A Lost River Made Possible One Of The First Great Civilizations

It doesn't look a very attractive place to build a city, but this was once a street in one of the world's great Bronze Age cities, with a seasonal riverbed in the distance that hosted a great river thousands of years previously. S. Gupta/Imperial College London

In the soft soils of deltas, rivers can constantly change their course, but usually fairly subtly. On the other hand, landslides or the dramatic collapse of an upstream riverbank can occasionally trigger major changes in a river's route. In 2008, the breaking of a beach of a levee of the Kosi River, northern India, caused the entire waterway to re-route 60 kilometers (40 miles) eastwards. Often, as in the Kosi River's case, such changes cause rivers to return to a route they had followed once before, sometimes switching back and forth several times.

The rivers of the Indus Valley and surrounds as they are today, along with the Bronze-Age cities and towns of the region, many of which follow the course the Sutlej that flowed thousands of years earlier.  P.J. Mason/S. Gupta (Imperial College London) Data for map courtesy of NASA and USGS.


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