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.

    Back to top

  • 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!

    Back to top

  • 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.

    Back to top

  • 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.

    Back to top

  • 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.

    Back to top

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.

More to Explore

Links outside the BBC

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

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.