What did Indus Valley people trade?
Indus Valley cities lived by trade. Farmers brought food into the cities. City workers made such things as pots, beads and cotton cloth. Traders brought the materials workers needed, and took away finished goods to trade in other cities.
Trade goods included terracotta pots, beads, gold and silver, coloured gem stones such as turquoise and lapis lazuli, metals, flints (for making stone tools), seashells and pearls.
Checking the weight
Indus Valley traders did not use money. So they probably exchanged goods - say, swapping two sacks of wheat for one basket of minerals.
The traders weighed their goods on balance scales, using stone cubes as weights.
The weights were made from cubes of a flinty rock called grey chert. The smallest cube was very light, weighing less than 1 gram! The heaviest was over 11 kilograms - a bit more than 4 bags of supermarket potatoes.
What were seals?
Over 3,500 seals have now been found. Most are square or oblong, and small, about 25 mm across. They are made from steatite or faience, usually baked hard. Each seal has a picture and writing on it, carved with a copper tool.
Pressed into soft clay, a seal left an impression (a copy of the picture and writing). When the clay dried hard, it could be used as a tag which could then be tied to a pot or basket.
Indus Valley traders probably used seals like labels, to show who owned a sack of grain, or that the correct city tax had been paid.
Many seals have pictures of animals on them. Animals on seals include elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, fish-eating crocodiles (gharial) and zebu (humped cattle).
The most commonly pictured animal on Indus seals is a 'unicorn'. In ancient stories, the unicorn was a mythical beast, usually looking like a horse, with one horn.
Some people think the Indus Valley 'unicorn' is really a cow sideways-on. It may have been a 'good luck' charm, or the badge of an important group of traders.
Indus Valley traders crossed mountains and forests. They followed rivers walking along the river bank. They also used boats. In a boat, it was easier and quicker going downstream (the same direction as the river was flowing).
Some traders carried goods on their backs. Others drove wooden carts pulled by bullocks. Archaeologists have found clay models of carts, which look like the bullock-carts still seen in India and Pakistan today.
Traders probably journeyed in groups. At night they made camp, or slept in roadside hotels. Sometimes it was safer to travel in groups, for protection against robbers or hungry tigers.
Some traders settled in other lands. Traders from another civilisation called Mesopotamia made their homes in Indus cities, and people from the Indus Valley went to live in cities in Mesopotamia.
Indus Valley boats
A picture on one seal shows an Indus Valley boat with raised ends (prow and stern), a rolled-up sail, and a square cabin. A man at the stern (back) has a long oar, possibly to steer. A flat-bottomed boat could travel in shallow water. It could be pushed by a pole, by paddles, or by the wind in its sail. Bigger boats went out to sea.
Boats in ancient times were made of wood, or bundles of reeds. Modern experiments have proved that even reed boats could cross oceans. Boats like ancient Indus Valley craft are still used in India, Pakistan and in the Arabian Gulf.
Trade with Mesopotamia
Sargon of Akkad (2334 to 2279 BC) was a king in Mesopotamia. This was one of the first ancient civilisations. We know Indus Valley traders went there, because Indus seals have been found in Mesopotamia.
Sargon's scribes kept written records of ships from other lands. So we learn that the Mesopotamians bought gold, copper and jewellery from 'Meluhha'. Was Meluhha the Mesopotamian name for the Indus civilisation? Or was it the Indus Valley people's own name for their land?
To reach Mesopotamia, Indus ships sailed west. They probably kept close to land. Bits of old Indus pottery found on beaches in Oman, in the Gulf, came from storage jars left behind by traders.