Primary History

Indus Valley: Discovery

  • Who found the Indus cities?

    In 1826, a British traveller in India called Charles Masson came across some mysterious brick mounds. He thought they looked like old castles.

    Thirty years later in 1856, engineers building a railway found more bricks, and carted them off to build the railway. This was the first people knew of the lost Indus city of Harappa.

    In the 1920s, archaeologists began to excavate the sites of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. They uncovered the remains of long-forgotten cities. They had found the Indus Valley civilisation.

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  • How do archaeologists explore a lost city?

    Archaeologists first look for clues, such as bricks, stones or bits of broken pottery ('sherds'). They study photographs taken from planes or balloons, because aerial photos may show ruins hidden beneath the ground.

    Before excavating a site, a team of archaeologists marks out a grid, in squares. They make an excavation map of the site. They work square by square, clearing away soil. They remove finds (artefacts, bones, plant seeds) very carefully. They mark each find, and where it was found. They work carefully, because most very old things are easily broken.

    They may use a scanner to look underground. A geophysical scan can show up a buried building.

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  • Mohenjo-Daro, Mound of the Dead

    Mohenjo-Daro is the biggest Indus city. Mohenjo-Daro means 'Mound of the Dead'. But so far no cemetery has been found there.

    The site lies about 5 kilometres away from where the Indus River is today. The river might have been closer to the city 5,000 years ago (rivers change over time).

    Mohenjo-Daro was built on mounds made from soil and mud bricks. The biggest mound, the High Mound, had a mud-brick wall all around it. Most people lived in the Lower Town. Lower Town was built on several mounds.

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  • Harappa the ruined city

    Harappa is about 600 kilometres northeast of Mohenjo-Daro. It was built close to important trade routes by road and river. It was a busy city, but today Harappa has almost disappeared. Many of the bricks from its houses and walls were taken away, to make new buildings.

    At Harappa, archaeologists found the ruins of a big building they call the Great Granary. A granary is a place to store grain, such as wheat. This building is a mystery, because although it looks like a granary, no grain has been found. Perhaps it was a palace!

    At Harappa, there were two cemeteries. There were furnaces for making copper, a metal the Indus people used for knives and other tools.

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  • Mystery skeletons

    In the 1920s archaeologists found 39 skeletons at the city of Mohenjo-Daro. Were these men, woman and children who had been killed by invaders? Some archaeologists thought so.

    However, only two skeletons had cut-marks on their bones, the kind made by a sword or spear. One was an old wound, another was healing- perhaps after an accident. There is no evidence of battles. Perhaps these people were left together because they died from disease.

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Fun Facts
  • The Indus Valley civilization was bigger than Ancient Egypt.

  • Charles Masson's real name was James Lewis. He was a deserter (runaway) from the British Army.

  • Some lost Indus cities were long ago swept away by rivers.

  • Cats left paw marks in wet mud bricks.

  • Monkeys left paw-prints in wet mud bricks, too!

  • People drinking at wells used cheap pottery cups, then threw them away!

  • Mohenjo-Daro had as many as 3,000 houses.

  • 1 in 3 homes at Mohenjo-Daro had its own private well.

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-Z

A to D

aerial photograph
An aerial photograph is usually taken from an aircraft or hot air balloon and shows the landscape beneath.
An amulet is a good-luck charm, like a locket, usually worn around the neck.
ancient civilisation
An ancient civilisation is one which existed over 1,500 years ago.
An archaeologist is a person who studies ancient civilisations by examining the materials they left behind. These materials can include buildings, pottery, graves and tools.
An artefact is an object that has been made by a person. Archaeologists use old artefacts to learn about the past.
BC is the abbreviation for Before Christ - which is before the Christian era.
A bullock is a young bull or ox (male cattle) used to pull carts or ploughs.
Bronze is a metal made by mixing copper and tin.
Carnelian is a reddish-brown mineral stone used to make jewellery.
A cemetery is a place where dead people are buried.
A citadel is a fortified place, usually in a raised position in or near a city.
A civilisation is a culture and society that developed in a region at a particular time.
A compass is a device that shows the direction of the magnetic or true North.
Copper is a metal. It was used in ancient civilisations to make tools.
A detective is a person who investigates crimes by finding evidence.
A drain is a pipe or ditch made to carry away water from buildings.

E to G

Materials or facts that can help you form a conclusion or judgment about something.
To excavate an area is to uncover it by digging or removing earth.
excavation map
An excavation map shows the site where an archaeologist is searching for artefacts.
faience (fie-unz)
Faience is a material made by heating minerals until they melt; when it cools, it is hard and shiny.
A furnace is a very hot fire used to melt rocks containing metals, and melt metal soft enough to shape.
geophysical scan
A geophysical scan uses radar, lasers and other 'x-ray' technology to look beneath the ground for hidden objects.

H to L

The Himalaya are the highest mountains in the world, to the north of India.
A Hindu is a person who follows the ancient religion of Hinduism, which began in India.
To irrigate is to use water from a river or lake to feed farm crops in fields.
Jade is a hard stone used to make jewellery and ornaments.
A kiln is a very hot oven used to bake and harden materials such as clay and bricks.

M to O

Mesopotamia was an ancient civilisation in what is now Iraq; it lay between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Minerals are natural substances like gold, silver, stone or sand.
A museum is a building that houses artefacts that have a historical value.
If something is mythical, it is imaginary or made-up.

P to Z

physical feature
A physical feature is a land shape formed by nature. Valleys, mountains and deserts are all physical features.
port city
A port city is a city by the sea, where boats can dock and people can buy or sell goods.
A record is information or data that has been collected and kept.
Resources are the raw materials people use for building or making things.
An Indus seal was a small stone block with a picture that left an impression when stamped into soft clay.
A settlement is a place where people live together, such as a village, town or city.
An archaeological site is an area that archaeologists are investigating.
A scribe was a person in ancient times who could read and write, and wrote things for other people.
A slave is a person who is not free and has to work for an owner.
Steatite is a soft stone which can be carved using metal tools. Steatite hardens when it is fired in a kiln.
Stone Age
The Stone Age was the period in ancient history when people made tools from stone, such as flint knives and axes.
Sumer was a land in Mesopotamia, with one of the first civilisations, about 3500 BC.
Taxes are what people have to pay to their government, as money or in ancient times as goods, such as sacks of grain.
Trade is exchanging goods. A trader is someone who makes a living by trade, buying and selling things that they or other people have grown, collected or made.
A well is a hole dug to find water underground.