Ancient Civilizations: The Indus Valley

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13091

The Indus Valley civilization, larger than ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, existed for over 1000 years and disappeared. What happened to its people is a mystery, and so is the writing they left behind!


World, World

learning style
Auditory, Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Historians and linguists (people who study languages) have figured out how to read many ancient languages -- Egyptian hieroglyphics and Sumerian cunieform, for example.

But there are still a few that stump them. The language of the Indus Valley is one.

The Indus people left behind many clay seals, with pictures and writing on them. More than 2,000 of these have been found. They must have been used in trade because many were discovered in distant places.

ancient drawings on clay bricks

What do you think of this writing? If you were working on deciphering it, where would you even begin? What if discovering what happened to a friend who disappeared depended on you understanding it?

The Indus Valley was home to a large ancient civilization known for its planned cities, peaceful trading, and superb engineering.

Farming and Trade

The Indus River, like the Nile, spreads out in a wide delta and makes rich, fertile soil for farming.

map of the Indus Valley

Image by Avantiputra7, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

The people who settled there knew how to farm, raise animals, and make pottery. They grew wheat, barley, peas, sesame seeds, and even cotton. And they raised cattle, sheep, and goats.

Eventually, they built up a civilization called the Indus Valley Civilization. Archaeologists have found more than 1,000 of their settlements, some close to the Indus River and others farther away. They know these cities were connected because the cities' organization, water management systems, and even brick sizes were very similar.

The Indus Valley people made a wide variety of items for trade:

  • woodwork
  • gold and silver
  • tools
  • gemstones
  • weapons
  • beads
  • ceramic pottery
  • ivory
  • items of copper and bronze
  • jewelry


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They learned how to make carts and boats to carry their goods around to other people, and they had an extensive trade route.

  • Who do you think they traded with?

We know, from artifacts found in these places, that they traded with other ancient civilizations from Mesopotamia to China!

They seem to have been a peaceful people who depended on agriculture and trade and enjoyed life with their children. There were many toys found among the artifacts they left behind: a toy monkey that slid down a string, toy carts, tiny figures, spinning tops, whistles, and board games. Historians think they even may have made the first set of dice!

The Indus Valley civilization was not discovered until 1921. The first city found was Harappa (you'll sometimes see the Indus Valley civilization called the Harappan civilization). Next was Mohenjo Daro. Archaeologists thought this was a small civilization of a couple of cities. But, as more and more settlements were found (over a thousand!), they realized it was a widespread civilization. One of the cities to the south, called Lothal, was located on the coast and had a well-made dock (one of the earliest known). It also had a workshop for making beads and other items to ship out for trade.

One of the most amazing things about the Indus Valley people was that they were probably the creators of the world's first "planned cities." This means that their cities did not just "grow" as more and more people built houses there. They were very carefully planned and engineered.

  • How do we know they were master city planners and engineers? Watch the following videos.

Mohenjo Daro

The video below provides a good look at this ancient city. While you're watching this video, write down your answers to these questions:

  • When was Mohenjo Daro built?
  • How big was Mohenjo Daro?
  • What were the two different districts of the town?
  • What is the "Great Bath?"
  • Does Mohenjo Daro have temples or palaces?
  • How many people lived there?

Indus Valley Civilization | History of Mohenjo-Daro | Know Your World:

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Next, you'll watch two parts of a documentary on the Indus Valley that focus on another Indus city called Dholavira.

The Indus Valley Civilization: The Masters of the River from The Mysterious India:

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What was special about the planning of Dholavira? Tell your parent or teacher!

The End of the Indus Valley Civilization

By 1800 BC, most of the Indus people abandoned their cities. Were they wiped out by disease? Was there a natural disaster like a flood or drought? Did another people attack and kill them? Did other civilizations' problems affect them, and the loss of trade lead to the end of their economy?

  • There are many theories, but historians don't know for sure.

What about that writing you saw at the beginning of the lesson? Did the Indus people leave behind some written clue? Again, we don't know, because we haven't been able to decipher their language.

Now, move on to the Got It? section where you'll watch another video and make a map of the Indus Valley!

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