Indus Valley Civilization
Characteristics, History of Harappan Culture.

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Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro
(c.2500 BCE) Bronze figurine.
Harappan Culture. See also:
India: Painting and Sculpture.

Indus Valley Civilization & Culture
Harappan Arts, Crafts, Architecture (
3,300-1300 BCE)


Location and Discovery
Harappan Arts and Crafts
Written Symbols
More Articles about Asian Art

For the development of Eastern arts and crafts,
please see: Chinese Art Timeline (from 18,000 BCE).

For the chronology and development of more ancient works, see:
Prehistoric Art Timeline (2.5 Million - 500 BCE).



Dating to the era of late Neolithic art, the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) - also known as the Harappan Civilization - lasted from 3300 to 1300 BCE and included parts of Afghanistan, most of Pakistan and north-west India as far south as Rajkot. The most significant early civilization of the Indian sub-continent, the IVC ranks alongside Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, as source of ancient art, notably sculpture, seal carving and ancient pottery, as well as decorative crafts. It is also noted for its urban planning, baked brick buildings and water supply systems, although archeologists have yet to find evidence of any monumental architecture, such as palaces or temples. IVC flourished in particular along the Indus River and its tributaries, extending to more than 1,056 cities and settlements with a total population of over five million. Among the key centres of Indus Valley culture were the settlements of Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Kot Diji and Mehrgarh. Excavations have revealed an extensive caravan trade with Central Asia to the north and Persia to the west, as well as links with both Egyptian art and Mesopotamian art, and possibly even with Minoan culture on Crete.

Note: India is home to the earliest art of the Stone Age, in the form of ancient cupules - dating back to between 290,000-700,000 BCE - which were found in the Madhya Pradesh region of central India. For details, please see: Bhimbetka Petroglyphs at the Auditorium Cave and Daraki-Chattan Rock Shelter.

More About Art on the Indian Subcontinent
- Indian Sculpture (3300 BCE - 1850)
- Classical Indian Painting (Up to 1150 CE)
- Post-Classical Indian Painting (14th-16th Century)
- Mughal Painting (16th-19th Century)
- Rajput Painting (16th-19th Century)

Location and Discovery

One of the earliest sources of Asian art, the Indus Valley Civilization extended from Jalalabad (Afghanistan) in the north, to Maharashtra to the south; from Pakistani Balochistan in the west, to Uttar Pradesh in the east. Far flung IVC colonies have been discovered on the Oxus River at Shortughai, and beyond the Hindu Kush as far north as Dushanbe. It flourished most significantly along the Indus River and its tributaries including the Jhelum, Chenhab, Ravi, Sutlej and Ghaggar Hakra rivers.

Following early efforts by General Alexander Cunningham, director general of the Archeological Survey of Northern India, the first major archeological discoveries of Indus Valley civilization were made at Harappa, in the present-day Punjab province of Pakistan, followed by Mohenjo-Daro in the Pakistani province of Sindh. Archeologists involved included Sir John Marshall, Rai Bahadur Daya Ram Sahni, Madho Sarup Vats, Rakhal Das Banerjee, E. J. H. MacKay, Ahmad Hasan Dani, Brij Basi Lal, Nani Gopal Majumdar, Sir Marc Aurel Stein, and Sir Mortimer Wheeler. The most recent excavations have been made at Mehrgarh - a site discovered in 1974 by French archeologists Jean-Francois Jarrige and Catherine Jarrige - on the Kacchi Plain of Balochistan, Pakistan, where some 32,000 artifacts have been collected. According to Ahmad Hasan Dani, Professor of Archeology at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, the discoveries at Mehrgarh have proved invaluable to our understanding of the Indus Valley culture.


In simple terms, Indus Valley Civilization can be divided into three main periods: (1) Early Harappan: 3300–2600 BCE; (2) Mature Harappan: 2600–1900 BCE; and (3) Late Harappan: 1900–1300 BCE.

