Harappan Civilization

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Harappan Civilization


(also Indus Valley civilization), an archaeological culture that flourished from the middle of the third millennium B.C. to the 17th or 16th century B.C. in the northwestern part of the Hindustan Peninsula, in what is now Ipdia and Pakistan. It was named after the site of Harappa.

Archaeological excavations, which were begun in the 1920’s and were conducted by R. Sahni, R. Banerji, J. Marshall, E. Mackay, and B. B. Lai, among others, uncovered about 500 monuments, including the ruins of several capital cities (Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro, Kalibhangan), seaports, and border fortresses and the remains of settlements. The principal building material was mud brick; stone was used for the fortress foundations. The cities were laid out on a grid plan of rectilinear streets, with water supply and sewage systems. One- and two-storied houses, each house consisting of four to six rooms and a bathroom, were grouped around a central court and well. The city’s citadel was fortified by a wall with towers. The economy was based on stock raising (buffalo, swine, and possibly elephants) and irrigated farming (wheat, millet, barley, peas, and, in the later stages, rice).

The remains of a 2.5 km long irrigation canal were discovered in Lothal (Gujarat, India). Finds of copper and bronze tools, such as knives, sickles, chisels, and saws, weapons, such as arrowheads, spearheads, and short swords, and varied pottery attest to the development of handicrafts. The discovery of weights and objects from the countries of Northwest Asia in Harappan towns and the discovery of Harappan seals in the cities of Mesopotamia (Ur, Kish, Tell Asmar) indicate the existence of trade between the two regions, carried on by caravan and possibly by sea. The remains of a dock, with an area of 7,740 sq m, were discovered in Lothal, and clay models of sailing ships were found; depictions of ships were also found in Mohenjo-Daro. Works of applied art are represented by seals of steatite (soapstone), with depictions of animals and pictographic symbols (not yet deciphered), and by women’s ornaments, such as necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, made of ivory, precious stones, and various metals. Sculpture gives us an idea of the physical appearance of the bearers of the Harappan civilization.

The Harappan burial ritual has been deduced from the burial grounds at Harappa and Lothal. It is characterized by single and double burials, with the dead lying in a supine position in flat graves; the grave goods consisted primarily of pottery. The people of the Harappan civilization worshipped a mother goddess and a god regarded as a prototype of Shiva, as well as fire, trees, and animals.

The lack of written sources has made the study of the social and political systems of the Harappan civilization difficult. By analogy with the material culture and economy of the civilizations of Northwest Asia, the Harappan civilization was an early class society with a slaveholding system. The principal producing population, united in communes, was subjected to exploitation. The political system was probably a despotism. It is conjectured that several factors were responsible for the decline of the Harappan civilization, including tectonic displacement, flooding, the depletion and bogging up of the soil, epidemics, and wars. The post-Harappan civilization is considered to be genetically connected with the Harappan civilization.

The Harappan civilization has left its mark on the cultures of the modern peoples of India and Pakistan.


Mackay, E. Drevneishaia kul’tura doliny Inda. Moscow, 1951. (Translated from English.)
Shchetenko, A. Ia. Drevneishie zemlevladel’cheskie kul’tury Dekana. Leningrad, 1968.
Wheeler, M. The Indus Civilization, 3rd ed. Supplementary volume to the Cambridge History of India. London, 1968.
Fairservis, W. A. The Roots of Ancient India. New York, 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
This civilization is also known as the Harappan civilization, as the images of the ruined cities and villages can be found (Agrawal and Sood,1982).
It was one of the largest cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization, which developed around 3,000 BCE from the prehistoric Indus culture.
Among the sparse discoveries from the period after the decline of the Harappan Civilization come such urns containing ashes which have been found at some sites in Swat which may be contemporaneous with the earliest megalithic burials in South Asia.
Some of these would move on to the Indus Valley some 7000 years ago and give rise to the Harappan civilization. They would intermarry with the First Indians, and constitute today's main Indian society (Ibid 97).
It is also called Indus civilization, or Harappan civilization, the earliest known
Harappan Civilization in Pakistan at Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
After describing the physical setting of India, McLeod begins his history with the Harappan civilization along the Indus River.
TEHRAN (FNA)- A new study on the human skeletal remains from the ancient Indus city of Harappa provides evidence that inter-personal violence and infectious diseases played a role in the demise of the Indus, or Harappan Civilization around 4,000 years ago.
"A new study combining the latest archaeological evidence with state-of-the-art geosciences technologies provides evidence that climate change was a key ingredient in the collapse of the great Indus or Harappan Civilization almost 4000 years ago," said a press release of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which had funded a geological study on Pakistan along with the National Science Foundation, the Leverhulme Trust, the University of Aberdeen, and Louisiana State University, on May 28, 2012.
Eschewing the Harappan civilization of the Indus valley for lack of decipherable textual sources, the authors begin with the Aryan society of the Vedic period (1500 BCE-500 BCE), in which they maintain that contrary to notions of the totalizing power of sacral authority in Indian society, Aryan kings remained dominant in their partnership with Brahman priests (Chapter 2).
Then around 3,800 years ago, the Harappan civilization began to crumble.
Neither the beginning nor the end of the Harappan civilization is clearly understood.