Pakistan: Pakistan in History; 5,000 Years of Continuous Civilization

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Pakistan: Pakistan in History; 5,000 Years of Continuous Civilization


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


PAKISTAN: Pakistan in History; 5,000 Years of Continuous Civilization

The Traces of Paleolithic Humans

Paleolithic humans left their stone tools in large quantities in the north of Pakistan. The tools, which reflect roughly the stages of workmanship found elsewhere in Europe, Africa and Asia, may be seen in the museums of Islamabad, Taxilla, Lahore and Karachi. Nor are tools the only traces of early man in Pakistan. In northern Pakistan traces remain of a crude shelter built 30,000 years ago, during the last glacial epoch of the ice age.

Neolithic Villages

In western Pakistan, neolithic humans lived continuously for 5,000 years at a site called Mehr Gahr along a now dry riverbed in Baluchistan, near the Bolan pass. There the evidence is preserved of the transition of the first occupants from nomadic hunting and gathering to animal husbandry and the cultivation of food plants.

The occupation sequences at Mehr Gahr also bear witness to the development of pottery, and later of copper and bronze metalwork -- all before the development of writing and cities that are the hallmarks of human civilization.

The Indus Valley Civilization

Archeologists generally credit the Sumerians of Mesopotamia with the first civilization, closely followed by Egyptians and then the Indus Valley civilization of Mohenjodaro in modern Pakistan's Sindh province and Harappa in Punjab province to the north. That these three riverine civilizations developed independently is attested to by the differences in the writing systems.

The Mesopotamian system started as pictographs that evolved into phonetic symbols that could be impressed on clay tablets with a reed stylus. It also remained in use even after the Sumerian language was replaced by the Semitic languages of the Akkadians, Babylonians and Assyrians. The Egyptian hieroglyphics remained pictures of the ideas they represented from the time they were invented until the time they, and the Egyptian language, fell out of use more than 2,000 years later.

The Indus Valley writing system seems to be pictographic, but little is known beyond that because it is the only one of the three ancient systems that remains to be deciphered. Scientists are studying the inscriptions engraved on square stone seals. However, their divergent interpretations reveal that much remains to be done before the meaning of the characters, the language family they represent and whatever history they will reveal, becomes certain.

What seems clear is that Harrapa and Mohendjodaro, the two major cities so far discovered of the Indus or Harappan culture, came into being suddenly, around 2500 B.C., suggesting that such a leap from rudimentary villages to planned cities with carefully laid-out streets and excellent drainage systems owes something to outside inspiration. What also is clear is that merchants of Mesopotamia and of the Indus Valley were in contact with each other, either directly or through middlemen, using sea and caravan routes touching on the present-day Persian/Arabian Gulf.

Although the writing systems remained totally separate, contemporary cylinder seals of Mesopotamia and square stone seals of the Indus civilization both have been found in intermediate points such as Kuwait, Bahrain, and the earliest settlements along the coasts of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

From its appearance in 2500 B.C. to its sudden disappearance in 1750 B.C., the Indus civilization extended over an area larger than the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates valleys combined. Centered on the mighty Indus River, which eventually absorbs eight other major rivers that rise in the mountains of the north, the Harappan civilization encompassed much of present-day Pakistan and parts of present-day India.

To date some 90 Indus civilization sites have been discovered in Baluchistan, lower Punjab and Sindh. Some of the sites indicate that the coastline of the time was considerably inland from its present location, which is constantly changing as a result of the heavy volume of silt being deposited in the sea by the Indus Riven What caused the civilizations' sudden disappearance remains a matter of speculation. …

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