The Harappans, with Dig It With Raven

One of my favorite Youtube channels is Dig It With Raven, hosted by Raven Desilva. Her video “The Indus Valley (Harappan) Civilization | The Most Mysterious Ancient Civilization” discusses Harappa, Mohenjo Daro and the mysterious culture of pre-Hindu India.

Some etymology is necessary. This civilization, often referred to as the “Indus Valley Civilization,” wasn’t found along the Indus. Instead it formed along the extinct Sarasvati River, a now-dry river system in the Ghaggar valley, sometimes labeled as the Ghaggar or Hakar River. Be aware that “Hindu” is a derivitive of “Sindhu,” where the initial S became an H following Sanscrit rules of euphonic assonance. So the more correct label is the “Sindhu/Sarasvati Civilization.”

This culture flourished between 3300 and 1900 BCE, with its peak at about 2500 BCE. It included some five million people and a million square miles. The cities Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were the first popularized archaeological sites, and the latter produced the famous Dancing Girl statue also discussed on this site ( Ruins of ancient Sindhu cities were seen by Alexander’s general Aristoboles. Mohenjo Daro revealed their elaborate urban culture, with a notable lack of palace, royal tombs, kings, priests, armies, warfare, temples or even any kind of capital, at roughly the same time the Egyptians were building pyramids.

These cities were built to a regular plan with square blocks, and Mohenjo Daro seems to have been build after a system of some 700 wells had been built – and no more, apparently, were ever needed. A citadel stood above a lower town. Not every home was the same; some were definitely more affluent than others, but only in terms of size. Every home seems to have had its own bathroom with bathing and toilet facilities. Up in the citadel were granaries, markets and meeting halls, on high ground to protect from flooding. Sewers drained the cities, while kilns for standardized bricks with a 1-2-4 size ratio stood nearby. At Mohenjo Daro, there is a large central bath or cistern of unknown function, unique to this city. Was it just for water storage, or did it have some ritual or religious use? We don’t know.

The large number of carved objects and crafts seem to indicate the culture was deeply occupied with producing objects of the local lapis lazuli, which were then spread around the known world. The famous seals/stamps were also important, possibly for record-keeping and certainly for export, and they used a script or symbology with some 450 logo syllabic signs that have never been interpreted. Many symbols on these seals are somewhat familiar, particularly the images of a seated Shiva-like figure with a tricorn crown. There were also many sets of weights and measures, small stone cubes of descending sizes, that indicate standards for trade.

The Sindhu seem to have traded with local hunter-gatherers for food, and these groups also carried Sindhu goods as far as Iran, Mesopotamia and the Arab Gulf. These included carnelian, lapis lazuli, gold, copper, timber, birds, cats, dogs, monkeys and tigers. Apparently this trade was one-way, with no evidence of goods returning to the Sarasvati River area from the Middle East.

By 1900 BCE the culture was in decline, possibly due to the dying Sarasvati. Most of the cities were emptied by 1300 BCE. There is no evidence of catastrophe, fires or invasion. Apparently the region simply couldn’t support so many people, and the Sindhu scattered across the Indian subcontinent, leaving traces of their culture as it faded.

This is the world the Dancing Girl