3.1 Early Civilization in South Asia

In 1922, archaeologists made some startling discoveries in northwestern India. While digging in the Indus River valley, they unearthed bricks, small statues, clay seals, and other artifacts unlike any they had seen before. They soon realized they had uncovered a “lost civilization”—forgotten for some 3,500 years. Though later discoveries have added to our knowledge of the cities of the Indus Valley, many mysteries remain about this civilization that flourished almost 5,000 years ago.

Photo of handheld clay figures, showing a cart full of vases pulled by two draft animals.

The Indus civilization produced sophisticated arts and crafts, including these small oxen and cart figures made between 7000 and 5000 B.C. in Mohenjo-Daro.


  • Describe the Indian subcontinent's geography.
  • Understand the clues archaeology has provided about the rise and fall of the Indus civilization.
  • Analyze the main characteristics of the Aryan civilization and the Vedic Age.
  • Explain what ancient Indian epics reveal about Aryan life.

Key Terms

  • subcontinent
  • plateau
  • monsoon
  • Harappa
  • Mohenjo-Daro
  • veneration
  • acculturation
  • Vedas
  • rajah
  • Indra
  • Brahman
  • mystic

Geography of the Indian Subcontinent

The Indus Valley is located in the region known as South Asia, or the Indian subcontinent. A subcontinent is a large landmass that juts out from a continent. The Indian subcontinent is a huge, wedge-shaped peninsula extending into the Indian Ocean.

Today, it includes three of the world's ten most populous countries—India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh—as well as the island nation of Sri Lanka (sree LAHNG kuh) and the mountain nations of Nepal and Bhutan.

Towering, snow-covered mountain ranges mark the northern border of the subcontinent, including the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas. These mountains limited contacts between India and other lands and helped its people develop a distinct culture. The mountains, however, were not a complete barrier. Steep passes through the Hindu Kush served as gateways to migrating and invading peoples for thousands of years.

Mountains, Plateaus, and Plains of India

The Indian subcontinent is divided into three major zones: the northern plain, the dry Deccan plateau, and the coastal plains on either side of the Deccan.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments