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3.5: Indus Valley (3300 BCE – 1700 BCE)

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  • The Indus River drains from the expansive Himalayan Mountains into the Indus Valley, where the Harappan civilization flourished in what is Pakistan today. The fertile plains and water of the Indus River were the people’s most significant natural resources. Initially, the Harappans migrated over the mountains from the desert lands of Iran and discovered a location with ample water and farming land becoming one of the great civilizations of the Bronze Age. As a thriving civilization, the Harappans were masters at urban planning, and with the abundance of water, they constructed water resource systems for all the cities, including reservoirs (3.24), bathhouses, and restrooms. Their well-developed cities, demonstrated the use of mathematics, developing a system of weights and measures to build structures and roads. This highly complex society had domesticated animals, farmed the Indus River delta with cotton, peas, and barley crops. They were also traders and had a merchant class of seafaring boats sailing along far-reaching trade routes.


    3.24 Reservoir

    The Harappan people created seals with figures depicting over 400-600 distinctive scenes from different cities within the Indus Valley. The seals were discovered in Mesopotamia and outside of the Indus Valley, indicating trade with other civilizations. The seals had a recorded or pictorial language as displayed by two long-horned buffalo, each facing a person who appears to be kneeling before the animal (3.25), although today's historians cannot decipher them.

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    3.25 Cylinder seal 3.26 Pottery fragment

    The Indus Valley people created many objects of art, including the use of bronze, gold, and terra cotta formed into utilitarian and decorative clay, painted with red slip and black pigment (3.26). Unlike their neighbors, the Egyptians, the Indus people, did not carve elaborate statues of kings or gods. Instead, they carved small figures of people and animals, made of clay, stone, or bronze, also producing many figurines depicting girls dancing in several poses. The Dancing Girl(3.27) was created from bronze using the lost-wax method, and the small, ten-centimeter-high statue displays a girl standing in a natural pose as though in action. The second girl (3.28) has a demure pose, or perhaps she is waiting for her turn. Both figures demonstrated the people’s ability to use bronze and dance was probably an essential part of their culture.

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    3.27 Dancing Girl 3.28 Dancing Girl 2

    Unlike their contemporaries, the Indus Valley civilizations did not build massive monuments to the gods or bury leaders in golden tombs, they believed in an afterlife but were more devoted to their lives here on earth, taking a practical approach. A luxury building was the Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro (3.29), one of the earliest known public baths with a channel down the middle of the city streets to drain water from rain and the baths. They were designed with efficiency, removing the water out of the city, similar to our current underground sewer systems in our cities today.


    3.29 Great bath

    The cities designed for efficiency and sanitation are similar to our cities of today. There were water wells spread around the city for the people to use for bathing and cooking. The cities built on top of raised platforms with drains below taking the water away from the buildings, the streets were laid out similarly to our cities today, with straight streets at right angles to each other. Their homes built out of mud bricks all made to a standard size throughout the valley. Also discovered in their homes were beads, utilitarian pottery in many shapes, and textiles made from cotton, depicting a thriving economy and extensive trade with Mesopotamia and Egypt by boat and land.

    As discovered everywhere, great civilizations also decline, and Harappan people in the Indus Valley became susceptible to environmental changes. Around 1700 BCE, the thriving Harappan civilization collapsed, and over time, their great cities were buried in silt, lying dormant until the discovery in the 1920s.