The ancient civilizations of China, Mesopotamia, and Egypt are known to have been strongly hierarchical, and rife with conflict. A contemporaneous civilization uniquely appears otherwise. This civilization was founded in the Indus Valley, in what is now western India and Pakistan.
“The Indus civilization was one of the great early complex societies.” ~ English archeologist Cameron Petrie
The Indus civilization began 9,000 years ago on the fertile floodplain of the Indus River. Farming settlements sprang up, primarily based upon wheat and barley. Another key crop was cotton.
Whereas horses were unknown, other livestock, including cattle, goats, sheep, and water buffalo, were domesticated. (Horses were first domesticated in the steppes east of the Ural Mountains 5,500 years ago by the Yamnaya.) Dogs were part of Indus households. Whether domesticated cats were about is unclear.
Trade grew, including maritime trade with distant lands. To facilitate commerce, a system of standard weights emerged.
Detailed craftwork developed, including a wide variety of tools, pottery, dyed textiles, jewelry, sculpture, and seals. The quality and erudition of Indus statuary have been favorably compared to the works of the classical Greeks many millennia later. A written language evolved, with a script that remains undecipherable.
During the Bronze Age, the Indus civilization burgeoned to over 5 million people living in 54 cities, including 2 major metropolises, and over 1,000 settlements in an area at least 800,000 km2. Buildings were made of baked brick.
Vast stone platforms underlie various cities to keep them above the annual floods. Streets were planned, generally oriented along the 4 main points of the compass.
There were sewage systems worthy of modern times, public baths, and toilets. Given the emphasis on sanitation, public health was clearly important to the Indus people.
“Not until later Roman times did people devise so many clever construction techniques to deal with comforts and discomforts related to water.” ~ American anthropologist Rita Wright
All evidence indicates competent governance, but not autocracy, as was the norm in other ancient civilizations. The evidence is of general egalitarianism.
What is most surprising about the Indus Valley civilization is what was not there. No grand temples. No royal palaces. No slavery. (Burial remains indicate little material inequality.) And, judging by the absence of weapons and fortifications, no conflict. (The only fortified settlements among the Indus dwellers were on the Arabian Sea coast, where trade with foreigners gave unease.)
“What’s left of these great Indus cities gives us no indication of a society engaged with, or threatened by, war.” ~ English historian Neil MacGregor
The Indus civilization was an epitome of human society, and its shortcomings emblematic. The Hindu tradition began in the Indus Valley.
The Indus Valley people had geographical luck. Raw materials were plentiful, including abundant forests and freshwater.
The Indus civilization began with settlements close to Kotla Dahar, a deep lake. The climate afforded 2 growing seasons, thanks to winter cyclones and summer monsoons.
Deforestation and resultant climate change led to the decline of the Indus civilization. As with civilizations throughout history, the Indus felled their forests and degraded the soil that their lives depended upon.
Farmers shifted their crop patterns as soil quality and the monsoons gradually declined from 3,000 BCE. This resulted in lower agricultural productivity, which acted as a catalyst for de-urbanization.
Dramatic decreases in rainfall, likely caused by deforestation, led to progressive lowering of Kotla Dahar. By ~2000 BCE the lake was ephemeral.
The Indus civilization did not collapse. It simply diffused, leaving behind a depleted ecosystem.
Though excessively florid and often cryptic, writers of Vedic texts written toward the end (~1300 BCE) or shortly after the Indus civilization show an understanding of the immaterial nature of reality: a rare accomplishment. For this to have been possible, the legacy of the Indus civilization must have been a culture that cultivated enlightenment. (Sculpture suggests that yoga was practiced, but there is scant evidence of organized religion.) In this, the Indus people were truly unique.
“Astonishing that any culture or civilisation should have this continuity for 6 thousand years or more; and not in a static, unchanging sense, for India was changing and progressing all the time. She was coming into intimate contact with the Persians, the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Central Asians, and the peoples of the Mediterranean. But though she influenced them and was influenced by them, her cultural basis was strong enough to endure.” ~ India’s 1st Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru