• The Indus Valley Civilisation, also known as the Indus Civilisation, was a Bronze Age civilisation in the northwestern regions of South Asia, lasting from 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE, and in its mature form 2600 BCE to 1900 BCE.
  • Together with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was one of three early civilisations of the Near East and South Asia, and of the three, the most widespread, its sites spanning an area from much of Pakistan, to northeast Afghanistan, and northwestern India.
  • The civilisation flourished both in the alluvial plain of the Indus River, which flows through the length of Pakistan, and along a system of perennial monsoon-fed rivers that once coursed in the vicinity of the Ghaggar-Hakra, a seasonal river in northwest India and eastern Pakistan.
  • The first sites of this civilization were discovered in the valley of the Indus and its tributaries. Hence it was given the name ‘Indus valley civilization’ or ‘Indus civilization’. The area covered by the Harappan culture zone is huge, ranging between 680,000 to 800,000 sq km.
  • Sites have been found in Afghanistan; in the Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, and North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan; in Jammu, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and western Uttar Pradesh in India.
  • The northernmost site is Manda in Jammu district of Jammu and Kashmir, the southernmost is Daimabad in Maharashtra. The westernmost site is Sutkagen-dor on the Makran coast of Pakistan, and the easternmost is Alamgirpur in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh. There is an isolated site at Shortughai in Afghanistan.
  • Before the advent of radiocarbon dating, this civilization was dated by crossreferencing with the Mesopotamian civilization, with which the Harappans were in contact and whose dates were known. Accordingly, John Marshall suggested that the Harappan civilization flourished between c. 3250 and 2750 BCE. When the Mesopotamian chronology was revised, the dates of the Harappan civilization were revised to c. 2350– 2000/1900 BCE.
  • The advent of radiocarbon dating in the 1950s offered the prospect of a more scientific way of dating the civilization, and the number of sites for which radiocarbon dates are available have gradually increased. The 1986–1996 Harappa excavations have given over 70 new radiocarbon dates, but none from the earliest levels, which are submerged in water.
  • D. P. Agrawal (1982) suggested c. 2300–2000 BCE for the nuclear regions and c. 2000–1700 BCE for the peripheral zones, but this is based on uncalibrated radiocarbon dates.
  • Recent calibrated C-14 dates give a time frame of about 2600–1900 BCE for the urban phase in the core regions of the Indus valley, the Ghaggar-Hakra valley, and Gujarat. This is quite close to the dates arrived at through cross-dating with Mesopotamia. The dates of individual sites vary.
  • Collating the calibrated radiocarbon dates from various sites gives the following broad chronology for the three phases of the Harappan culture:
    • early Harappan, c. 3200–2600 BCE;
    • mature Harappan, c. 2600–1900 BCE; and
    • late Harappan, c. 1900–1300 BCE.
indus valley civilisation: date and extent


  • The Indus Valley Civilisation was roughly contemporary with the other riverine civilisations of the ancient world: Ancient Egypt along the Nile, Mesopotamia in the lands watered by the Euphrates and the Tigris, and China in the drainage basin of the Yellow River and the Yangtze.
  • By the time of its mature phase, the civilisation had spread over an area larger than the others, which included a core of 1,500 kilometres (900 mi) up the alluvial plain of the Indus and its tributaries.
  • The civilisation extended from Balochistan in the west to western Uttar Pradesh in the east, from northeastern Afghanistan in the north to Gujarat state in the south.
  • The largest number of sites are in the Punjab region, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir states, Sindh, and Balochistan. Coastal settlements extended from Sutkagan Dor in Western Baluchistan to Lothal in Gujarat.
  • An Indus Valley site has been found on the Oxus River at Shortugai, in the Gomal River valley in northwestern Pakistan, at Manda, Jammu on the Beas River near Jammu, and at Alamgirpur on the Hindon River, only 28 km (17 mi) from Delhi.
  • The southernmost site of the Indus Valley Civilisation is Bhagtrav or Daimabad in Maharashtra.
    • The northernmost site is Manda in Jammu district of Jammu and Kashmir.
    • The westernmost site is Sutkagen-dor on the Makran coast of Pakistan, and
    • the easternmost is Alamgirpur in the Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh.
  • Indus Valley sites have been found most often on rivers, but also on the ancient seacoast, for example, Balakot (Kot Bala), and on islands, for example, Dholavira.