The Early Harappan Period included the Ravi Phase (3,300-2,800 BCE), the Hakra Phase (2,800-2,600 BCE), and the Kot Diji Phase (2800–2600 BCE). It is characterized by intensive agriculture, animal husbandry and the emergence of large urban centres, as well as extensive trading practices with the surrounding regions. The Mature Harappan Period featured urban settlements such as Harappa, Ganeriwala and Mohenjo-Daro in today's Pakistan, and Kalibangan, Dholavira, Rakhigarhi, Rupar and Lothal in present-day India. However, some time around 1800 BCE, the civilization began to decline, and by about 1700 BCE, the majority of the cities were abandoned. Scholars believe that the collapse of the IVC was triggered by a major drought, or some combination of climatic conditions. But Harappan civilisation did not disappear completely, and many of its elements can be found in later cultures. Indeed, recent archeological data collected at the Harappan settlement of Pirak, suggests that Late Harappan culture may have endured until at least 900 BCE, to the era of Painted Grey Ware culture, if not later.


Archeological investigations have revealed a technologically advanced urban culture in many Indus Valley centres, with clear signs of sophisticated municipal town planning, including the world's first known urban sanitation systems (Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro and Rakhigarhi). Other features of its advanced architecture include an array of impressive dockyards, warehouses, granaries, public baths, and defensive walls. These huge walls - found in most Indus Valley cities acted as flood-barriers as well as military fortifications. However, no large palaces or temples appear to have been constructed.


Harappan craftsmen developed numerous techniques in metalwork (copper, bronze) and jewellery. These are most evident in their goldsmithing and their bronze sculpture (see below).


Indus Valley Civilization is probably best-known in the West for its bronze figurative sculpture - notably the famous slender-limbed statue known as the "Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro" (2500 BCE) - the extraordinary quality of which is comparable with Late Classical Greek Sculpture (c.400-323 BCE) and Hellenistic Greek Sculpture (c.323-27 BCE). No one has yet established how Indus sculptors managed to anticipate forms associated with Greek sculpture of classical antiquity.

In addition to bronzes, Indus culture produced a variety of stone sculpture and also red coloured terracotta sculpture, featuring images of dancing girls as well as animals like cows, bears, monkeys, and dogs, plus a number of unidentified hybrid animals and anthropomorphic figures, seen mostly on Harappan steatite seals.

Harappan Arts and Crafts

Indus Valley culture is also known for its decorative crafts, especially its jewellery art, featuring a range of beautiful glazed faience beads, necklaces, bangles, combs (kakai), and other ornaments and toiletry items.

Written Symbols

Not unlike the early writing of Egyptian and Sumerian culture (c.4500-2270 BCE), Indus Valley culture also produced its own writing system, with a range of about 600 distinct symbols (typically no more than four or five characters in length), which have been found on seals, small stone or clay tablets and ceramic pots. However, debate still continues as to whether these symbols are evidence of literacy, or whether they belong to the tradition of non-linguistic sign systems used extensively in the Middle East. Unfortunately the messages on the seals are too short and there are too few examples to permit computer analysis of their meaning.

More Articles about Asian Art

For more information about arts and crafts on the continent of Asia, please see the following articles:

Xianrendong Cave Pottery (c.18,000 BCE)
World's oldest known ceramic pots.

Japanese Art (14,500 BCE - 1900)
Guide to the arts & crafts of Japan.

Korean Art (c.3,000 BCE onwards)
Characteristics, history, development of arts and crafts in Korea.

Chinese Buddhist Sculpture (c.100-present)
Characteristics, history, statues.

Angkor Wat (c.1115-1145)
Architecture and sculpture of Khmer Temple in Cambodia.

Traditional Chinese Art
Jade carvings, pottery, sculpture, painting, calligraphy.

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple
Hindu architecture and sculpture at Khajuraho, India.

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