Natural Climate Change Wiped the Harappan Civilization off the Map

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May 30 2012 3:40 PM

Natural Climate Change Wiped the Harappan Civilization off the Map

One of the world's ancient societies, the Harappan or Indus civilization, was wiped out by natural climate change and a slow decline of the monsoon cycle.

Photo by SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images

Scientists believe they've cracked one of the oldest mysteries of a disappearing civilization. The culprit? Climate change.

Nearly 5,000 years ago the Harappan or Indus people created a society on the fertile Indus Valley that is now India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh—rivaling contemporary civilizations like Mesopotamia and Egypt, and making up 10 percent of the world’s population. But nearly 2,000 years later its cities that spanned over 380,000 square miles were abandoned and crumbling.


Scientists now believe the Harappan people fled their cities en masse and headed east in response to a natural climate change cycle of declining monsoon rains that stopped feeding rivers, which were key to keeping soil fertile for Indus Valley crops. The same monsoon decline that earlier had made the area habitable, eventually made agriculture for large cities untenable, forcing a return to smaller communities.

More science that proves climate change can wipe civilizations off the map. Maybe in the future they’ll be studying the reasons for our disappearance.

Video by Krishnan Vasuvedan.

Ben Johnson is the producer of Marketplace Tech from American Public Media.

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