Primary History

Indus Valley: Home Life

  • An Indus city house

    An Indus Valley house was cool inside. Thick walls kept people cool in the heat of summer. Some houses had just one room. Big houses had lots of rooms arranged around a central courtyard.

    There were no windows onto the main street. This kept out dust and noise. Side windows let in light and air. From a model house found at Harappa, we can see that windows may have had wooden shutters with grilles (barred openings) to let in air and light.

    All that are left today are the ground floors of houses that once had two or three floors. Stairs led to the upper floors and roof. Walls were covered with mud plaster. It is not clear if people painted the walls.

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  • Clothes and hairstyles

    Pictures on seals and other artefact show us how some Indus people dressed. It was hot all year round, so people did not need thick clothes to keep warm.

    Many workmen probably just wore a loincloth, which looked a bit like baggy shorts. Rich men wore tunics. Women wore dresses that probably covered much of the body though some might have been topless.

    Both men and women wore jewellery, especially beads and arm-bangles. Some women had elegant hairstyles, with braids and beads. Some arranged their hair in headdresses shaped like fans.

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  • Why did homes have courtyards?

    Most people living in an Indus city had small homes which were also used as workshops. There was not much space to relax.

    For richer families, the courtyard was a pleasant, airy space, open to the sky. Children could play there, with toys and with pets such as monkeys, dogs and birds. People could tend plants in pots, and enjoy the air. In the courtyard, a rich family had its own private well, for water. The very rich lived in grand houses with more than one courtyard, and 30 to 40 rooms.

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  • Up on the roof

    Indus houses had flat roofs. The roof was made from wooden beams, filled in with reed mats covered with wet mud-plaster. When the plaster dried hard, the roof was firm enough to walk on.

    Families used the roof as an extra room. It was a cool place to sleep on a hot night. People could sit out, chatting with friends and gazing up at the stars. By day, children could climb the stairs to the roof,and play happily, calling across the rooftops to their friends.

    The roof was a handy place to store things, like a loft in a modern house. People could work there too, or just be alone.

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  • Cooking and keeping clean

    Indus people cooked food on a fire made from wood, charcoal or dried animal dung. They baked bread on hot stones or in ovens.

    In the bathroom, people stood on a brick 'shower tray' and tipped water over themselves from a jar. The clean water came from a well. Dirty water drained through a pipe out through the wall into the drain in the street.

    Toilets had brick seats. The toilet was flushed with water from jars. The waste flowed out through clay pipes into a drain in the street. Waste was carried away along the drains to 'soak pits' (cesspits), Cleaners dug out the pit and took the waste away. They also took away rubbish from bins on the side of houses.

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  • Rich and poor

    Most people were poor, and had to work hard, either farming, fishing or making things. The richest people in an Indus city were probably people who owned a lot of land, or traders who controlled the buying and selling of luxury goods, such as rugs, jewels, minerals and metals.

    Poor traders went to market to sell fish, fruit (such as melons) or a few clay pots. Rich traders loaded their goods on ships sailing off across the sea. They wore fine clothes, and lived in big houses with servants and perhaps slaves.

    Indus people did not use money. It's likely that wealth was measured by how much land a person had - or how many cattle, or how many sacks of grain.

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Fun Facts
  • Some Indus city wells were 20 metres deep!

  • At Dholavira, people cut tanks in rock to store water.

  • Dholavira had 16 reservoirs (man-made lakes) to store water.

  • The biggest Indus reservoir (man-made lake) was over 500 metres long.

  • Indus people made pins from animal bones.

  • Some Indus houses were made of stone, not mud bricks.

  • The smelliest job was digging out city 'poo-pits'.

  • Rich people had bronze mirrors, to admire their make-up and hair!

  • There are about 10 different shapes of Indus seals.

  • Hindus bathe in the Ganges, which for them is a sacred river.

  • Indus houses had walls over 1 metre thick.

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A to D

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

E to G

evidence
Materials or facts that can help you form a conclusion or judgment about something.
excavate
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.
furnace
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

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

M to O

Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia was an ancient civilisation in what is now Iraq; it lay between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
minerals
Minerals are natural substances like gold, silver, stone or sand.
museum
A museum is a building that houses artefacts that have a historical value.
mythical
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.
record
A record is information or data that has been collected and kept.
resources
Resources are the raw materials people use for building or making things.
seal
An Indus seal was a small stone block with a picture that left an impression when stamped into soft clay.
settlement
A settlement is a place where people live together, such as a village, town or city.
site
An archaeological site is an area that archaeologists are investigating.
scribe
A scribe was a person in ancient times who could read and write, and wrote things for other people.
slave
A slave is a person who is not free and has to work for an owner.
steatite
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
Sumer was a land in Mesopotamia, with one of the first civilisations, about 3500 BC.
taxes
Taxes are what people have to pay to their government, as money or in ancient times as goods, such as sacks of grain.
trade/trader
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.
well
A well is a hole dug to find water underground.