Pre-Harappan era: Mehrgarh

  • Mehrgarh is a Neolithic (7000 BCE to c. 2500 BCE) mountain site in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, which gave new insights on the emergence of the Indus Valley Civilisation.
  • Mehrgarh is one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in South Asia.
  • Mehrgarh was influenced by the Near Eastern Neolithic, with similarities between “domesticated wheat varieties, early phases of farming, pottery, other archaeological artefacts, some domesticated plants and herd animals.”

Early Harappan

  • The Early Harappan Ravi Phase, named after the nearby Ravi River, lasted from c. 3300 BCE until 2800 BCE.
  • It started when farmers from the mountains gradually moved between their mountain homes and the lowland river valleys, and is related to the Hakra Phase, identified in the Ghaggar-Hakra River Valley to the west, and predates the Kot Diji Phase (2800–2600 BCE, Harappan 2), named after a site in northern Sindh, Pakistan, near Mohenjo-daro. The earliest examples of the Indus script date to the 3rd millennium BCE.
  • The mature phase of earlier village cultures is represented by Rehman Dheri and Amri in Pakistan. Kot Diji represents the phase leading up to Mature Harappan, with the citadel representing centralised authority and an increasingly urban quality of life. Another town of this stage was found at Kalibangan in India on the Hakra River.
  • Trade networks linked this culture with related regional cultures and distant sources of raw materials, including lapis lazuli and other materials for bead-making. By this time, villagers had domesticated numerous crops, including peas, sesame seeds, dates, and cotton, as well as animals, including the water buffalo. Early Harappan communities turned to large urban centres by 2600 BCE, from where the mature Harappan phase started. The latest research shows that Indus Valley people migrated from villages to cities.
  • The final stages of the Early Harappan period are characterised by the building of large walled settlements, the expansion of trade networks, and the increasing integration of regional communities into a “relatively uniform” material culture in terms of pottery styles, ornaments, and stamp seals with Indus script, leading into the transition to the Mature Harappan phase.
Early Harappan

Mature Harappan

  • According to Giosan et al. (2012), the slow southward migration of the monsoons across Asia initially allowed the Indus Valley villages to develop by taming the floods of the Indus and its tributaries. Flood-supported farming led to large agricultural surpluses, which in turn supported the development of cities. The IVC residents did not develop irrigation capabilities, relying mainly on the seasonal monsoons leading to summer floods. Brooke further notes that the development of advanced cities coincides with a reduction in rainfall, which may have triggered a reorganisation into larger urban centres.
  • According to J.G. Shaffer and D.A. Lichtenstein, the Mature Harappan civilisation was “a fusion of the Bagor, Hakra, and Kot Diji traditions or ‘ethnic groups’ in the Ghaggar-Hakra valley on the borders of India and Pakistan”.
  • Also, according to a more recent summary by Maisels (2003), “The Harappan oecumene formed from a Kot Dijian/Amri-Nal synthesis”. He also says that, in the development of complexity, the site of Mohenjo-daro has priority, along with the Hakra-Ghaggar cluster of sites, “where Hakra wares actually precede the Kot Diji related material”. He sees these areas as “catalytic in producing the fusion from Hakra, Kot Dijian and Amri-Nal cultural elements that resulted in the gestalt we recognize as Early Harappan (Early Indus).”
  • By 2600 BCE, the Early Harappan communities turned into large urban centres. Such urban centres include Harappa, Ganeriwala, Mohenjo-daro in modern-day Pakistan, and Dholavira, Kalibangan, Rakhigarhi, Rupar, and Lothal in modern-day India. In total, more than 1,000 settlements have been found, mainly in the general region of the Indus and Ghaggar-Hakra Rivers and their tributaries.
Mature Harappan

