Primary History

Indus Valley: What They Did For Us

  • The Ancient World and Us

    Each ancient civilisation left a legacy to future generations. People pass on knowledge, and retell old stories. They copy and improve technology. Sometimes they imitate ancient art or architecture or clothing.

    The Indus Valley people did not leave great structures, like the Pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China. Their cities have almost vanished. Today, visitors see ruins dug into by archaeologists.

    Yet long after the Indus civilisation, skills such as trading, farming and brick-making were passed on. Indus people helped shape the later cultures of India and Pakistan.

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  • Indus and Hindus

    The religion of Hinduism probably has its roots in the Indus Valley civilisation. For example, Hindus worship a 'mother goddess' (her names include Parvati and Sakti), and the Indus religion had its own 'mother goddess'.

    The Indus people thought the cow a special animal, the giver of life (meat and milk). Today, Hindus regard the cow as sacred.

    Hindus bathe in the River Ganges, which for them is a holy river. Indus people too probably bathed as part of their religion, to clean the 'inner being' as well as the body.

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  • Living together

    The Indus people's gift to the world was showing how to live in peace in cities. Their way of life was based on trade, without money. With few if any enemies, they did not need large armies. Not everyone was rich, but even the poor probably got enough to eat.

    In their clean, well-run cities the Indus people enjoyed beautiful as well as useful things. Life was not all work. They made toys and jewellery, as well as drains.

    City life requires law and order. The Indus system of city government worked well for at least 500 years.

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  • The Indus and the swastika

    The swastika is a cross with its arms bent at right angles to either the right or left. In the 20th century, a black swastika became the hated symbol of the Nazis in Germany. But the swastika is in fact an ancient symbol of goodness, and appears on seals found in the Indus Valley cities.

    The name 'swastika' comes from an ancient language called Sanskrit, and means 'good to be'. It was a 'good luck' sign for Hindus, and to Buddhists it meant 'rebirth'. Ancient swastikas have been found on Hindu architecture, on coins from Mesopotamia, in the ruins of the city of Troy (Turkey), and in other Asian, European and Native American cultures.

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  • Dice and chess

    The Indus people may have been the first people to have used dice. Cube dice with six sides and spots have been found by archaeologists.

    The dice found in the Indus Valley are very similar to the ones we use today. They have spots (nowadays called pips) on each side numbering from 1 to six.

    Dice have also been found in south-eastern Iran, from a place known as the Burnt City. The dice from this archaeological site date back to 5,000 years ago. Dice may have come from Iran to the Indus Valley, or from the Indus Valley to Iran.

    An early form of chess may have been played by the Indus people. Objects with grids on them and playing pieces have been found at sites in the Indus Valley. Could these have been early chess boards and pieces? Did the modern game of chess originate from these objects?

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Fun Facts
  • People in the Indus Valley were baking bread in ovens at least 5,000 years ago.

  • Some Indus people wore gold ear-studs.

  • Shells were sometimes used as cups, perhaps for sprinkling water in religious ceremonies.

  • One Indus rubbish dump had hundreds of fish skulls in it. Perhaps it was a 'factory' where fish were dried or salted to preserve them as food.

  • American and Pakistani archaeologists have been exploring Harappa since the 1980s.

  • Some of the first archaeology in the Indus Valley was done by British archaeologists. Until 1947 India (including what is now Pakistan) was under British rule.

  • Tourists can now buy modern 'Indus Valley' model clay animals and whistling birds, made by local people.

  • The first seal found, by Alexander Cunningham, had a unicorn on it.

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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.