Archaeologists have unearthed what seems to have been a utopia. No, it isn’t Camelot but settlements by the long-forgotten Indus people. Unlike most ancient civilizations, the Indus appeared to have lived without weapons, war, royalty and deities.
Indus society existed in South Asia from 2600-1900BC and then mysteriously disappeared. Author Andrew Robinson recently released a book, “The Indus: Lost Civilisations” and wrote about it in the journal New Scientist.
“All signs point to a prosperous and advanced society – one of history’s greatest.”
The Indus River, known as “The King River” is the longest river in Pakistan. As it flowed downstream from the Himalayan Mountains to the Arabian Sea, it carved out the fertile Indus Valley. Here, the Indus empire thrived for over a million square miles in what is now Pakistan, northwest India and east Afghanistan. At one time, the Indus made up 10% of the world’s population.
Yet, all that remains are the ruins of abandoned settlements located in a vast desert region, away from current rivers. Indus society was forgotten until the 1920’s when researchers first uncovered this sophisticated urban culture. Since then, over 1,000 Indus settlements have been unearthed.
Two of the largest settlements, the cities now named Harappa and Mohenjo once had populations of over 80,000. The straight streets were laid out in a grid. Individual homes were supplied with water from wells and waste was diverted to covered drains. It is thought to be the first known sanitation system. Buildings were constructed of mud bricks. The homes of the wealthy had two stories, a bath and courtyard. The less wealthy ha flat roofs for entertaining and sleeping.
The cities had municipal buildings, marketplaces, dockyards, graneries, warehouses and were surrounded by protective walls with gateways. Hose who resided within the cities appeared to be traders or artisans while farmers lives outside along the river banks.
The thing that sets the Indus apart is the lack of palaces, temples, tombs or statuary of royalty or gods found in other ancient cultures. There are no indications of a societal hierarchy. Commerce seemed to operate through barter. Most surprising has been the lack of weaponry or evidence of an army. Skeletal remains show no battle trauma. Plus, though horses were part of societies around them, the Indus did not use them.
Neil McGregor, former director of the British Museum says,
What’s left of these great Indus cities gives no indication of a society engaged with, or threatened by war. Is it going too far to see these Indus cities as an early urban Utopia?
Yet, the Utopia did not survive. Theories abound. Some believe that climate change rerouted the river and ended the Indus way of life. Others believe that the ruins reveal overbuilt, overcrowded cities with blocked drains and a declining way of life. Yet, others believe that the fall of its major trading partner, Mesopotamia caused its demise.
Many questions remain unanswered and the key is in deciphering the Indus script. The Indus used 400 picture signs scribbled in clay with a sharp stick or etched on metal. No one has yet been able to translate the Indus language, which would, hopefully, unlock the mysteries of this unique civilization.
More than 100 attempts at decipherment have been published by professional scholars since the 1920’s. Now, as a result of increased collaboration between archaeologists, linguists and experts in the digital humanities – it looks possible that the Indus script may yield some of its secrets.