IT WAS once of the earliest and possibly one of the most important civilisations in history but there is still a lot we don’t know about its centrepiece — the lost city of Mohenjo Daro. And the race is on the save its remains and better understand the mysterious society that built it.
Mohenjo Daro was the centre of a powerful ancient civilisation and one of the world’s earliest cities. The Bronze Age metropolis flourished around 3000BC in what is now India and Pakistan before its inhabitants mysteriously disappeared.
Some 5000 years on archaeologists believe the ruins could unlock the secrets of the Indus Valley people who occupied the once advanced city.
From its remains we know they were skilled urban planners with a reverence for the control of water. According to archaeologists Mohenjo Daro — or “mound of the dead” — boasted flushable toilets and a water and waste system to rival many in modern Pakistan.
The ruins were first discovered around 1920 when an officer at the Archaeological Survey of India stumbled upon a flint that dated much further back than the Buddhist shrine he was identifying. In the following 50 years, large scale excavations unveiled the giant grid of the roughly 5000-year-old metropolis.
Largely due to its ancient nature, there is still a lot we don’t know about the city and those who occupied it, including its original name.
“It’s pretty faceless,” Indus expert Gregory Possehl of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia once told National Geographic.
The remains lack palaces, temples, or monuments that could offer a glimpse into the makeup or hierarchy of the society. According to researchers there has been no record of any obvious central seat of government or evidence of a king or queen who presided over the city. Clues of that nature are far and few between.
Today researchers warn that unless something is done to protect the ruins, which are already suffering neglect and worn by erosion, it will fade to dust and obscurity and never take its rightful place in history.
“Everybody knows Egypt, nobody knows Mohenjo Daro, this has to be changed,” Dr Michael Jansen told French news agency AFP. The German researcher is currently working at the sunbaked site on the banks of the Indus river in Pakistan’s southern Sindh province.
He is leading a campaign to boost the awareness of the site and its historical importance while researchers make plans to preserve what’s left of the ancient ruins and hope to dig a little deeper.
THREATS FROM HEAT STRESS TO ISLAMIC STATE
In summer temperatures at the site can soar above 46 degrees meaning “there is enormous thermo-stress,” Mr Jansen says, adding that salt from the underground water table is also damaging the ruins.
But it’s more than just the weather and time. Pakistan’s bloody fight against militancy has also raised the spectre of destruction by an Islamist fundamentalist group, much like Islamic State destroyed the ruins in Syria’s Palmyra.
THE ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
Dr Kaleem Lashari, chief consultant to the Pakistani government over Mohenjo Daro, said they will also digitally archive the Indus script — which has never been deciphered — in hopes that making it accessible will increase the site’s profile.
At the site itself, he said, technical reviews are being held to examine the water logging issue and other ways to shore up the ruins, while exploring new, modern technology that allows researchers to ascertain what lies beneath the surface in the portions of the city not yet excavated.
THE INDUS VALLEY PEOPLE
At their peak during the Bronze Age, the Indus Valley people are believed to have numbered up to five million, with Mohenjo Daro their largest and most advanced settlement.
Clay and metallic seals, coins, standardised weighing stones, gold and bronze ornaments, toys and whistles have revealed volumes about thriving Indus trade and commerce.
The layout of the city itself suggests an egalitarian people more concerned with cleanliness than hierarchy, according to Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin.
“In Mesopotamia, the streets went from the city to the palace … whereas in (Indus) cities all the streets were organised to allow access to the whole city,” he said.
Mohenjo Daro had a complex water and waste management system which observers have wryly noted was better than in many parts of Pakistan today — a seriously astonishing fact.
— With AFP