What is Mohenjo-Daro?

Brendan McGuigan

Mohenjo-daro is the name for the ruins of an ancient city in modern-day Pakistan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1980. The site is one of the largest ancient cities to survive, and is more than 4500 years old.

Mohenjo-Daro was the name of an ancient city that existed in what is today Pakistan.
Mohenjo-Daro was the name of an ancient city that existed in what is today Pakistan.

Mohenjo-daro was a mighty city in the Indus Valley Civilization which spread through the Indus Valley in north-west India and modern-day Pakistan. At its peak it was perhaps the most advanced city in the entire world, and most certainly the pinnacle city in South Asia. The civilization itself eventually reached nearly five million people, and spread across more than a thousand cities and settlements. The name Mohenjo-daro is a Sindhi name, meaning simply Mound of the Dead. The actual name of the city is unknown, as the language spoken by the Indus Valley Civilization remains unknown.

The city is remarkable not only for its size and age, but also for the sophistication of its planning. The city is built on a grid, with clear symmetry that belies a high-level planning system. Standardization is also visible in the construction of the buildings themselves, which are built using clay bricks of almost identical size.

Mohenjo-daro survived for more than seven-hundred years, from 2600 BCE to sometime around 1900 BCE. In that time is was rebuilt seven or more times, after being destroyed by the Indus river flooding.

After its abandonment, Mohenjo-daro vanished for millennia, until being rediscovered in the 1920s. Since then substantial excavation has taken place. The city is generally divided into two sections: the Lower City and the Citadel. The Citadel has been almost entirely excavated, but many parts of the Lower City remain underground.

Mohenjo-daro is known not only for its beautiful architecture, but also for the many impressive artifacts which were uncovered during excavation. Toys and sculptures, some more than 4000 years old, abound. One of the most popular artifacts uncovered is the so-called Dancing Girl statue. This statue is of a fifteen year-old girl, with lips pursed, her hand on her hip as she dances to music long lost over the millennia.

Mohenjo-daro is located on a ridge that lies immediately in the floodplain of the Indus River. This offered the city plenty of surrounding land to grow food and become a prosperous city, but also left the city at the mercy of the river’s moods. As the city grew, it eventually outstripped the space available on the ridge, and so the ridge was expanded by growing it out with massive mud bricks.

Mohenjo-daro is truly an architectural wonder, and an excellent reminder just how advanced humanity was in some corners of the world thousands of years ago. For anyone interested in visiting one of the most impressive architectural sites left on the planet, a trip to Mohenjo-daro is well worth it.

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