The Mysteries of Mohenjo-daro

Photo by Saqib Qayyum and shared by creative commons license
Excavated ruins of Mohenjo-daro, Sindh province, Pakistan, showing the Great Bath in the foreground. Mohenjo-daro, on the right bank of the Indus River, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first site in South Asia to be so declared.”

Mohenjo-daro is an ancient Indus Valley civilization and one of the largest and most important cities from that era. Built around 2500 BC and lasting until 1700 BC, Mohenjo-daro existed at the time the Egyptians built the Great Pyramids. Who were these ancient people, and what secrets still elude us? The mysteries of Mohenjo-daro excite historical and archaeological minds to this day!

What We Know About Mohenjo-daro

First of all, I love history. Plain and simple. Ancient Egypt (those pyramids, y’all!), the hanging gardens of Babylonia, and let’s not forget Mesopotamia, they all fascinate me. So when this fell into my lap this past weekend, I had to share it with you wonderful people.

What we know about Mohenjo-daro is due to the teams of archaeologists that have spent decades excavating, surface surveying and probing, and tirelessly working to conserve the ancient city. One source said Mohenjo-daro was rediscovered in 1911, which was about 4,000 years after it’s demise. Another source says that it was rediscovered in 1922. Either way, Mohenjo-daro once again re-emerged from the earth in the early 1900s to tantalize and mystify scientists and archaeologists alike.

Mohenjo-daro goes by many names and spellings: Mohenjo-daro (the Mound of the Dead), Mohenjodero, Moenjodero, Mohanjo-daro (Mound of Mohan), and a few others. As the translations suggest, it is a city formed by groups of mounds. Mohenjo-daro (the most common spelling), encompassed about 250 to 500 acres of land. In reference, that would be like five times the size of Vatican City.

Wow! That’s huge for back then.

It sits close to the Indus River in the Larkana district of Sindh province in present day Pakistan, which is approximately 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Sukker. At the time, archaeologists speculate that the Indus river sat two miles closer than at present times and was their water source. And what they did with that source is nothing short of spectacular.

An Advanced Water System

Imagine living 4,000 years ago. Now think about how you’d get your water. Would you carry it in buckets to homes and bath maybe once per month? What about sanitation? How would that work? Probably a hole in the ground, right?

Now that you’ve got an image in your head, what if I told you that the people of Mohenjo-daro had bathrooms in their homes? Surprised? Yep, and the mysteries of Mohenjo-daro don’t stop there. Nope, they built toilets in the homes, not to mention 700 wells around the city, and they even had an elaborate sewage system. As if that’s not enough, they built a “Great Bath” that was a 900 square foot tank at what is known as The Citadel with water from the Indus River pumped in to fill it up. This ancient civilization put cleanliness at the forefront of their lives.

That’s incredible! The famous Roman baths weren’t constructed until 70 A.D.!!!! That’s over 2,600 years later. Let that sink in.

All right, you say, but we’re talking about a small group of people, right? Wrong! Archaeologists estimate that between 20,000 to 40,000 people lived in Mohenjo-daro. They also developed their city based on a modern day grid-like system, which was unheard of back then.

Mohenjo-daro Built Grid-like Neighborhoods

Far from normal, these ancient people built their city with artificial protective barriers. They laid the city out in regular blocks of a dozen or so and created a pattern known as “islands.” Each island spread approximately 1200 feet (384 meters) from North to South and 750 feet across (228 meters) East to West. The islands were then subdivided by straight or nearly straight lanes as evidenced in the below picture.

Photo by Frederick M. Asher
CITATION INFORMATION
ARTICLE TITLE: Mohenjo-daro
WEBSITE NAME: Encyclopaedia Britannica
PUBLISHER: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
DATE PUBLISHED: 28 March 2020
URL: https://www.britannica.com/place/Mohenjo-daro
ACCESS DATE: May 11, 2020

Furthermore, they divided the city in two. The Citadel, which held the city’s monuments like the Great Bath pictured at the beginning of this post, and Lower Town, where most of the people lived.

