Primary History

Indus Valley: Food and Farming

  • What did people eat?

    Archaeologists can tell what Indus Valley people ate by examining the teeth and bones of skeletons they discover. They also examine rubbish pits for animal bones, seafood shells, fruit seeds and other food remains for clues to their diet.

    Indus people kept cattle, pigs, sheep and goats for food. Cows provided milk and meat. Farmers grew fruit such as dates, grapes and melons, and field crops such as wheat and peas.

    Indus Valley people ate a healthy diet. Most people probably ate more fruit and vegetables than meat. From the evidence of teeth in skeletons, it seems men were better-fed than women. Most people's teeth were healthy too.

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  • Mystery of the Great Granary

    The Great Granary is a 'mystery-building' at Harappa. It is over 60 metres long, with six large halls, raised above the ground on walls. Close by were a number of circular brick platforms.

    At first archaeologists thought the building was a grain-store or 'granary', and it was built above ground level so air could flow underneath to keep wheat dry. They thought the platforms were for carts to load and unload.

    But there is no evidence of any grain! Also, the platforms and the main building were built at different times. Perhaps it was a palace, or maybe a temple? It's a mystery which has yet to be solved!

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  • Indus Valley farmers

    To feed people in the cities, Indus Valley farmers had to grow lots of food. They cultivated big fields using their wooden ploughs pulled by oxen. Model ploughs, possibly toys, have been found by archaeologists.

    Farmers made good use of water from the rivers. They sowed seeds after the rivers had flooded the fields, as flood water made the soil rich. They planted different crops for winter (which was mild and wet) and summer (which was hot and dry). They were probably the first farmers to take water from underground wells. They may have used river water to irrigate their fields.

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  • Crops and farm animals

    Indus Valley farmers planted winter crops, such as wheat, barley, peas, lentils, linseed and mustard. In summer, they grew millet, sesame and probably cotton. Experts are not sure if rice was grown.

    At Harappa, evidence shows that about half the animal bones came from cattle. An Indus farmer kept cows for milk and meat, and also used their skins for making leather. He used a bullock to pull his cart to market, and to pull his plough.

    Farmers kept sheep, goats and pigs, and possibly donkeys and camels. They had chickens too.

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  • Hunting and Fishing

    Rhinoceroses and elephants lived in the Indus Valley. Hunters may have caught such big animals in traps. There were deer and other animals that people hunted for food. Indus people hunted with spears, bows and arrows, and slingshots (stone-throwers).

    Along the rivers and seashore, people hunted wild birds such as ducks. They used nets to catch carp and other fish, and they collected molluscs (shellfish).

    A hunter had to take care. There were dangerous predators about, such as crocodiles and tigers. There were poisonous snakes too.

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Fun Facts
  • Indus Valley camels were probably the two-humped kind.

  • One Indus seal shows a woman fighting wild animals.

  • The Babylonian word for cotton was Sindhu - an Indian name.

  • One seal shows a horned hunter attacking a tiger.

  • Some Indus people had bad teeth, probably from eating 'soft' food - fruit and vegetables rather than meat.

  • People ate melons and grapes (we know from seeds).

  • There are no pictures of horses on seals. 'Horse' bones could be wild ass bones.

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