Life in Ancient Cities

Life in Ancient Cities

What was life like in the earliest cities created by humankind? This question has been pondered by archaeologists and historians for centuries. With modern technology, scientific explorers have been able to gain insight into the past.


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Anthropology, Archaeology, Sociology, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations, World History


Harappan Seals

Harappan steatite seals often included images of animals or other decorations and script. It is speculated the seals were used by merchants to identify packages.

Photograph by James P. Blair
Harappan steatite seals often included images of animals or other decorations and script. It is speculated the seals were used by merchants to identify packages.
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The Indus Valley civilization built some of the first cities. It is also called the Harappan civilization. The civilization began more than 5,000 years ago. The Harappan civilization was in South Asia. Today, the countries of Pakistan and India are in this part of the world.

The Harappans had a written language, but people today cannot understand it. Experts have learned about Harappans from the ruins of two large cities: Harappa and Mohenjo-daro.

Small, Very Populated Cities
Both cities were much smaller than cities today. For the time though, they were amazing. People lived close together. The cities had systems to make food, stay clean, and allow people to trade.

The two cities were similar in design. There were two main sections in each city. The upper part of the city had public buildings. Houses were in the lower section.

Harappan cities had systems for sending water and getting rid of waste. Most houses had bathrooms. Toilets and baths were connected to sewers. These allowed waste to be taken away. Many houses had water wells. Houses were made out of brick. Some only had one room, while others were much larger.

Harappans ate wheat, barley, and rice. They grew fruits and vegetables to eat. They also raised cows and other animals for meat. Harappans ate from clay plates and bowls. Potters made these bowls by hand or with a potter's wheel.

Talented Metalworkers and Traders
They also used metal to make plates and other objects. One of the most important discoveries from Mohenjo-daro is a bronze sculpture of a dancing girl. This shows that Harappans danced. Dancing may have been art or just a way to have fun.

Many seals have been found in the cities. Seals are like stamps. They are symbols that show where something came from.

The seals were carved from stone. Merchants stamped a package with a seal before sending it. People would know that the merchant really had sent the package. Indus Valley seals have been found outside of the area where Harappans lived. This shows that they traded with other civilizations.

A History Told by Items
Scientists continue to explore the ruins. People can see Harappan items at museums. The National Museum in India has many objects from Mohenjo-daro and Harappa.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Freddie Wilkinson
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

April 4, 2024

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