Was The Indus Valley Civilization Really A Non-Violent, Egalitarian Utopia?

The city of Mohenjo-daro may have been home to between 30,000 and 40,000 people. suronin/Shutterstock

The hippie movement of the 1960s may have failed in its attempt to subvert the war-hungry state machinery and spread peace and love throughout the world, but some archaeologists believe the flower children were far from the first people to embrace such utopian ideals. Writing in New Scientist, Andrew Robinson, author of "The Indus: Lost Civilizations", presents evidence that suggests there once existed a society in Southern Asia that thrived in the absence of leaders or warfare.

By all accounts, the Indus Valley civilization was extremely advanced for its time. Lining the Indus River as it snakes its way from the Tibetan Plateau to the Arabian Sea, the inhabitants of this long-lost nation lived in well-planned cities, the best-known of which are known as Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, and are thought to have reached their heyday around 2,600 BCE.

Excavations have revealed well-thought-out streets with sewage systems and even household plumbing, enabling these settlements to support up to 40,000 people. Standardized weights bearing inscriptions are thought to have been used as currency, and have been unearthed as far afield as the Middle East, suggesting strong international trade links.

However, perhaps the greatest advances made by the Indus civilization – which occupied much of modern-day Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan – were in the realm of liberal thought and ideals. For instance, the fact that none of the excavated cities were fortified, along with the apparent lack of military-style weaponry, suggests that these settlements were completely war-free.

At the same time, no royal palaces or temples have been unearthed, and none of the excavated artifacts contain depictions of rulers. Instead, equality seems to be a major characteristic of Indus towns, in which virtually all residents shared in roughly the same level of wealth and wellbeing.

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Mohenjo-daro was a well-planned city with public sewage systems and in-house plumbing. suronin/Shutterstock

However, many questions remain unanswered, which could yet shatter the illusion of a peace-loving, egalitarian society. The biggest stumbling block facing archaeologists attempting to resolve these mysteries is the fact that scholars have yet to decipher the Indus language, and have been unable to translate any of the texts that have been discovered. As such, we still have no first-hand accounts of Indus life.

Additionally, though the lack of elaborate tombs or shrines to rulers has led many to suggest that the Indus simply didn’t have kings, Neil MacGregor, former director of the British Museum, says that this may be because the residents of this ancient civilization cremated rather than buried their dead.

The Indus are thought to have disappeared around 4,000 years ago, and while the exact cause of this sudden collapse is not fully known, many believe it was at least partly precipitated by climate change, as geological records indicate a major drought around this period.

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