A Mysterious Decline

By about 1750 B.C., the quality of life in the Indus Valley was declining. The once orderly cities no longer kept up the old standards. Crude pottery replaced the finer works of earlier days.

Mohenjo-Daro was abandoned. The populations of the other Indus cities and towns also dwindled. While people continued to live in the Indus Valley, Indus civilization fell apart and eventually disappeared.

Scholars do not know exactly why Indus civilization collapsed. They once thought that invaders attacked and overran the cities, but this explanation now seems unlikely.

The Indus Civilization remains an historical enigma [puzzle]. A remarkably uniform [culture] distributed over a vast geographical area utterly disappears without an apparent successor. Cities, writing, the high achievement of their crafts, the use of standardized weights, long distance trade with the Gulf, and their exceptional system of urban sanitation simply disappear from the South Asian social landscape.

—Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky, archaeologist

Today, scholars think that environmental factors undermined Indus civilization. The lower Indus became subject to severe flooding, which destroyed towns and cities. Over time, rainfall in the area decreased, slowly turning it into the desert it is today. Without adequate rainfall, a civilization that relied on farming could not survive.

Other evidence points to a devastating earthquake or intense drought. Scholars think that some of these events may have worked together to bring an end to Indus civilization. As the ruined cities disappeared, all memory of them faded.

Aryan Civilization and the Vedas

During the centuries between 2000 B.C. and 1500 B.C., a new civilization developed after the decline of the Indus civilization. Although there is debate about how this civilization formed, it would shape the subcontinent for centuries to come.

Ancient parchment with Sanskrit writing surrounding an illustrated man and woman, seated together.

The Vedas were recited for many years before they were written down. This page is from the Rig Veda, or “Knowledge of the Hymns of Praise,” the largest Veda, containing over 1,000 hymns.

Aryans in the Vedic Period

A number of the groups that shaped this era spoke Indo-European languages. They intermarried with other groups and eventually called themselves Aryans (noble ones). Through acculturation, or the blending of two or more cultures, these groups formed what would later be known as Vedic civilization in South Asia.

The early Aryans in India built no cities and left no statues or stone seals. Most of what we know about them comes from the Vedas, a collection of hymns, chants, ritual instructions, and other religious teachings.

Aryan priests memorized and recited the Vedas for a thousand years before they ever wrote down these sacred teachings. As a result, the period from 1500 B.C. to 500 B.C. is often called the Vedic Period.

In the Vedas, the Aryans appear as warriors who fought in chariots with bows and arrows. They loved food, drink, music, chariot races, and dice games. These nomadic herders valued cattle, which provided them with food and clothing. Later, when they became settled farmers, families continued to measure their wealth in cows and bulls.


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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