Primary History

Indus Valley: The end of the Indus

  • What happened to the Indus Valley cities?

    The Indus cities were at their richest between 2600 and 1900 BC. Between 1900 and 1700 BC, this great civilisation started to fall apart.

    Trade with Mesopotamia stopped. Archaeological evidence shows how things got worse. The Great Bath at Mohenjo-Daro was built over. The city mounds got overcrowded. Drains blocked up. Some traders even hid their valuables under the floors of their houses! People stopped repairing old homes. Why did this happen?

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  • Was there a war?

    Hindu poems called the Rig Veda (about 1500 BC) describe northern invaders conquering the Indus Valley cities. In the 1940s, archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler (1890- 1976) discovered 39 human skeletons at Mohenjo-Daro. He believed that they were people killed by invaders.

    Archaeologists now think this is not true. There is no evidence of war or mass killings. Indus Valley people seem to have been peaceful. If they had an army, they have left few signs of weapons or battles.

    It's more likely that the cities collapsed after natural disasters. Enemies might have moved in afterwards.

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  • Floods, famine and disease?

    What caused the peaceful, rich and organized Indus civilisation to collapse? Perhaps a river changed course, causing floods in some areas, and droughts (lack of water) in other places. There might have been an earthquake.

    If there was an environmentalal disaster cities would have flooded and food crops would have failed. People would have starved and diseases spread. Evidence from skeletons shows that many people died from malaria, a disease spread by mosquitoes.

    Perhaps the rulers lost control of their cities. Trade stopped and workshops closed. Drains, streets and houses crumbled.

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  • What was left?

    By 1500 BC the Indus Valley civilisation was over. Farmers in the Indus Valley went on living in their villages. Only the cities fell into ruins. Over time wind, rain and floods wore some of the mud-bricks away.

    People took away many bricks, so only the city-mounds and a few piles of old bricks were left. That's what the railway-builders and archaeologists rediscovered in the 1800s.

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  • Did parts of Indus Valley culture survive?

    The religion of Hinduism seems to have links with the ancient Indus religion. Some Hindu gods are like the gods shown on Indus Valley seals. Indus Valley people believed water was holy, and Hindus believe they are 'purified' in a religious way when they bathe in the sacred River Ganges. The cow and bull are sacred animals in India. Farmers still 'terrace' hills slopes to grow crops, the way Indus Valley farmers did. Many people in India and Pakistan wear jewellery much like that made in Indus Valley cities 4,000 yearsago.

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  • Studying the Indus Valley

    The Indus Valley civilisation lasted for over a thousand years, and was at its peak for 500 to 700 years.

    Archaeologists are still discovering more about life there. They use radiocarbon tests and other dating methods to see how old artefacts are. They take photos of sites from the air. They carry out field surveys, on the ground, to examine the soil and plant life.

    Graves can tell archaeologists a lot. Indus Valley people were buried with clay pots and clay figures, as well as beads. Putting these items in graves may mean that they had a religious belief in an afterlife, in which they could use these belongings again.

    Poor people may not have been buried. They may have been burned (cremated) and their remains scattered in the river - just like Hindu funerals in South Asia today.

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Fun Facts
  • A god of Hinduism is Ganesha, the elephant god.

  • At Chanhu Daro, a woman's skull in a jar was hidden in brickwork. Murder? Human sacrifice?

  • An Indus person aged 50 was old. 30 was getting on.

  • A wall at Harappa was repaired with mud bricks for over 700 years.

  • Humped zebu cattle can still be seen in India.

  • An Indus figure 10 looks like a semi-circle; other numbers are strokes.

  • Hunters may have killed elephants to stop them eating farmers' crops.

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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.