, Deccan, Indus)

  • Merge into Indo-Gangetic Tradition

  • First empires in South Asia incorporate these early civilisations (300-400BC)


  • Harappa, alluvial plain

  • First people settling in Harappa were connected to all areas Indus

  • Shell from sea, minerals from West/East

  • Bring to plain to make objects

  • First village in Harappa mound

  • Initially a flat plain, now 17m due to cultural development

  • Pottery (handmade not wheel), painted decoration

  • Inscriptions:

  • Potter's mark (identification)

  • Post-production markings (writing? same time writing develop elsewhere)


  • Cosmology, way of seeing universe, developing

  • Establish social organisation

  • Swastika (originate cave paintings 10,000BC)

House ordered north-south and east-west (cardinal points)

  • Houses made of mud brick or reeds, wattle and daub


  • Ornate styles developing

  • Shell bangles (800km away)

  • Thick = women heavy labour (or break)

  • Thin = women less manual labour

  • Clay = cheap

Image: Thick clay bangles indicated manual labour and thin ones indicate high status, thin bangles are less practical and would easily break in even tasks such as cooking


  • Begins around 2600BC

  • 2450BC most common period

Indus materials from elsewhere

  • Randall Law: Map plotting location of all stones from Harappa

  • Ravi Phase people got things from North but also south Sujarat and Kutch

  • Made carnelian, lapis, jasper and hard stone beads (need technology)

  • Clay beads

  • Beads and lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan

  • Sealing from Gulf

  • Shell from Indus

  • Ev: Ur burial has shell cylinder seals from Indus and Lapis from Afghanistan and Persian Gulf

  • Indus not make cylinder seals, the shell was sold and carved to Mesopotamia

  • Ev: Dark green bloodstone made at Dholavira on Kutch is found from Akkadian period at burials of Ur in 2200-2100BC

  • Ev: Cylinder seal marked with 'this is the seal of a Meluhhan interpreter'

  • People did interpret for Meluhhan traders

  • Texts say Meluhhan villagers were there

  • Statements by Mesopotamian conquered Meluhhans (no evidence of warfare, but may have dominated villages)

  • Ev: Carnelian belt from Mohenjo-daro and Kish Beads from burials at Ur, made in Indus

  • Kish Beads made from stone not in the Indus (Agate) but made with technology of Indus craftsman

Indus craftsmen may live in Mesopotamia and make objects for elite courts

  • Ev: Faceted Carnelian Beads only made in Mesopotamia, never in Indus, but made by Indus technology

  • Catering to Mesopotamian elites

Trade routes

  • Mesopotamia, Persian Gulf, Central Asian and possibly China

  • Ev: beads from Zhous period (years after Indus)

  • Possibly beads handed down and then copied based on Indus craft by later China

How do we know it is Indus Technology?

  • Stone called Ernestite

  • Drills in Kish for drilling long beads in ernestite

  • Specialised drilling technology for straight and long columns through the beads

  • Technology for vesuvianite came only from Indus, and only carved via ernestite drill, found in Mesopotamia

Control of Trade and Production

  • Controlled production and technologies

  • Walls around cities and people have to pay taxes

Complex standardised weight systems, calibration almost identical

  • Cubic and truncated spherical weights (from Chanhudaro)

  • Very similar to Egyptians but no evidence of that connections

  • Mesopotamia did not have standardised weights (15 different numbering systems to count commodities)

Numbering systems

  • Cannot be translated but the number of slashes indicates number

  • 4 key number


  • Trading with central Asia

  • Terracotta sealing with Central Asia seal on one side and Harappan on the other

  • Ev: Terracotta sealings with Central Asian and Harppan seal at Mohenjo-daro

Different Relationships

  • Indus seals in Mesopotamia but no Mesopotamian in Indus

  • Central Asian seals in Indus

  • Mesopotamian trade likely occur via Oman

Women from Harappa go to Mesopotamia?

  • Ev: Strontium analysis

  • Ev: Figurines in Indus have elaborate flower headdress, only time they are found in Mesopotamia is in Ur

Ravi Phase

  • 3500-2800BC (Regionalisation Era)

  • Develop villages throughout

  • Networks trade linking cities in Mesopotamia

  • Contact of early Cities

  • Ev: Late Uruk Jemdet Nasr Cylinder Seal

  • Cylinder seals with temples, priest king feeding herd cattle - possibly an Indus Valley shell

  • Shell only found in Karachi, thick column 3cm diameter, only species that thick column, seal made from this shell

  • 3300-2900BC

  • Indicate trade connections linking Mesopotamia and Indus

Kot Dijian Phase

  • 2800-2600BC (Regionalisation Era)

  • Settlement grow into town

  • Two sectors

  • Adjacent

Large Walls

  • Walls not for defence

  • Controlled access - trade/materials/politics

  • City walls requires transport technology

  • Ev: Ox Carts and Bullock Carts in 2800BC

  • Ev: Roadways developed

  • Cart tracks on streets 2800BC

  • Move timbers, bricks and commodities

  • 3700BC (some cart fragment) and in Girawar there is a cart with wheels

  • Early evidence of wheel carts developing in Steppes and Indus

  • Mudbrick Walls

  • 450 people 3 months to build

  • Walls enclose grid-like settlement

  • North-south and East-west streets

  • Used until 2600BC

High Value Items

  • Complex Craft Technologies

  • Firing

  • Faience (frit, ground rock) which is heated in fire and glazed surface

  • Blue turquoise colour, fake turquoise invented for faience

  • Furnaces, Kilns and other technologies

  • Some houses have no evidence of craft

  • Suggest there are crafters and resource controllers

Silver and Gold

  • Sequin buttons, silver ornaments, textiles and bangles etc.

  • Found hoards or lost in streets

  • Silver traced with lead isotopes

  • Lots from Baluchistand

  • Some silver with unknown origins

  • Anatolian Pleateu and Mesopotamia famous for silver (possibly from there)

Evidence of wealth

  • Losing silver gold on street and not pick up suggest enough wealth

  • Suggest control and dominate cities

New materials used

  • Suggest prospecting and find new competitive resources

  • Trying to break into market

  • Competition allows growth and expansion

  • Extending South

People Controlling Resources and Power

  • Power demonstrated through writing, seals, weights

  • Sealings to control goods stored

  • Elephant motif, geometric seals

  • Cubic limestone weight to value gold?

  • Pottery signage

  • Harappa 1: Post-firing graffiti in Ravi Phase

  • Harappa 2: Similar signs from graffiti used to develop Indus script

  • Beginnings of writing symbols - evolution and eventual codification

  • Writing system began to be used in seals

Harappa Phase

  • 2600-1900BC (Integration Era)

  • Cities emerging

  • Rulers

  • Had names and used writing system which recorded names and genealogies

  • Cannot translate names


  • No bilingual texts to translate this language

  • Indecipherable

  • Common Image is like a unicorn

  • Symbol of communities

  • Shown in seals and figurines

  • Only one horn from single figure

  • No animals bones, clearly a myth

Codifying multiple languages

  • Proto-Dravidian, Mundari, Indo-Aryan, Sino-Tibetan, Language 'X'

  • Language 'X' = first language people named animals, trees, plants and sickles (still in Hindi and Urdu) - these cannot be traced to modern language family, believed to be Neolithic language