Wise Czar

Mysteries of the Indus Culture

Posted on: June 2, 2013

            The Indus Valley Civilization is the red headed stepchild of the three earliest world civilizations, the other two being Mesopotamia and Egypt. Its obscurity is largely due to the many unsolved mysteries it contains.

            The study of this ancient culture, which existed roughly 3500 years ago in what is today Pakistan and India, has been left mostly to the archeologists, who have been exploring the remains of its two chief cities—Harappa and Mohenjo-daro—hoping to learn more. What little we do know about this ancient culture is truly fascinating and should definitely be emphasized right along with the ziggurats of Mesopotamia and the pyramids of Egypt.

            Chief among the Indus Valley civilization’s accomplishments is the toilet. Yes, the toilet. While other cultures at that time were building giant monuments, the Indus people focused on a more practical goal—sanitation and the removal of waste.

            In Mohenjo-daro, not only have archaeologists discovered brick lined toilets, but they have found what appear to be

An excavated Harappan bath.

An excavated Harappan bath.

ancient urinals in the form of tiny pipes protruding up from the ground. Furthermore, small bathing platforms have also been discovered in the ruins of Harappan houses, which means the Indus people cared about their personal hygiene. All waste and dirt was flushed with water.

            These toilets and baths were connected to a drainage system that was fairly advanced for its time. Composed mostly of baked brick, the drains ran along the streets and were often covered by brick or stone so as to be hidden from public view.

            Such an emphasis on waste removal and personal hygiene is especially impressive when one considers that thousands of years later, during the European dark ages up through about the industrial revolution, society was relatively careless when it came to sanitation, often simply tossing excrement out the window.

            Another fascinating aspect of the Indus Valley civilization is its many distinctions from other civilizations of the era. The Indus drainage system, for example, was unique. Ancient Egyptians had toilets, but they were not connected to a drain (the only way to clean them up was by hand).

            But the differences go far beyond waste removal. Unlike Mesopotamia and Egypt, no evidence of giant temples or monuments has been found in most Indus excavation sites. Furthermore, few weapons or evidence of a large military have been discovered. Harappa, especially, stands apart. Many archaeologists believe it was a city ruled by merchants and craftsmen, rather then by some all-powerful king who would build monuments to himself. Indeed, little statuettes and pieces of jewelry have been found, implying a more market-oriented culture.

            At the same time, new sites and pieces of evidence are always being unearthed. The remains of Dholavira, an ancient Indus city in India, does contain evidence of some monumental building. Thus, much has yet to be learned.

            Indeed, this lack of knowledge on the Indus civilization is a fascinating component in itself. Unlike Egypt and Mesopotamia, we really have no idea about any specific political, military or religious events from the Indus Valley civilization.

            This lack of knowledge exists mainly because we have not cracked their language—the Indus script—yet. Seals, tablets, tokens and potsherds have all been found containing mysterious symbols, but archaeologists have not figured out what they mean. Some speculate that the Indus people were actually the first to develop writing, even before the Mesopotamians. If that is ever discovered to be true, then the Indus people would move to the front of the early civilizations list in the history textbooks. As of now, however, we just are not sure.

            In that sense, the Indus Valley is sort of a lost civilization. Yes, we know it existed and that it was fairly advanced for its time, but there is so much more we could learn. Forget Atlantis, the remains of the Indus Valley civilization may yet reveal some mind-blowing ancient knowledge.




Edwards, Mike. (editor) Indus Civilization: Clues to an Ancient Puzzle. National Geographic, V197.6

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