The Harappan Civilization Introduction , Civilization Information

The Harappan Civilization

Harappa is an archaeological site in Punjab, Pakistan (site is spread across 370 Acres) which is 24 kms west in Sahiwal city (Pakistan). Name of Harappa is taken from a village which is 6 kms away from the main site.

Indus valley civilization (Harappan Culture) started as early as Mehargarh (6000 BC) however Bronze period is considered during 3300 BC to 1300 BC. Mature Harappa period was during 2600 BC to 1700 BC, during this age it is believed 23500 residents were living there and it would have been spread across 150 hectares (370 acres). Mohenjo-daro, Rakhigarhi (Largest) and Harappa, were greatest cities emerged during 2600 BC along the Indus River valley in Punjab and Sindh. It was discovered during 1920s after excavations at Mohenjo-daro in Sindh and Harappa, in west Punjab. Original Harappa site was badly damaged during British ruling as Engineers used bricks from original site to construct Lahore-Multan railroad (as part of the Sind and Punjab Railway) in 1857.

Please see a quick timeline of Harappan Culture here:

  • Early Harappa (3300 BC-2600 BC)
    • Harappan 1 (Ravi Phase) 3300-2800
    • Harappan 2 (Kot Diji Phase, Nausharo I, Mehrgarh and vinya VII) 2800 BC-2600 BC
  • Mature Harappa (2600 BC-1900 BC) or Integration Era
    • Harappan 3A (Nausharo II) (2600 BC-2450 BC)
    • Harappan 3B (2450 BC-2200 BC)
    • Harappan 3C (2200 BC-1900 BC)
  • Late Harappa (1900 BC-1300 BC)
    • Harappan 4 (1900 BC-1700 BC)
    • Harappan 5 (1700 BC-1300 BC)

Culture & Economy:

Indus Valley civilization was a surplus agriculture production & trading based culture. Surplus agriculture means they were producing food (in agriculture) in surplus and distributing it further. Based on evidences, we found more than 3500 Harappan seals and sealings that contains writing carved into them. They press this seal against soft clay and when clay dried up it can be used a tag. This tag can further used to associate with any pot or basket. So that’s a way to show the price of any commodity, since they do not have money exchange system so they exchange goods & services in lieu of one another (Barter System). This way some people were involved in agriculture and they were producing surplus food for society and others were involved in trading (domestic & international both). They were trading food grains, goods and other services through barter system with each other. We found evidences of commercial trading relations with Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, Persian Gulf and Egypt (As trade routes were there via Indus River). Carnelian (red colored semi-precious gemstone) & Lapis lazulideep (blue semi-precious stone) were being traded with trade partners. Cotton production and woven clothes were in use, they were cultivating rice, wheat, variety of vegetables & fruits. They were domesticating a number of animals including Dog, Cock, Cow & humped bull etc. Copper & bronze were used in pottery and other objects.

Based on cultural uniformity we can say there might be centralized administration for each city but not the entire civilization. However we don’t have clear information around authority and related administration.


Archeologists have proposed following chronology (arrangement of events in the order of their occurrence) of Harappa’s occupation:

  1. Ravi Aspect of the Hakra phase, c. 3300 – 2800 BC.
  2. Kot Dijian (Early Harappan) phase, c. 2800 – 2600 BC.
  3. Harappan Phase, c. 2600 – 1900 BC.
  4. Transitional Phase, c. 1900 – 1800 BC.
  5. Late Harappan Phase, c. 1800 – 1300 BC.
  • Small, square steatite (soapstone) seals engraved with human or animal motifs
  • Seals bear pictographic inscriptions generally thought to be a form of writing or script.
  • A bronze statuette of Dancing Girl
  • Male soapstone figure of Priest-King
  • Bead Pot filled with beads.
  • “eye bead” made of gold, ornament worn on the forehead of the famous “priest-king” sculpture excavated from Mohenjo-daro.
  • Inscribed Ravi sherd
  • Sixteen three sided tablets
  • Dish or lid

Cities and Architecture

Harappan used same size of bricks in Harappa, Dholavira, Mohenjo-daro and other Indus cities. These cities were well planned layout based on street grid & straight line of buildings. Big size of cities, public buildings and public facilities shows a high level of social organization. Harappan cities were first urban centers of municipal town planning. They has knowledge of Urban Planning, sanitation systems (First known in the world), hydraulic engineering & Waste water management (sewerage and drainage). The massive walls of Indus cities were supposed to protect city from floods and military attacks. Though there are no evidences of palace or temples (Or Kings/queens/priests). All the houses has access to clean water & sewage, almost all houses are same in size which shows equal social leveling.

City of Mohenjo-daro was divided into two parts Citadel and the Lower City. Citadel, a mud brick mountain is known to have public baths which were large residential structures designed for 5000 citizens, with two large assembly halls. City has market place and centralized large well. Though people have their separate wells in their houses for daily need of water. House has a separate room for bathing and waste water was drained to street swage, all these drains were well covered. Houses had inner courtyards with doors opening onto side lanes. Some buildings had two floors.

