Indus Valley – Harrapan/Mohenjo-daro (3,300-1,300 BCE)

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Clay ovoid vase
Great bath at Mohenjo-daro
Votive images – or toys?
Painted pottery urns
Dancing girl, Mohenjo-daro
Dancer statuette, Harrapa

Red Jasper torso from Harrapa
Bearded Priest-Man
Tiles and seals
Seals, Mohenjo-daro
Shiva Pashupati seal
Spread of the Indus civilization 2,600-1,900 BCE

Image source: Wikimedia commons

A Bronze Age civilisation emerged in The Indus Valley, along the Indus and the Ghaggar-Hakra rivers. Traces of it run from 3,300-1,300 BCE, though it was at its peak from 2,600-1,900 BCE. Together with ancient Egypt along the Nile and Mesopotamia along the Euphrates/Tigris, it was one of three early civilisations of the Near East and South Asia (the fourth of course being China along its Yellow river). The ‘Harrapans’ achieved the widest distribution stretching from northeast Afghanistan, through much of Pakistan, and into western and northwestern India.

The Indus Valley civilization (aka Harrapan Civilization, or Indus-Sarasvati Civilisation) built a number of large cities and towns, most notable cities are Harrapa and Mohenjo-daro, but only because they were found first. In their cities they applied urban planning principles, established water supply and drainage systems to serve their baked brick houses and public buildings. They developed crafts to produce carnelian (a semi-precious stone) products and seal carvings, and metallurgy using bronze, copper, lead and tin. Their approach allowed the civilization to support a population that numbered into the millions, their two big cities probably housing 30,000-60,000 individuals.

The Indus civilisation’s economy depended on trade. seals, figurines and ornaments suggest an intensive caravan trade with Central Asia and the Iranian plateau. The dispersal of Indus artefacts shows a strong trade with Mesopotamia. They may have been the first civilisation to use wheeled transport, for example bullock carts still used extensively in South Asia. They had small, flat-bottomed craft, perhaps driven by sail, which exist on the Indus River today. There is equivocal evidence of sea-going craft.

Indus script from the northern gate of Dholavira

The Indus script has yet to be deciphered and the notion that there was a Harrapan language is just am assumption, yet to be proven.

Culturally the civilization produced various sculptures, seals, bronze vessels and pottery, gold jewellery, and detailed figurines in terracotta, bronze, and steatite. Harappans also made various toys and games, among them are cubical dice, bearing one to six holes on their sides, found at sites like Mohenjo-daro.

A handful of realistic statuettes have been found in terracotta and bronze. These include a statuette of a slender-limbed Dancing Girl adorned with bangles, found at Mohenjo-daro. And at Harrapa the statuette of a male dancer and a red jasper male torso, both in the Delhi National Museum. Some question the advanced forms of the latter and suggest they were imports.

Thousands of steatite seals have been found at Mohenjo-daro, one depicting a figure standing on its head, and another, on the Pashupati seal, sitting cross-legged in what some call a yoga-like pose, others say it is a Shiva. A harp-like instrument depicted on another seal and two shell objects indicate the use of stringed musical instruments.

Weak monsoons and reduced water supply eventually led to its demise, its population migrating east and south.


This burnished and painted clay ovoid Vase, with round carnelian beads, was discovered at Harrapa. It is dated to 3rd-2nd c BCE. It is at the National Museum of India in Delhi.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Excavated ruins of Mohenjo-daro, with the Great Bath in the foreground and the Buddhist Stupa in the background.
These are identified either as miniature votive images or perhaps as toys from Harappa, dated to c2500 BCE.

However these hand-modeled terra-cotta figurines illustrate the yoking of zebu oxen for pulling a cart. The chicken depicts a jungle fowl that has been domesticated.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Painted pottery urns found in Harappa and dated to 1,900–1,300 BCE.
The Dancing Girl statuette was discovered at Mohenjo-daro is a bronze statue, dated to 2,300-1,750 BCE. It is 11 cms tall and depicts a naked young girl in a confident or impudent pose. Her long hair is held in a bun. She wears a necklace, with three long pendants, and a number of bangles 24/25 on her left arm and 4 on the right.

An engraving on a piece of red pottery discovered at a Harappan site, Bhirrana, also has an image that looks like Dancing Girl.

The lower image shows a second, similar bronze, also discovered at Mohenjo-daro. This is on show at the Karachi Museum, who also makes claim on the Dancing Girl. as it was found in Pakistan.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: harappa.com

This grey limestone, 10 cm tall, statuette of a male dancer was found at Harrapa. The illustration on its left seeks to reproduce the whole (from behind). It is dated to 2,400-1,900 BCE and there is some controversy whether it is Harrapan or an imported item. It is at the National Museum of India in Delhi.
Red jasper torso from Harrapa caused some consternation, because it was thought that modelling such as this was not sculpted before the Hellenistic age of Greece. It didn’t help that there was no stone in the Harappa area, the jasper would have to have been collected from somewhere distant. Those two circular depressions at the shoulder add to the mystery. Experts suggest that the pronounced abdomen is characteristically Indian, not Greek.
Image source: harappa.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

This bearded man has been called the ‘Priest King’ statue. It is steatite and from Mohenjo-daro dated to the late Mature Harappan period. He has a simple headdress with a circular ornament at the front, his hair swept back, without a bun. His left shoulder has a trefoil cloak, which still has traces of a red pigment. His upper lip is shaved and a short combed beard frames the face.

It is 18 x 11 cms and is on show at the National Museum, Karachi, Pakistan
This collection of tablets illustrates the Indus script which is as yet undeciphered. The script was carved in part with human and animal depictions and pictographic signs onto soapstone seals, terracotta tablets and some onto metal.

Linguists have not agreed on the total number of signs (400 to 958) or whether the script is an alphabet, a syllabary or a logographic-syllabic script.

Image source:

Image source: www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize

These Seals with writing were found in the city of Mohenjo-daro. See above that the Indus script has yet to be deciphered/
The Pashupati Seal is a steatite seal that was discovered at Mohenjo-daro. The seal depicts a seated figure that is possibly tricephalic (three-headed) and may represent a horned deity, perhaps Shiva or a proto-Shiva.

He is surrounded by animals, pashupati means ‘lord of animals’ and is one of Shiva’s epithets.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

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