Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa are two ancient cities located on the banks of the Indus and its tributary the Ravi River in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent.
They represent the earliest civilization in the region, called the Indus, or Harappan, civilization, dating to approximately 2500–1500 b.c.e. Excavation of the Indus civilization began in 1921 under the direction of Sir John Marshall. Mohenjo-Daro is located on the bank of the Indus River in present-day Pakistan and is the best-preserved city of the Indus civilization.
Its name means the “Mound of the Dead” because the center of the town is an artificial mound about 50 feet high surrounded with a brick wall and fortified with towers. The mound also had a great bath 39 feet by 23 feet, flanked by a large pillared hall, small rooms, and a granary. A well-laid-out town lay below the citadel with streets running in a grid pattern oriented to the points of the compass. The town was divided into wards according to function, such as areas for shops, workshops, and residences. All buildings were made with baked bricks of uniform size. Besides private wells in the courtyards of two-story individual residences, there were also public wells at street intersections. Covered sewers disposed of waste. There was also a cemetery where graves were neatly oriented in the same direction. There were no palaces or royal cemeteries.
Inscribed seals found at Mohenjo-Daro and other Indus cities show pictographic writing, to date undeciphered. So few characters are inscribed on each seal that they would not give much information even if they were deciphered. Thus despite a high-level material culture, the Indus civilization is still considered prehistoric. The absence of palaces and royal cemeteries and the presence of a ceremonial bath and great hall lead specialists to guess that a college of priests ruled. The abundance of small female figurines indicates a fertility cult. The uniform-sized bricks throughout the Indus Valley and nearby regions lead to speculation that some kind of government supervised the entire area; hence the name Indus Empire is also used to describe this civilization.
In Mohenjo-Daro archaeologists have discovered an advanced metal-using culture (bronze and copper), where people used wheel-made pottery vessels, wove cotton cloths, lived under a well-organized municipal government, and traded among one another and with other cultures. Indus seals have been found in Mesopotamia and lapis lazuli, a semiprecious stone used by Indus artisans, is mined in Afghanistan. Conditions in Mohenjo-Daro deteriorated around 1700 b.c.e., shown by hoards of buried jewelry and precious objects, pots and utensils strewn about, evidence of fire, and at least 30 skeletons scattered about indicating that the people were trapped and died or were killed. Whether natural disaster or invaders caused the final disaster, the city was abandoned, hence, posterity’s name Mound of the Dead for its ruins. Mohenjo-Daro is the best preserved of the Indus civilization cities excavated to date.