Mohenjo-Daro does not have city walls, but have guard towers in south and west of main settlement for defensive fortifications. Based on fortification (guard tower) evidence we can say there was some kind of political and administrative authority however not sure about its functioning since administrative center remains are unclear. Mohenjo-Daro city was destroyed and constructed seven times, each time on top of old one.

Authority & Governance

There are no exact answers for authority & Governance in Harappan culture however based on uniformity in Artifacts (i.e. pottery, seals, weight & bricks), we can guess there might be some arrangements.


Harappan made a considerable progress in technology:

  • They had great accuracy in measuring length, time & mass. They were first to develop system of uniform weight & measure. Weight & measures later used in Kautilya’s Arthashastra (4th century BC) are the same as those used in Lothal (Gujrat). The smallest division found in Lothal was 1.704 mm (ever recorded in Bronze Age).
  • Harappan produced bronze, Lead and tin, they were proficient in building docks.
  • Harappans had knowledge of proto-dentistry; they were believed to be earliest inventor of dentistry. Eleven drilled molar crowns were discovered in Mehargarh which were believed to be 6000 BC-9000 BC years old.
  • A touch stone bearing gold streaks was found in Banawali (an Indus Valley Civilization archaeological site in Fatehabad district, Haryana), These touchstones were used for testing of Gold, this technique is still used in India.

Arts & Crafts:

A number of artifacts including Potter, Gold jewellery, Figurine of terracotta, Seals, bronze, and steatite has been found in excavation from Indus Valley civilization sites. Dancing girls figurines suggest they were aware of dance forms. Shell working, ceramics, Agate & glazed steatite bead making were used in making of necklaces, bangles, and other ornaments. Make up & toiletry items I.e. kakai- a kind of comb, collyrium- liquid wash cleanser for the eyes are still used in modern India. Seals found in Mohenjo-daro depicting figures posing Yoga forms are evident that they were aware of Yoga as well. Harappans are believed to be inventor of Dice game as dice & a number of toys were found in excavation in Mohenjo-Daro. Harp like instrument depicted on a seal indicated the use of musical instruments.

Trade and transportation:

Since Indus valley civilization was heavily dependent upon trade so transportation was an obvious need. Harappan built bullock carts which are used throughout South Asia even today. Similarly they invented boats (small & flat bottomed), which can be driven by sailing. Archeologists also found a massive, dredged canal which they believed a docking facility. An extensive canal network used for irrigation has been found by H.-P. Francfort.

Extensive maritime trade network was operating between Harappa & Mesopotamia handled by middlemen merchants from Dilmun, for such long distance sea travel watercraft equipped with a single central mast supporting a sail of woven cloth were used.  Several harappan trading outposts (Sotkagen-dor, Sokhta Koh, and Balakot in Pakistan & Lothal) in Shallow harbors located at the estuaries of rivers opening into the sea allowed maritime trade with Mesopotamian cities.

Writing System:

400-600 unique Indus symbols has been found in form of seals, Signboard, ceramic pots & small tablets etc in Indus city of Dholavira. Indus Inscriptions are no longer than 4-5 characters on any surface and tiny. The longest series of signs found on any surface/object found is 17 signs which is on less than 1 inch surface.

We could not decode their writing system yet so it is still complex to understand their signs.


Due to lack of clear evidences (which is open to varying interpretations and the fact that the Indus script still not decoded), we are not sure about religious sentiments of Harappans yet. However based on speculation (Due to following):

  • Use of bath & Water in religious practices
  • Symbolic representation of Phallus (Linga) and Vulva (Yoni)
  • Male God & Mother goddess
  • Great respect of animals & plants
  • Following to Indus Valley, Vadic period started
  • Belief in after death life (bury daily use things in grave)

It set a trend for Hindu interpretations of Archaeological evidences. However this belief is disputed by many scholars.

Collapse of Civilization:

Gradual sign of collapse start emerging during 1800 BC, most of the cities were abandoned by 1700 BC. We have many theories around collapse of Indus Valley civilization is here:

  • Invasion of an Indo-European tribe

Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler (British archaeologist and officer in the British Army) suggested Indus Valley Civilization declined due to invasion of an Indo-European tribe (“Aryans”) from Central Asia as a group of 37 Skeletons has been found in various parts of Mohenjo-Daro and Vedas also refer the battles & forts so this may be the same. However scholars rejected this theory as the skeletons are of later date (After cities were abandoned) and none of them found near citadel. Marks on their skulls were caused by erosion, not by violent aggression.

  • Drought and a decline in trade

Other scholars believe that Indus Valley Civilization collapsed due to drought and decline in trade with Mesopotamia & Egypt. Scholars also believe other reasons could be floods, De-forestation, Immigration of new people (Population) or May be change in river’s course has collapsed civilization.

  • Gradual Decline

David Gordon White & three other main stream scholar cites Indus Valley Civilization did not disappear suddenly as Vedic religion is partially derived from the Indus Valley Civilizations.

  • Climate Change

Another possible reason of decline of Indus valley civilization could be climate change. Indus Valley climate become significantly cool and dry (1800 BC) which generally weak the mansoon, so Harappans would have shifted to other areas. Though there is complete uncertainty about the date of this event.

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