The Harappan civilization dominated the Indus River valley beginning about five thousand years ago, many of its massive cities sprawling at the edges of rivers that still flow through Pakistan and India today. But its culture remains a mystery. Why did it leave behind no representations of great leaders, nor of warfare?
Archaeologists have long wondered whether the Harappan civilization could actually have thrived for roughly 2,000 years without any major wars or leadership cults. Obviously people had conflicts, sometimes with deadly results — graves reveal ample skull injuries caused by blows to the head. But there is no evidence that any Harappan city was ever burned, besieged by an army, or taken over by force from within. Sifting through the archaeological layers of these cities, scientists find no layers of ash that would suggest the city had been burned down, and no signs of mass destruction. There are no enormous caches of weapons, and not even any art representing warfare.
That would make the Harappan civilization an historical outlier in any era. But it’s especially noteworthy at a time when neighboring civilizations in Mesopotamia were erecting massive war monuments, and using cuneiform writing on clay tablets to chronicle how their leaders slaughtered and enslaved thousands.
What exactly were the Harappans doing instead of focusing their energies on military conquest?
The Indus River flows out of the Himalayas, bringing fresh water to the warm, dry valley where the ancient city of Harappa first began to grow. The Harappan civilization is the namesake of this city, located between two rivers, whose arts, written language, and science spread to several other large, riverside cities in the area. Mohenjo-Daro was the largest of these cities with a population of roughly 80,000 people. Archaeologists have recently analyzed the teeth of people buried in Mohenjo-Daro’s graveyards, searching for telltale chemical traces that reveal where these people drank water as children. They discovered that many had grown up drinking water from elsewhere in the region, meaning that a lot of the city’s inhabitants were migrants who had come to the city as adults. [Continue reading…]