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The Indus Valley Civilization: a Study

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The Indus Valley Civilization is a very old, very mysterious civilization that not much is known about. What little is known is obtained from two things: Indus script, and archaeology of cities such as Harappa (which gave the civilization its name) and Mohenjodaro. Both of these sources give us valuable information about the lifestyle of ancient Harappans, but they still do not answer all of our questions. Two main questions that are brought up when studying the Indus civilization are about the nature and uses of the script, and the nature and/or existence of a class system. Three documents – Jonathan Kenoyer’s article in Scientific American, Ian Glover’s “Old World Civilizations,” and Alfred Fairservis’s work in Facts on File – provide the necessary details to get a better idea of the Indus Civilization.

One thing that Glover picked up on was the amazing technology of the Indus Civilization – it was “without parallel” in its time. The Harappans had plumbing, two-story building, public baths, and many more things such as pottery and tools that showed amazing design and skill. However, little of this skill was put into making weapons, a point that supports other evidence about war. Alfred Fairservis is a scientist who actually came up with a way to translate Indus script, and although it is not universally accepted, it someday could be. He did this by comparing Indus script to other languages, and to items from the culture of the civilization. All three authors agree that the language was used mostly for legal matters such as naming people on their seals, making contracts, accounting, and the like; the script was not used for literature like Mesopotamian script in The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Fairservis also thinks, based on what he was able to decipher from the text, that there was a class system in the Indus civilization: he says that there was a series of small chiefdoms, each with its own hierarchy. Kenoyer also says that there was an elite class, but Glover says that there was not. Glover bases his theory off of the fact that if there had been an all-out ruler, there would have been monuments and great tombs for that leader (like the pyramids of Ancient Egypt) – which there weren’t. This theory makes lots of sense, as both Mesopotamia and Egypt had tombs and monuments, and both were known to have had hierarchies. One possible compromise between these two sides of the argument is provided by yet another scholar, Professor Brian Fagan. He suggests that there was not a political pyramid, rather a social pyramid – but that there was a pyramid. This would mean that there was not one complete ruler, rather a series of higher officials, in short a social hierarchy. Whether or not there was an elite class, in the end, as Kenoyer suggests, they – whether “they” were leaders or just officials – could not keep hold of the rapidly growing urban civilization, and the empire, which had at one point had more land than both Egypt and Mesopotamia, collapsed due to unknown reasons, passing on a little of its religion and none of its technology to the tribes who would later inhabit the area where a great civilization had once stood.

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