Decline of Harappan Civilization

Decline of Harappan Civilization
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The Harappan Civilization was one of the oldest civilization in the Indian sub-continent known for its modern structures. It was a Bronze Age Civilization in the northwestern region of South Asia. It is called Harappan because the remnants of the civilization was discovered first at the modern site of Harappa located in the province of Punjab, Pakistan. Archeological evidences suggest that the civilization flourished in the Indus valley, hence it is also known as the Indus Valley Civilization. The entire history of the Harappan Culture can be sub-divided into three phasesthe Early Harappan Phase(3300 BC – 2600 BC), the Mature Harappan Phase (2600BC – 1900 BC) and the Late Harappan Phase(1900 BC – 1300BC). Before discussing about the Decline of Harappan Civilization , let us have a quick discussion about the discovery of Harappan Civilization.

The Discovery of Harappan Civilization

The Harappan Civilization is a path-breaking discovery that relates us to the Ancient India’s way of living and lifestyle. The discovery is not a result of a particular day but it is a conglomeration of various archaeological findings that has been discovered continuously since 19th century. In 1853, a British engineer, Sir Alexander Cunningham discovered a seal. The seal was a smooth black stone without polish. A bull without a hump was engraved on the seal. There were two stars under the neck of the bull and it was looking to the right. Above the bull there was an inscription of six characters. Cunningham thought that the seal cannot be Indian. However, the seal stimulated the discovery of the Harappan Civilization.

In 1921, an Indian archaeologist, Ray Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, started excavating the Harappan site. In 1922, another archaeologist Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay (R.D Banerji) discovered Mohenjo-daro in Sindh and started excavation. Large scale excavation were carried out at Mohenjo-daro under the supervision of Marshall in 1931. The same site was excavated by Mackey in 1938. In 1948 Vats excavated Harappa. Mortimer Wheeler also excavated Harappa in 1946. This were all done in the pre-Independence period.

After the Independence, Suraj Bhan, M.k Dhavalikar, B.K Thapar, B.B lal among many others continued excavation works in areas of Gujarat, Haryana and Rajasthan. In Pakistan F.A khan, A.H Dani, M.R Mughal and many others excavated many areas.

The decline of Harappan Civilization


The two cities Harappa and Mohenjo-daro disappeared by the nineteenth century. Other cities and villages degraded and faded out gradually. The exact reason of extinction of such an advanced civilization is not known till now.

Environmental factors

Some scholars believe that the environmental factors might have played a role for this cultural collapse. In 1700 the Yamuna and Sutlej moved away from the Saraswati. This may have lowered the water level and lead to water scarcity. Rainfall decreased tremendously in those areas at that time.

Human Activities

It is said that humans constructed dams in the Indus valley for irrigational purpose and the like. But due to heavy rain the dam might have destroyed leading to heavy flooding in Mohenjo-daro area. Due to the flood many died, several others shifted to some others places.

Emergence of Elam

Due to emergence of Elam as a powerful state in 2000 BC , trade and commerce with Mesopotamia along the long distance sea and land route was put on halt. The luxurious items like lapis lazuli, beads, etc were traded through Elam which covered a substantial part of Iran and was located on the eastern boundary of Mesopotamia. Beads made of stones were exported to Mesopotamia and tin was imported to Harappa from Mesopotamia. Due to the break in export or import the traders and craftsmen were deprived of their livelihood.

Soil lost fertility

It is also said that the soils had lost fertility and diminished cereal production. This might have starved the urban people. Due to loss of aristocracy the Harappan culture collapsed.

Aryan Invasion

According to Staurt and Piggot, Aryans might have invaded the Indus territory and led to the destruction of the civilization. This theory is put forwarded as it is commonly believed that Aryans were the next settlers. They were skilled fighters and are known for invading and occupying great cities.

Climatic Change

Another theory suggest that a huge climatic change or natural disaster occured around 2000 BC. These changes might have caused flood or different natural calamities. The people of Indus might not be able to adapt to such sudden environmental change.


KVR Kennedy put forwarded another theory. According to Kennedy, an uncontrollable epidemic might have spread in the Indus. Due to lack of developed medical facilities the entire population might be wiped out.

Related Post:

Town Planning of Indus Valley Civilization

Features of Indus Valley Civilization

The Magadhan Empire

The Maurya Empire

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