Who were the Indus people?

The Indus Valley was home to one of the world's first large civilisations. It began nearly 5,000 years ago in an area of modern-day Pakistan and Northern India.

There were more than 1,400 towns and cities in the Indus Valley. The biggest were Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. Around 80,000 people lived in these cities.

The names Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro were given to the cities in later times. We do not know what the Indus people called their cities, because nobody has been able to translate their ancient language.

Where was the Indus Valley?

The Indus people lived on the banks of the Indus river, the longest river in Pakistan.

The Indus river begins high up in the Himalayan mountains (the tallest mountain range in the world), and flows nearly 3,000 kilometres to the Arabian Sea. As the river moves downstream it carves out a valley. This is where the Indus people settled.

The first farmers liked living near the river because it kept the land green and fertile for growing crops. These farmers lived together in villages which grew over time into large ancient cities, like Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro.

The Indus people needed river water to drink, wash and to irrigate their fields. They may also have used water in religious ceremonies. To the Indus people, their river was  ‘The King River’.

Aerial photograph of the Indus river and mountains
The Indus is the longest river in Pakistan, it's over 3,000 kilometers long

Was the Indus Valley a peaceful place?

The Indus civilisation seems to have been a peaceful one. The cities were built with strong walls and gateways, which usually means they needed protection. However few weapons have been found and there is no evidence of an army.

Often ancient writings can tell us about civilisations, but no one has been able to translate the Indus writings. We have to look for other clues.

Sometimes you are able to see changes in ruins that indicate wars or battles, but the Indus Valley seems to have stayed the same for hundreds of years.

However, archaeologists have recently found some skeletons that suggest that the Indus valley might not have been such a peaceful place after all. When they looked closely at the skeletons, they saw that they might have died in a pretty nasty way - being beaten with a heavy club.

Artist's impression of life in the Indus valley
This is an artist's impression of what life may have been like in the Indus valley

Town planning

The Indus cities were neatly planned. They had straight roads which criss-crossed in a grid pattern to form city blocks.

The main streets were almost 10 metres wide - wide enough for two bullock carts or elephants to pass each other. Drains ran along the edge of the streets to carry rubbish away and wells were dug for clean water.

Some cities, like Mohenjo-Daro, had high walls. These walls had gateways so people could come and go. Some city districts inside were raised on mounds. The highest mound was known as the citadel, which might have been where the priests or rulers lived.

Most Indus buildings were made from mud bricks. Over time, people built new houses on top of old ones. So, over hundreds of years, the cities grew higher and higher. Some houses were seven metres above the old houses at the bottom!

The ruins of an ancient Indus city street
This photo of a street at Mohenjo-Daro shows how high the walls were either side of the street
A busy marketplace in the Indus Valley