Background: Culture and Language
The earliest civilisation of India that can be reconstructed in a reasonably coherent manner is the Indus Valley or Harappan civilisation. We have a pretty accurate idea of its geographical extent and of its duration in time, almost entirely from archaeological evidence. In its pomp, it extended over almost all of modern Pakistan, i.e., the basin of the Indus river system, as well as southeastern Afghanistan, the northern half of the Indian state of Gujarat and the area between the tributaries of the Indus and the river Yamuna to the east. Of the ancient river valley civilisations, it covered by far the largest area. It used to be thought that its beginnings date from around 3,000 BCE but modern archaeology has traced its roots to agricultural settlements of the late stone age going back very much earlier, to the 7th millennium BCE, in an area around Mehrgarh in Pakistan, south and east of the Bolan pass. Archaeologists now characterise the period from ca. 2600 BCE to ca. 1800 BCE as its mature phase, sandwiched between a proto-Indus early phase and a late or declining phase. Though clear cultural continuities can be seen across the transitions between these loosely defined periods (it must be kept in mind that, despite much recent progress in scientific dating methods, the dates cited are, generally, indicative), it is primarily the mature phase that is of interest here. This is the time when urban settlements on a large scale, planned with a high degree of sophistication, came into being. The ruins of these cities and the rich and varied collection of artefacts found in them are the main source of what we know about the Indus Valley culture. The focus of the extremely brief and qualitative summary in this section of its defining characteristics will therefore be confined to this phase
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