Why did the ancient Indus civilization come to an abrupt end? | by Prateek Dasgupta, MS | April 2022

Experts are puzzled by the rapid demise of the Indus Civilization

Image created by the author using Adobe Express. Individual images from: Wikimedia Commons.

InIn 1922, archaeologist Rakhal Das Banerji discovered a Buddhist mound in the Indian province of Sindh, then ruled by the British. Something in the monument seemed odd to him. A precious piece of history was hiding under the mound.

Curiosity drove him to dig deeper. Banerji’s team quickly uncovered a massive Bronze Age metropolis beneath Buddhist relics. Due to its location atop a large burial mound, the town is known as Mohenjodaro, meaning “mound of the dead”.

Banerji discovered Mohenjodaro after his colleagues from the Archaeological Survey of India unearthed Harappa. Mohenjodaro was the second city of the Indus civilization, Harappa being the first.

The discovery of the Indus civilizationalso known as the Indus Valley Civilization or Harappan civilization, marked a turning point in history. The discoveries have pushed ancient Indian history back thousands of years. Indian civilization was much older than we thought.

Mohenjodaro was a sophisticated old town with a granary, a bath and the world’s most famous drainage system. The city had an extensive network of fortifications.

Over the next two decades, additional excavations revealed numerous human skeletons in one of Mohenjodaro’s streets. Mohenjodaro’s corpses have become a flashpoint in the debate over the end of the most peaceful civilization in the ancient world.

Theories about the decline of the Indus Civilization were commonplace in the 20th century, most of them highly controversial.

Thanks to rapid advances in science and archeology, we now know better why the Indus civilization collapsed.

To understand the fall of the Indus people, we must look at the corpses lying in the streets of Mohenjodaro.

Maybe they can give us some clues? Or are the skeletons a false flag? Let us find out!

The Indus civilization at its height. Source of images: Wikimedia Commons.

The Indus civilization began to collapse around 2200 BC. By 2000 BC, major cities like Mohenjodaro and Harappa had collapsed. Only a few other settlements lasted beyond the year 1800 BC.

One of the most common theories about the fall of the Indus Civilization was that the steppe nomads of Central Asia, known as Indo-Aryanscame to the area and took it back.

It is unfortunate that the name “Aryan” has become synonymous with Nazi ideology and Hitler’s notions of a “master race”. The real Aryans had nothing to do with the Nazis.

The Sanskrit word “Arya” means noble or cultured, and “Aryan” is derived from this term. The term Aryan has the same meaning in Persian as in Sanskrit. Iran means “the land of the Aryans”.

Neither the Sanskrit words nor the Persian words that define the term “Aryan” have anything to do with race.

So who were these so-called “civilized” nomads, and why were they blamed for the downfall of the Indus civilization? Is there any truth in the assertion?

The migrations of Indo-European peoples have often been wrongly blamed for the decline of the Indus civilization. Source of images: Wikimedia Commons.

Migrations from Indo-European the steppe peoples of Eurasia during the Bronze Age shaped human civilizations for millennia to come. Due to migration, Indo-Europeans found themselves all over Europe and Asia. Once upon a time, Indo-Europeans may have spoken a common language known as Proto-Indo-European.

Anthropologists and linguists have come to this conclusion after researching the similarities between the many Indo-European languages ​​spoken in Asia and Europe.

A branch of the Indo-Europeans moved south. They were the Indo-Iranians. The branch split somewhere north of present-day Afghanistan into two branches: the Iranians and the Indo-Aryans.

Several linguistic parallels between the oldest Sanskrit document, the Rig-Vedaand the oldest Persian literature, the Zend Avestaled us to conclude that Iranians and Indo-Aryans once co-existed.

The Rigveda and the Avesta have common geographical descriptions which indicate a common origin of the Indo-Aryan and Iranian peoples.

Geography according to the Rigveda. The Indus River was known as Sindhu. Source of images: Wikimedia Commons.

The Indo-Aryans advanced eastward towards the Indian subcontinent. They were a warrior people who excelled in the use of chariots. Historians believe chariots gave the Indo-Aryans a substantial military advantage.

In 1926, archaeologist and historian Ramaprasad Chanda suggested that migrating Indo-Aryans dealt a fatal blow to the peaceful Indus towns. Archaeologists believe that the people of the Indus lived in peace and harmony as they did not find any weapons at the sites except for hunting tools.

The hypothesis of the Indo-Aryans destroying the cities of the Indus has become known as the Aryan invasion theory. Mortimer Wheelera British archaeologist, took this idea and developed it further.

He quoted the Rigveda, which describes the god Indra destroy forts and kill demons. Wheeler added a racial dimension to the story by claiming that the light-skinned Aryans destroyed and killed the dark-skinned Dasas and Dasyus, who inhabited the cities of the Indus. Dasas and Dasyus were two tribes described in the Rigveda as enemies of the Aryans.

