New information is coming to light about the massive collapse of one of the world’s oldest and earliest urban civilizations. The Harappan, or Indus, civilization came into being over 4,000 years ago and existed for about 600 years before it slowly disappeared. Scientists and scholars have hypothesized about its demise. Theories range from regional conflicts to a foreign attack, but some suggest environmental issues may have been the cause.
Researchers recently published an article named, “Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilization” in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences outlining evidence that points to environmental factors leading to the end of this ancient civilization. The scientists studied satellite maps and collected field sediment samples, then cross-referenced them with previous archaeological findings to develop a much clearer picture of what really happened to this long-lost civilization.
The Harappan civilization is named for one of its largest cities, and occupied what is now India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and part of Afghanistan. It had a sophisticated indoor plumbing system, gridded streets, a flourishing arts and crafts community, and what appears to be a more democratic society than other large civilizations such as Egypt or Mesopotamia.
The Harappans were largely dependent upon monsoons that dried up leading to the end of their urban environment. They used the rivers and seasonal floods that were fed by these monsoons to meet their agricultural needs. Once the monsoons weakened, people slowly moved eastward away from cities into small villages and towns. The water in the area they moved to was unable to support the large cities of the past.
There are lessons to be learned from the extinction of this colossal civilization. The Harappans were overly dependent on monsoons that eventually disappeared and the U.S. is also largely dependent on somewhat predictable weather, which is now threatened by climate change. Americans need to prepare for increasingly extreme weather, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase energy efficiency, and we need to do it now before we suffer a similar fate to that of the Harappans.