Indus Valley Civilization (2500?-1700 bc), earliest known civilization of South Asia, corresponding to the Bronze Age cultures of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Crete (Kríti). The remains of settlements belonging to this culture have been found throughout the Indus River valley in Pakistan, westward along the coast to the Iranian border, in India's northwestern states as far east as New Delhi, and on the Oxus River in northern Afghanistan. The Indus Valley civilization encompasses one of the largest geographical areas covered by a single Bronze Age culture.
Excavated settlements reveal blocks of mud-brick buildings separated by streets, and the cities, such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappā, are dominated by large public buildings. These buildings were at one time identified as colleges, temples, granaries, and palaces, but later research has not confirmed such interpretations. The cities are usually divided into two distinctive groups of buildings, one of which may be enclosed by a wall.
The work of Indus Valley artisans shows a high degree of craft specialization. Characteristic artifacts include a distinctive black-on-red pottery, ceramic toys and figurines, etched carnelian beads, metal (bronze, silver, and gold) ornaments and tools, and stamp seals with an undeciphered script. Unfortunately, the nature of the social organization in this complex culture still evades complete interpretation.
Sometime after 2000 bc, complex ecological changes occurred in the Indus Valley area, forcing abandonment of many settlements and altering the basic characteristics of the civilization. Late Indus Valley culture is known mainly from excavated small farming villages. Artifacts associated with these sites are stylistically similar to earlier types but show more regional variation.
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The Indus Valley civilization was first defined by the British archaeologist Sir John Marshall's diggings at Mohenjo-Daro and M. S. Vat's excavations at Harappā (both in what is now Pakistan) in the 1920s, and it is sometimes called Harappān civilization after the latter site. In 1946 the British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, excavating at Harappā, located stylistically different pottery in the earliest occupied areas. Subsequent discoveries at nearby Kot Diji established that this early pottery at Harappā belonged to the early Bronze Age Kot Diji culture. Since 1960 Indian, Pakistani, and Western scholars have defined several additional early Bronze Age cultures at Goth Āmri, Sothi, Gumla, and other sites in Pakistan, each of which has some traits in common and contributed to the formation of the Indus Valley civilization.