Also known as the Harappan Civilization, the Indus Valley Civilization was the largest of the world’s four great ancient civilizations. It covered an area that consisted of a significant part of India, most of modern Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan. Although the date of its beginning is not known till now, its collapse due to unknown reasons took place sometime during the 16th century B.C. This ancient civilization is renowned for its well-planned cities, advanced engineering and a rather advanced drainage system for its times. If you are a history buff, there are many facts about Indus Valley Civilization which are sure to intrigue and interest you.
Here is a look at 15 unknown Indus Valley Civilization facts that are likely to be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about this lost civilization and its society, the Indus Valley Civilization religion, famous structures, artifacts and its discovery in modern times.
In 1842, James Lewis wrote a book on the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilization, making it the first recorded document. A British soldier of the East India Company, Lewis deserted the army and saw the ruins of the civilization in Harappa while he was traveling through British India’s Punjab province. Although finds at the small town were reported, proper excavations began only in 1920 under John Marshall, who was, at the time, the director of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
2. Pioneers in a number of Handicraft and Metallurgy Techniques
There are many interesting facts about Indus Valley Civilization that will leave you in awe. One of them is that the people in that era pioneered metallurgy techniques and produced lead, bronze, copper and tin. One of the most famous artifacts from this ancient civilization is a bronze statue of a girl, dubbed the “Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro“. The people also developed a number of new handicraft techniques including seal carving, with the most famous seal being the Pashupati seal which depicts a figure that is seated and surrounded by animals.
3. Comprised of more than 1,056 Cities and Villages
One of the many interesting and surprising Indus Valley Civilization facts is that it comprised of more than 1,056 cities and villages, with 96 of these having been excavated so far. The major urban centers of culture and trade of this lost civilization were Harappa and Ganweriwala, Mohenjo-Daro, Rakhigarhi and Dholavira.
Another very interesting fact about the Indus Valley Civilization is that they practiced dentistry as a profession! A British scientific journal called ‘Nature’ wrote in 2006 that archaeologists found the first evidence of the drilling of human teeth at an excavation site in Mehrgarh, Pakistan. They found 11 drilled molars in a graveyard that dated back to 5,500 B.C.
A fascinating fact that you probably did not know is that the Indus Valley people communicated through a prevalent language they created. Contrary to the depiction in ‘Mohenjo Daro’ – the 2015 movie by Ashutosh Gowariker, it was not a mixture of Sanskrit and Hindi. Archaeologists have found as many as 600 distinct symbols of Indus script on seals and ceramic pots, including on a signboard that was discovered at Dholavira’s inner citadel.
Nothing is known about what the Indus Valley people called themselves, but it is known that scribes from ancient Mesopotamia wrote about a distant land called Meluhha. Archaeologists have discovered evidence proving that the Indus Valley Civilization and the Mesopotamians had trade relations over a long period. This is why it is highly possible that the “Meluhha” that was mentioned in Mesopotamian texts is this ancient civilization.
7. 4000-year old Bricks were used to lay down Railway Tracks
During the British rule in India, engineers from Britain were building a railway track that went from Karachi to Lahore. Due to the shortage of materials for raising the track up to the desired level, the engineers collected bricks from the nearby ruins of Harappa to construct the track. They used these 4000-year old artifacts to lay down and build 150 km (93 miles) of railway track!
8. Civilization had the First Planned Cities in the World
Although the use of grid pattern in the planning and building of towns and cities is attributed to the famous Greek urban planner of the 5th century B.C. – Hippodamus, it has been found that the grid-planned cities that date back to the Indus valley were a few thousands of years more ancient than the ancient Greek city of Miletus. Almost all the cities of the Indus Valley Civilization were designed in a very advanced grid pattern with right-angle crossings on their streets.
Taking into consideration the very systematic approach that the people of Indus valley used when it came to town-planning and the high levels of perfection and sophistication they had achieved, scholars believe that although these cities were very highly populated, and yet were far from chaotic. In fact, their way of living was highly organized. This is in total contrast to the chaos in the cities of the same age from Mesopotamia or Egypt, making the Indus Valley Civilization very unique during its time.