Do you remember the skeletons found in the streets of Mohenjodaro? Wheeler used them as evidence of a mass slaughter of natives by Aryan invaders. The city fortifications served as proof of the Rigvedic forts.

So you might ask, what’s wrong with Wheeler’s hypothesis?

The Aryan invasion theory has been dismissed from academic circles for several reasons.

To begin with, the 37 skeletons discovered at Mohenjodaro do not all date from the same period. They cannot therefore be linked to an event. It’s hard to imagine invaders slaughtering 37 people over the centuries.

The second major problem with the Aryan invasion theory was the lack of evidence of military assault on Indus towns. No weapon belonging to the Indo-Aryans has been found. They did not demolish the fortifications of Mohenjodaro, as claimed by Wheeler.

The Rigveda describes a fierce battle between the Indo-Aryans and Dasas and Dasyus. If such a battle took place in Mohenjodaro, why was not a single body found in the main citadel of the city? Skeletons on the streets show that the deaths may have been due to robbery during a period of city decline.

Other Indus Civilization sites like Harappa, Kalibangan, Lothal, and Dholavira lack signs of war, making the idea of ​​an Aryan invasion much more implausible than it already is.

The Rigveda describes the Dasas and Dasyus as warrior tribes who challenge the Indo-Aryans. If we assume Wheeler is right, why is there a lack of evidence of weapons used by Indus dwellers? A warrior people must have left behind swords and axes. We can conclude from the existing evidence that the Dasas and Dasyus were a distinct people from the people of the Indus Valley.

Further doubts about Wheeler’s theory can be seen from his lack of academic integrity. Chanda proposed the Aryan invasion theory, but later changed his mind.

As more information emerged from the excavations of the Indus cities, Chanda concluded that the Aryan invasion was an absurd concept. He wrote that there was no full-scale warfare between the Indo-Aryans and the Indus people. However, Chanda’s updated recommendations were lost in scientific publications, while Wheeler’s theory gained popularity.

Using a religious book to present a historical narrative devoid of archaeological evidence is a problematic approach. Therefore, scholars no longer see the idea of ​​Aryan invasion as a viable explanation for the fall of the Indus Civilization.

Recent genetic investigations, linguistic data, and archaeological finds all indicate that Indo-Aryan migrations occurred after the decline of the Indus civilization. The Indus people influenced the Indo-Aryans in various ways. In the wake of this cultural interaction, the Hindu religion as we know it today was born.

You might be wondering if the Indo-Aryan raiders from the North didn’t cause the decline of the Indus Civilization, then what did?

A large well at Mohenjodaro. The well was rebuilt and its height was raised each time after a flood, raising its elevation to street level. Source of images: Wikimedia Commons.

In 1966, archaeologist George F. Dales traveled to Sehwan, 90 miles from Mohenjodaro along the Indus River. He was examining the city’s layers of silt, which suggested repeated flooding.

The rock faults indicated tectonic movements occurring at Sehwan, according to Dales. These tectonic events created a natural dam, preventing the Indus from flowing into the sea. Thus, Mohenjodaro was flooded and turned into a huge lake, forcing the townspeople to flee.

Researchers are skeptical of the idea of ​​tectonic movement. Floods have affected Mohenjodaro on several occasions, but tectonic movements may not have caused the floods. Other Indus Civilization sites, such as Harappa, show no evidence of frequent flooding. The rising level of the Arabian Sea, towards which the Indus flows, is a more credible explanation for the flooding.

The land along the Indus Civilization seems to have become increasingly salty, making it unsuitable for cultivation during the last days of cultivation.

Other scholars argue that, as in Egypt and Mesopotamia, there may have been excessive agriculture and deforestation. As agricultural and livestock grazing areas expanded, trees continued to be felled, changing the climate of the region.

The region could not keep up with the growing number of humans and domestic animals. Knowledge of modern agriculture did not exist at the time, so damage to the soil caused by over-cultivation could not be repaired.

Flooding, rising sea levels, increasing numbers of people, and unsustainable agricultural practices may have led to the end of the Indus Civilization.

A lesser-known factor cited by archaeologist Shereen Ratnagar is the decline in the lapis lazuli trade.

Lapis lazuli was a rare stone mined in Afghanistan that was sought after by the elite of the ancient world. The Indus people traded the lucrative resource with the Elam culture in Iran and Mesopotamian civilizations.

According to Ratnagar, when the lapis lazuli trade collapsed, the incomes of the Indus people declined. Consequently, they had less money to rebuild their cities after natural disasters and feed a growing population.

The theory proposed by Ratnagar is interesting, but it is based on many conjectures. We do not know how important the lapis lazuli trade was, as the volume of trade is not documented. The lack of records in Mesopotamia and the indecipherable Indus script have left us with many unanswered questions about the significance of the lapis lazuli trade.