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Indus River Valley civilizations

The Indus River Valley (or Harappan) civilization lasted for 2,000 years, and extended from what is today northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India.  Sal explores the history of this civilization, its technological innovations, its art, its architectural practices, and its agriculture.

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Video transcript

- [Narrator] As we've talked about in multiple videos, some of the earliest civilizations we have found have been around river valleys, and that is no coincidence because some of the first agriculture emerged around river valleys and the agriculture supported higher population densities and more sedentary populations, and allowed for more specialization. And we have talked about several of these, the ancient Egyptians around the Nile River, the ancient Mesopotamians around the Tigris and Euphrates. And now we're gonna talk about the ancient civilization around the Indus River. The Indus River runs mostly in modern-day Pakistan, and that's why it's called the Indus Valley civilization. Indus Valley Civilization. It's also sometimes referred to as the Harappan civilization, which was the first site where they found evidence of this fairly extensive civilization. Now to get ourselves acquainted in time, this shows when archaeologists, historians consider to be the main part of the Harappan civilization. There's evidence that people had basic villages, civilizations, agriculture here, as far back as 7,000 BCE, and that's just based on the evidence we have today, but when people refer to the Indus Valley civilization in particular, they're usually staring around 3300 BCE and in orange right over here, this is the early period, or you could say the early Indus Valley civilization. Now some of the biggest structures and pieces of technology that have been discovered have been right over here, which is often referred to as the mature period for the Indus Valley civilization, and then it goes into decline. We'll talk about why it might have gone into decline, although we're not really sure, and this is called the late. Now to put it in context relative to these other civilizations, remember the ancient Sumerians were starting to be quite, I guess you could say civilized, by about this period. You start having a lot of intermingling between the Acadians and the Sumerians as you get into the late third millennium. That's when you have the empire of Sargon the Great, the Acadian Empire. As you get to the end of this mature period right over here, this is close to or around the time of Hammurabi, the Babylonian Empire, and in Egypt, if you go back to around 2500, around this time, that's when the pyramids were built and you have the Egyptian Kings, these god-kings that were ruling for most of this period right over here and as we'll see, there was actually, we believe, a good bit of cultural interchange between the significant civilizations. Now just to appreciate how extensive this Indus Valley civilization was, I will show you this map. And this map, it's zoomed in of that region around the Indus Valley that I just showed you. This is a map of most of Pakistan here, and these red squares are places where they have found evidence of the civilization. The first place was Harappa, right over here, the Punjab region of Pakistan. And that's why it's called the Harappan civilization. But as you can see, it's much more than just around Harappa. The largest site is at Mohenjo-Daro, right over here in the Sindh region of Pakistan and it's believed that as many as 40,000 people lived in that city that we now, or that site, that we now call Mohenjo-Daro. And so far, we have discovered over 1,000 sites in this area and we believe that as many as five million people might have been part of the civilization. Now the reason why we think it is a civilization and now, and let me actually keep scrolling around so you appreciate the extent of it. There's sites in mainly, many in Pakistan that you see here. There's also quite a few in modern-day India right over here, so it's an extensive network of these sites and the reason why we think it's one civilization, or at least a connected culture, is that you find a lot of standardization. You find standardization in their weights and measures. In fact, they have a unit of measurement that's as small as 1.6 millimeters, and the reason why that's important is you wouldn't create a unit of measurement of 1.6 millimeters unless you knew how to use something, unless you know how to make things that precise. And one of the things that they made that precise are things like their structures. They had these standard bricks and this brick size and many of these symbols that they used were found throughout these sites. Which said we don't know whether they were controlled by one ruler or one emperor, but there was definitely a lot of cultural interchange to the point that they were using the same size bricks, they were using the same symbols, they were using the same units of measurement. And also, as you can imagine, having a unit of measurement that precise, that small implies that they were great builders. And the evidence we find today says yes, they were. This is a picture of the site at Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day Sindh Pakistan, and you can see how tight this brick work is, even by modern standards this is quite good. You'd need to think of how many things we would build would last 5,000 years in this good, being exposed to the environments. They think this was a public bath. You see a citadel in the background. We've discovered defensive structures. Perhaps most impressively, there is, or most impressive, there's sewage systems. They think houses had wells, water. So this was a technologically advanced civilization especially for that time. In many ways, more advanced than the other civilizations, the contemporary civilizations that we had talked about. Here are some examples of their sculpture or of their art. This is, this one right over here is a picture, it's called Dancing Girl, but she's not dancing, but they think that might be her profession. It's all speculation by archaeologists today. This they believe is called Priest-King, once again, it's all speculation. This is an example of the types of seals they made. This is their jewelry, once again, this is quite intricate jewelry, and this jewelry was not just discovered in archaeological digs in these various sites. There's evidence of their jewelry as far as Mesopotamia in digs there. And they believe that there was actually a very active maritime trade network between these areas. There's jewelry discovered in these Indus Valley civilizations that were based on shells from the Arabian peninsula. They have materials from China, so there's materials from other parts of India, so once again, a very very extensive trade network. These civilizations would have known about them. But as we said, they were extremely, they seemed somewhat organized. Even though we can't read their writing, in fact I have some examples of their writing here. And you might notice, so this is examples of their writing and you might notice there, this is turned into a somewhat infamous symbol now, because of the Nazis, this is a swastika. But the swastika was one of the symbols they used, it's a symbol in Hinduism, it's considered a symbol of good luck. It's something that the Nazis kind of usurped and turned it into a very negative thing, but it does show this connection between that Indus Valley or that Harappan civilization and modern cultures that are in India and things like the Hindu religion. Although once again, we do not know a ton about their religion because their language hasn't survived and we cannot decipher their actual writing. But because of their organization and the consistency, or relative consistency amongst these different sites that are so far flung, this is a large distance even on modern day terms, but especially if we're talking about four or five thousand years ago. Because of that, we think that, okay, there must have been at least decent government administration or organization at a city-state level, although we're unsure whether there was a connected empire, whether you had an organization beyond that or they all just decided to take each other's standards and symbols and brick sizes and things like that. Now, one of the key mysteries of the Indus Valley civilization is why did it end? It seemed to be this thriving civilization, perhaps the most extensive one. In other videos, I talk about right now, the oldest wheel was discovered in Mesopotamia, but some people think that the wheel might have been used even earlier in the Indus Valley civilization. I talk about this period, as early as 3300 BCE, but there's evidence that the civilization started much earlier. In the site right over here in Mehrgarh, right over here in Pakistan. They think that humans were having simple villages and agriculture as early, there's evidence as early as 7000 BCE and that site was discovered just in 1974. We might discover things that take us even further into the past, and when you have a civilization that was around for so long, if there were people there as early as 7000 BCE, we're talking about it was there for thousands of years, but all of a sudden, it starts to decline. There's evidence of less and less trade going on, less and less sophistication, and then it ends. And it's one of the mysteries of history, of archaeology today. Why did this Indus Valley civilization end? Some of the older theories were it was maybe it was a foreign invasion, maybe some of the ancestors of the modern Indians invaded, or maybe they assimilated it somehow. More current theories don't think that was the case. They think it might be some form of climate change, that some of the important rivers dried up, made the agriculture much harder. Some people think it might have been a natural disaster, it might have been a flood of some kind. But we just don't know. Or the people, for some reason, decided to leave, die, migrate to maybe other parts of the region. But needless to say, it was a significant civilization, and we're just scratching the surface of what we know about it. We know a lot and we know it was impressive, even though we can't read their script and we don't know as much about it as we know about ancient Mesopotamia and the ancient Egyptians, but signs are that as more time passes, we'll realize that it was more and more sophisticated and impressive than maybe we even appreciate today.