The great Indus civilisation

A great civilisation disappears overnight

One of the enduring mysteries of the ancient world is the Indus civilisation of around 3000 BC.

The story of the disappearance of this civilisation is discussed in Neil MacGregor’s. book “A History of the World in a 100 objects”

The object in question is the stone seal depicted above. The British Museum is home to a small collection of these seals. They are roughly square and about the size of a postage stamp. There are seals depicting an elephant, an ox, a unicorn but by far the most important is the one that is depicted of a cow that looks like a unicorn.

The seals were probably used to mark goods for trading. We can only speculate because we are yet to decipher the writing of this civilisation.

This seal stimulated the discovery of the long lost and forgotten Indus civilisation.

The first seal was found in the 1850s in what was then British India but is now modern Pakistan. Over the next 50 years. three more seals were found and in 1905 a decision was taken to excavate in the area where the seals were found.

The resulting finds would change history. The excavations revealed that Indian history was much older than previously thought.

At Harappa, 150 miles south of Lahore, in Pakistan, the British archaeologists uncovered the remains of an enormous city dating to between 3000 and 3500 BC.

More cities were uncovered over time. The largest had a population of 30,000 to 40,000. It was a sophisticated urban centre with trade and even writing.

It was the equal of the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations of the same era. But it was totally forgotten and overlooked.

The cities were planned in grid layouts with articulated homes and advanced sanitation systems including home plumbing.

Although the cities were organised, there is no evidence of a strong ruler. There are no palaces or castles. The shape and size of the buildings suggest this was an egalitarian society.

There is no indication of the people forging weapons. No signs of fortification. Does this mean they were never threatened and were never aggressors?

The archaeologists found communal halls where people gathered. The cities fostered a sense of community.

There were no burial grounds and researchers believe the dead were cremated. Of course, this is bad news for archaeologists who usually learn so much from the remains found in burial grounds.

What made this urban wonder tick?

Then in about 1900 BC the cities and their people disappeared. Vanished. They turned into mounds of dirt. Out of sight out of mind.

Archaeologists believe that the people’s reliance on timber resulted in severe deforestation and possible environmental catastrophe. Climate change may have resulted in the Indus changing its course or drying up.

For all our wisdom and technology we know little about this great civilisation. We cannot even read their writing to know what is written on the seal depicted above.

Imagine that. A lost language that tantalises us with its strange geometry and representations.