• Imagining History

The Indus Valley: What, When, Where, Who and Why? – Introductory Questions for Keystage 2:

Mohenjo-Daro Indus Valley civilization
Remains of the City of Mohenjo-daro - Courtesy Usman Ghani

What was the Indus Valley?

The Indus Valley is the name of the valley where one of the world’s oldest and largest ancient civilisations existed. This ancient civilisation is sometimes referred to as the Indus Valley Civilisation, or the Harappan Civilisation (named after one of the major cities in the Indus Valley, Harrapa).

When did the ancient Indus Valley civilisation exist?

The Indus Valley civilisation existed over 5,000 years ago in the Bronze Age. The civilisation lasted from around 3,300 BC to around 1,700 BC. It was amongst the world’s earliest civilisations, including Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Map Indus Valley Civilisation Pakistan showing locations of Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa and more
A map of the Indus Valley Civilisation - courtesy mwJalal

Where is the Indus Valley?

The Indus Valley civilisation covered a large area of what is now modern-day India and Pakistan. The Valley is named after the river that flows through its centre, the River Indus. The Indus people set up towns and villages close to the river where regular flooding created fertile soil that was good for farming.

The remains of around 1,400 towns and cities have been discovered in the Indus Valley. The two largest cities, now named Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, each had around 25,000-40,000 people living in them. This makes the Indus Valley the largest of the world’s earliest civilisations.

Here he is, ol' John Marshall himself!

Who discovered the ancient Indus Valley civilisation?

Charles Masson was the first person to make a record of discovering the ancient city of Harappa in 1826. But he mistakenly identified the creator of the city as being Alexander the Great.

Harappa wasn’t identified as being a part of a newly discovered ancient civilisation until the 1920’s when John Marshall, director of the Archaeological Survey of India, ordered the site to be excavated. Around this time, links were made between the discoveries of the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro and historians finally identified them as belonging to the Indus Valley Civilisation.

Why don’t we know much about the Indus Valley?

The Indus people didn’t leave behind any large monuments, buildings, statues or tombs like many other ancient civilisations, such as the Ancient Egyptian pyramids. Also, the Indus written language was made up of around 400 picture signs (used instead of letters) and historians haven’t yet worked out how to translate this ancient alphabet so we can’t read anything that the Indus people wrote down.

Because of this, it is hard for us to learn much about Indus culture, religion or ways of life. Instead, historians have to rely on small artefacts, such as seals, toys and jewellery (like the ones shown in the images above) from the era to learn more about the Indus people.