Primary History

Indus Valley: Way of Life

  • What were Indus cities like?

    An Indus city was made of mud-brick buildings. It had walls and roads. Water was very important to Indus people, so the builders started by digging wells, and laying drains. Main streets were up to 10 metres wide, wide enough for carts to pass. Side streets were narrow, more like alleys.

    Some cities had a citadel high on a mound. In the citadel were bigger buildings. Perhaps the city's rulers lived there. Most people lived and worked in the lower part of town.

    Most Indus people did not live in cities at all. Perhaps 9 out of 10 people were farmers and traders who lived in small villages.

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  • Was there an Indus Empire?

    An empire is a large country or group of countries, with different peoples ruled by a king or emperor.

    The Indus Valley civilisation was very large, but we do not know if it had kings. It seems that nothing much changed there for hundreds of years. New houses were built on top of old ones, and city street plans stayed the same. Life went on in the same way for generations. This might mean the Indus rulers controlled everything. Or it might just mean they were happy the way things were.

    What look like crowns were found at a site called Kunal. Did they belong to an Indus king? Perhaps each city had its own ruler.

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  • Did Indus cities have soldiers?

    An Indus city had strong walls, and in history, walls usually mean people want to keep out enemies. Think of a medieval castle.

    Like a castle, an Indus city had towers and gateways, but we do not know if there were soldiers. At the city gates city officials could check traders coming in and out. There were probably guards too, in case of trouble.

    Other ancient civilisations, such as Egypt, had large armies. Kings fought battles with enemies. But the Indus people seem to have lived in peace for most of their history. Other ancient writings tell us about wars. Since we can't yet read the Indus writing, we just don't know.

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  • Indus gods

    Pictures on seals and other artefacts show what look like figures of gods. One looks like a Mother Goddess. People probably believed this goddess gave health and fertility to people, animals and plants.

    Another seal picture shows a male god with horns and three faces. Around him are animals, including an elephant, tiger, rhino and buffalo. This god is a bit like the Hindu god Shiva (who also has three faces). Plants, trees and animals were probably important to Indus people. The pipal or fig tree is shown in Indus seals, and is still a sacred tree for many Buddhists and Hindus.

    Some people think that the Indus religion shaped early Hindu beliefs.

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  • The Priest-King

    A small stone statue found at Mohenjo-Daro in 1927 shows the head of a man with a beard and headband. He is wearing a robe with a three-leaf pattern on it. He looks important, and people have called him the 'Priest-King'.

    A priest is someone who leads people in religious worship. It's possible the cities of the Indus Valley were ruled by priests. But no one knows.

    If this man was a ruler, he probably lived in the citadel. He and other rulers may have made the laws to run the city, and collected taxes from traders.

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  • Burying the dead

    In ancient times dead people were often buried with belongings, to use in a world after death.

    Graves were filled with food, pots, weapons, jewels, clothes even furniture. Small model people and houses were also found in graves too. Most Indus people were buried in coffins. In the grave, people put pottery jars, probably with food and drink for the dead person.

    At Harappa, archaeologists found a woman's body in a wood coffin lined with reed mats. This was how people from Sumer were buried. Perhaps she was a Sumerian who had come to live in the Indus city.

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Fun Facts
  • The High Mound at Mohenjo-Daro is 18 metres high

  • The city of Mohenjo-Daro had 700 wells.

  • Indus streets were laid out before any houses were built.

  • Carp was a favourite fish.

  • The three-leaf symbol on the Priest-King figure's robe was also used in Mesopotamia.

  • The Priest King figure is only 18 cm high.

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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.