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The Ancient Civilization of the Indus Valley


In the vast plains of the Indus and Sarasvati valleys of northwest India and Pakistan, a great urban civilization arose between about 2500 and 2000 BC. While the civilization is known to archaeologists as Harappan or Indus Valley or Sarasvati-Sindhu civilizations, the only known contemporary name is "Mehluha", the Mesopotamian word for the people who came to trade and live in the great Akkadian period port cities.

The great cities of the Mehluha were built along a precise grid-plan of streets and contained a sophisticated drainage system. Two of the most important urban centers, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, four hundred miles apart, have been excavated since the early 20th century; the others, including Ganweriwala, Chanhu-daro, Lothal, Dholavira, and Kalibangan, have not been as extensively investigated to date. The Indus Valley peoples were farmers, fishers,and herders, subsisting primarily on barley and wheat, but with a wide variety of domesticate and gathered crops such as dates, chickpea, field pea, grapes, and jujube. They also herded cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, and pigs. Chickens and dogs were domesticated in the cities.

Writing was used in Mehluha, and was perhaps invented in the Indus Valley. Cylinder and stamp seals with identifying marks have been recovered from both Indus Valley sites and from Ur and other cities in Mesopotamia. Some scholars suggest the markings represent the roots of the Dravidian language; but, although some work comparing Bihar script to Indus Valley scripts has taken place, unless a Rosetta Stone is found it is unlikely that the precise meaning of the seals will ever be discovered.

The extensive trade network included such goods as copper, gold, ivory, chert, silver, steatite, chalcedony, lapis lazuli, turquoise, amethyst, timber, and shell. Art work identified with the Harappan peoples include wheel-turned pottery, copper-based metallurgy, and a wide variety of beads of carnelian, lapis, and other semi-precious materials.

What happened to the Mehluha peoples? There is evidence that abandonment of the cities on the Sarasvati River occurred around 2,000 BC; but the persistence of ceramic and other artifact styles suggest that people elsewhere in the Indus Valley remained where they were, and the culture evolved over time.

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