Mohenjo-daro - Indus Civilization Capital City in Pakistan

What Science Has Learned of the Ancient Harappan City of Mohenjo-Daro

Archaeological Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan
Archaeological Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan. Nadeem Khawar / Moment / Getty Images

Mohenjo-daro (also spelled Mohanjo-Daro and translated as "Mound of Mohan"; or Moenjo-daro "Mound of the Dead") is an important Indus civilization site, located in the Sindh province of Pakistan in the floodplain of the Indus River. The site is the largest of the known Indus cities, extending over an area of some 250 hectares, and its Harappan heyday lasted between about 2600-1900 BC.

Mohenjo-Daro is one of four capital cities of the Harappan or Indus Valley civilization of Pakistan and India.

All four of the cities (Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Rakhigarhi and Dholavira) are over 100 hectares (247 acres) in area, and they are at the top of the pyramid of settlements which included 1500 other known ruins of towns, villages, hamlets and camps with an estimated area of between 680,000 to 800,000 square kilometers (262,0000-300,000 square miles).

Chronology at Mohenjo Daro

  • Early Iron Age 1100-600 BC
  • Post-Urban Harappan 1900-1000 BC
  • Mature Harappan phase 2600-1900 BC
  • Early-Mature Harappan Transition 2500-2600
  • Early Harappan phase 3200-2500 BC
  • Developed Village Farming 4300-3200 BC
  • Beginning Villag Farming and Pastoral Camps 7000-4300 BC

City Planning

Like all four of the main cities, Mohenjo-Daro was carefully planned, laid out in an irregular grid of streets oriented north/south and east/west. Massive perimeter walls of mud brick, sometimes faced with fired brick or stone, surrounded the city. Gateways provided controlled access into the settlements.

Major streets in Mohenjo-Daro varied between 4.5 and 9 meters (15-30 feet) in width providing two-way oxcart traffic. Smaller streets were for one-way traffic, only 2-3 m (6.5-10 ft) wide. The gateways into the city were only 2.5 m (8 ft) wide, to control traffic in and out.

Fired brick-lined drains were located along the edges of the streets, some covered ones ran down the center of the road.

The streets weren't paved, but crushed pottery and other materials made up a hard compacted surface.

Residential Lifestyles

The residential and monumental architecture of Mohenjo Daro was built of fred brick. A formalized writing system, the Indus Script, was inscribed on pottery, seals and a wide range of other types of objects. Separate walled mounds with suburbs suggest that the city had competing political and socio-economic classes; no single building or groups of buildings dominantes the site. There doesn't appear to have been a single heriditary ruler, but rather several elite groups created separate clusters of large buildings and public spaces throughout the town. One example of this is House VIII in Lower Town.

The people at Mohenjo-daro manufactured seals and beads, and worked copper, carved shell and ivory, and produced and stone tools. Stone carvings of seated male figures may represent ancestral leaders of the community, and may not in fact represent priests or kings despite such names as "priest king". Many other figurines, in the form of human and animal figurines were produced at Mohenjo-daro of terracotta, bronze, faience and shell.

Main domestic animals were cattle, sheep and goat, with some use of water buffalo.

The first use of horses, donkeys and Bactrian two-humped camels comes at 1900 BC, at the end of the cities.

Great Bath

The famous Great Bath is the only clearly ritual structure in Mohenjo-Daro. It is a specially constructed water tank, measuring 12 m north / south and 7 m wide (40x22 ft), with a maximum depth of 2.4 m (7.8). The tank is surrounded by a colonnade with entries at both ends. Smaller rooms are located on the eastern side of the tank, which may have been used for visitors or for storage. One of the small rooms has a well. North of the tank are eight small rooms with bathing platforms.

Southwest of the Great Bath is the "granary", a monumental brick foundation (50x27 m) with narrow passageways and sockets for a wooden superstructure. No grain has been found here, and its function is unknown.

End of Mohenjo-Daro

An early theory of the end of Mohenjo-Daro advanced by Mortimer Wheeler and others was that the city was overtaken and burned by "Aryan invaders". That notion has been solidly refuted by scholarly research. No archaeological evidence of looting, destruction or burning of the city has been identified. Of the 42 victims of "massacre" often cited as evidence, only one shows any evidence of trauma that ended in death.

Instead, the decline of the great city appears to have been the result of a combination of factors, including the changing river source, compbined with a disruption of the subsistence base and a breakdown of trade and religious networks.


Mohenjo-Daro was first discovered in 1921 by R.D. Banerji. Large-scale excavations were undertaken John Marshall, K.N. Dikshit, Ernest Mackay and others throughout the 1930s; the most recent was conducted by G.F. Dales in the 1950s.


The Harappa web site is highly recommended for additional investigations into Mohenjo-Daro and other cities of the Indus Civilizations.

This article is a part of the guide to the Indus or Harappan Culture, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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Possehl GL. 1997. The transformation of the Indus civilization. Journal of World Prehistory 11(4):425-472.

Possehl GL. 2002. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Walnut Creek, California: Altamira Press.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Mohenjo-daro - Indus Civilization Capital City in Pakistan." ThoughtCo, Sep. 13, 2015, Hirst, K. Kris. (2015, September 13). Mohenjo-daro - Indus Civilization Capital City in Pakistan. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Mohenjo-daro - Indus Civilization Capital City in Pakistan." ThoughtCo. (accessed December 16, 2017).