From extensive documentation and research, the researchers theorized that Mohenjo-daro likely was an egalitarian city. No verified places of worship or governance have been found, which is unusual for the times (think Egyptian and Mesopotamian societies). Although, one reference said that the citadel held religious and/or ceremonial events, but again, there’s nothing definitive as of yet, and there aren’t any palaces, royal tombs, or temples found, except for The Citadel.

The Excavations

As stated previously, large-scale excavations started in the 1920s and continued through the early 1930s. After that, surveys and conservation efforts are at the forefront to protect this spectacular find that was declared a World Heritage site in 1980 by UNESCO.

In 1922, R.D. Banerji rediscovered and initiated the first known large-scale excavation of Mohenjo-daro. At the time, he was an officer of Archaeological Survey of India.

R.D. Banerji first excavated Mohenjo-daro in 1922.
Photo of R.D. Banerji

He, along with many others like Devadatta Ramakrishna Bhandarkar, Sir John Marshall, and Ernest Mackay painstakingly documented and preserved artifacts and the wonders of this ancient civilization.

One such artifact is a bronze sculpture of what is called the “Dancing Girl.” See her pictured below.

The "Dancing Girl" of Mohenjo-daro
The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-daro; 2300-1750 BCE; bronze; height: 10.8 cm (4​1⁄4 in.); National Museum (New Delhi, India) photo courtesy of Gary Todd

Other objects discovered were scarce and in fragmented form but included terracotta bulls and buffalo, females wearing elaborate headdresses, the head and shoulders of a bearded man wearing a cloak over one shoulder, and the list goes on. For beautiful pictures of these, please visit the National Museum, New Delhi.

What Happened to the Ancient City of Mohenjo-daro?

This civilization lasted all of 600 years before it disappeared. Why? From the broken statues, one could assume that the city’s demise resulted from attack. However, there are no bodies/skeletal remains of anyone other than 44 individuals. That’s hardly a number to suggest invasion.

Another theory is that Mohenjo-daro succumbed to a large flood. It does sit near tectonic plates that could cause flooding. Plus, they built protective walls that could have helped prevent flooding. What’s to say that a rather large surge of water couldn’t have overflowed the barriers? Also, there’s evidence of flooding, and not just a one time flood either. You see the houses and various other structures were made out of baked bricks and plastered with mud. This could have helped reduce the effects of salt and high heat/temperatures of the area. However, it left traces of large-scale flooding.

If a final flood occurred, perhaps they abandoned the city and headed north.

Why north? Because another Indus Valley civilization lived about 400 miles North in the Punjab province of Pakistan. This place is called Harappa and has also been studied by archaeologists around the same time that Mohenjo-daro was discovered.

Knowing that, did the people travel the 400 miles North to Harappa and settle? Maybe. If a massive flood hit and then widespread disease like cholera unleashed on the citizens, then perhaps the survivors left for a better life somewhere else. But it doesn’t explain the lack of bodies that have yet to be discovered of the 20,000 to 40,000 inhabitants that did live in Mohenjo-daro. Where are their bodies? With only 44 accounted for, what happened to them?

What Do the Archaeologists Say Happened?

Most archaeologists agree that the inhabitants probably left after their water supply shifted away. As it sits now, the Indus River is two miles from the site. With their water source moving further away, they probably abandoned the place. However, what has been documented is that these people were of an egalitarian mindset. No temples, or royal palaces were built. They loved cleanliness and had advanced strategies for water and sewage. Combine that with the fragmented pottery, statues, sculptures, the copper tools, seals and weights for trade, and artifacts of ivory, lapis, carnelian, gold beads, and baked-brick structures, Mohenjo-daro was a wealthy city.

Hopefully someday we’ll learn more, but time’s running out for preserving the World Heritage site. Due to the powers of nature and environment, experts fear that the site will be lost within the next 20 years unless Mohenjo-daro is buried again. As to what will happen, your guess is as good as mine, but the mysteries of Mohenjo-daro remain.

Thank you for reading today’s post. I love to hear from you! What do you think about this ancient civilization? Have you read/heard about them? Please comment below and give us your thoughts, and remember to follow me for all other posts and updates!

Also, I’m thrilled to announce that my first draft of The Kaitlynn Dahl Mysteries is finished. The cozy mystery is now at the editing stage. I hope to publish soon!

Until next time…

Happy reading,

K.D.

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