10. Sanitation Systems were unlike any found in the Ancient World
Indus Valley engineers were very much ahead of their time as seen in the urban sanitation systems they built. They built systems that were unrivaled in the ancient world. They mastered water channeling and waste water disposal thousands of years before the Romans started to build aqueducts. Similar sanitation systems were also seen in the Crete Island’s Minoan Civilization.
One of the most fascinating Indus Valley Civilization facts is that the largest structure they built was not any monumental building or temple as commonly seen in other ancient civilizations like Mesopotamia or Egypt. Instead it was a public bath named The Great Bath in Mohenjo-Daro. Although the exact reason behind the bath’s construction is still highly debated, most scholars believe that it was built for practicing rituals of the Indus Valley Civilization religion – rituals that are still practiced to this day in India, but mostly among Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is suggested that the people of this civilization believed that water has the power to purify and renew the bather’s soul.
As mentioned already, the Indus Valley people had remarkable engineering skills and developed new techniques in metallurgy and handicrafts. In fact, the craftsmen of the Indus Valley Civilization were highly skilled, which is evident in the various seals, sculptures, jewelry, pottery, vessels, and anatomically-detailed figures that have been discovered in archaeological sites. These items were made out of a variety of materials including gold, bronze, terracotta and satellite. They mastered many different crafts including ceramics, shell working, and satellite and agate bead-making. The Indus Valley people were also obsessed with ornaments such as bangles and necklaces, which is shown in almost every phase of the culture of Harappa. Several of these crafts are still practiced in modern India.
Although the discoveries and inventions made by the people of this ancient civilization does not seem like much in today’s world, they were great achievements at that time. Another one of the most interesting facts about Indus Valley Civilization is that they actually pioneered buttons for ornamental purposes around 2000 B.C.E. They made them out of seashells, carving some of them into different geometric shapes. They also pierced holes into them so that they could attach them to clothing, etc. using thread. The earliest button, which is believed to be about 5,000 years old, was found in Mohenjo-Daro.
This is also where the first clear evidence of the use of stepwells was discovered. It is believed that it had religious significance, which is possibly why Buddhists and Jains later adapted stepwells in their structures.
14. First to Construct and use Artificial Dockyards
One of the most remarkable cities of the lost civilization was Lothal, which was situated in modern-day Gujarat. It was an extremely well-planned city with planners and engineers developing effective ways from the very first day to protect the town from floods. They divided Lothal into 1-2 meter high blocks, with more than 20 houses on each side. This indicates their engineers had the foresight and skills to develop something as modern as docksides. The world’s earliest known evidence of building and using an artificial dockyard was discovered in Lothal by archaeologists in 1954. It is believed that it served as a connection between the city and the ancient course of the river Sabarmati. Built on the town’s eastern flank, the dock is regarded by historians and archaeologists as an engineering feat of the highest order.
Dentistry is often considered a modern medical practice, but over the years, archaeologists have found evidence of dentists in many civilizations across the world. The practice is actually very old, probably over 7,000 years old. The Indus Valley people practiced it in the early Harappan period. In 2001, while the remains of two men were studied by archaeologists in Mehrgarh, Pakistan, it was found that people from the early Harappan period might have had knowledge of proto-dentistry. Archaeologists finally confirmed in 2006 that the earliest known evidence of drilling the teeth of a live person from the Indus Valley age was found in Mehrgarh. They found 11 drilled molar crowns of 9 different adults in a Neolithic graveyard. It is believed that the teeth are 7,500 to 9,000 years old!
As you can see, there are many interesting Indus Valley Civilization facts that are not commonly known. What’s more, there is plenty more information about this intriguing ancient civilization that you will enjoy learning. The people of this civilization were ahead of their time and responsible for inventing, discovering and developing many “firsts” in the ancient world. It is definitely worth making the time and effort to learn as much as you can about this civilization that thrived thousands of years ago.