Late Harappan

  • Around 1900 BCE signs of a gradual decline began to emerge, and by around 1700 BCE most of the cities had been abandoned. Recent examination of human skeletons from the site of Harappa has demonstrated that the end of the Indus civilisation saw an increase in inter-personal violence and in infectious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis.
  • According to historian Upinder Singh, “the general picture presented by the late Harappan phase is one of a breakdown of urban networks and an expansion of rural ones.”
  • During the period of approximately 1900 to 1700 BCE, multiple regional cultures emerged within the area of the Indus civilisation. The Cemetery H culture was in Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh, the Jhukar culture was in Sindh, and the Rangpur culture (characterised by Lustrous Red Ware pottery) was in Gujarat. Other sites associated with the Late phase of the Harappan culture are Pirak in Balochistan, Pakistan, and Daimabad in Maharashtra, India.
  • The largest Late Harappan sites are Kudwala in Cholistan, Bet Dwarka in Gujarat, and Daimabad in Maharashtra, which can be considered as urban, but they are smaller and few in number compared with the Mature Harappan cities. Bet Dwarka was fortified and continued to have contacts with the Persian Gulf region, but there was a general decrease of long-distance trade. On the other hand, the period also saw a diversification of the agricultural base, with a diversity of crops and the advent of double-cropping, as well as a shift of rural settlement towards the east and the south.
Late Harappan

Harappan, Indus, or Sindhu–Sarasvati Civilization?

The vast geographical extent of the civilization should make the objection to the terms ‘Indus’ or ‘Indus valley’ civilization obvious. The terms ‘Indus–Sarasvati’ or ‘Sindhu–Sarasvati’ civilization are also used by some scholars. This is because a large number of sites are located on the banks of the Ghaggar-Hakra river, which is identified by some scholars with the ancient Sarasvati mentioned in the Rig Veda.

However, the sort of objection to the terms ‘Indus’ or ‘Indus valley’ civilization can also be applied to the terms ‘Indus–Saraswati’ or ‘Sindhu–Saraswati’ civilization. Since the civilization was not confined to the valleys of the Indus or Ghaggar-Hakra, the best option is to use the term ‘Harappan’ civilization. This is based on the archaeological convention of naming a culture after the site where it is first identified. The use of the term Harappan civilization does not imply that all other sites are identical to Harappa or that the culture developed first in this place. In fact, Possehl asserts that it is necessary to break the Harappan monolith into sub-regions, which he calls ‘Domains’.

Newspapers and magazines sometimes announce the discovery of new sites of the Harappan civilization. This is done on the basis of a checklist of archaeological features. Pottery is an important marker. The typical Harappan pottery is red, with designs painted on in black, and has a certain range of forms and motifs. Other material traits associated with the civilization include terracotta cakes (pieces of terracotta, usually triangular, sometime round, whose precise function is unclear), a standardized brick size in the 1:2:4 ratio, and certain types of stone and copper artefacts. When the basic set of Harappan material traits are found associated with each other at a site, it is described as a Harappan site.

The Harappan culture was actually a long and complex cultural process consisting of at least three phases—the early Harappan, mature Harappan, and late Harappan. The early Harappan phase was the formative, proto-urban phase of the culture. The mature Harappan phase was the urban phase, the full-fledged stage of civilization. The late Harappan phase was the post-urban phase, when the cities declined.

Other terminology is also used. For instance, Jim Shaffer (1992) uses the term ‘Indus valley tradition’ for the long series of human adaptations starting from the neolithic–chalcolithic stage to the decline of the Harappan civilization. Within this larger sequence, he uses the term ‘regionalization era’ for the early Harappan phase, ‘integration era’ for the mature Harappan phase, and ‘localization era’ for the late Harappan phase. The early Harappan–mature Harappan transition and the mature Harappan–late Harappan transition are also treated as separate, distinct phases.

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