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The Greatest Civilisation Ever Forgotten?

The civilisation that arose in the Indus valley around 5,000 years ago was only discovered in the early 20th century. Andrew Robinson looks at what we know about this extraordinary culture.

Steatite seal from the Indus valley, c.2500 BC. The script is still undeciphered.

Perhaps the most famous statement about the Indus civilisation is the opening paragraph of an article in the Illustrated London News published in 1924 by John Marshall, director general of the Archaeological Survey of India: ‘Not often has it been given to archaeologists, as it was given to [Heinrich] Schliemann at Tiryns and Mycenae, or to [Aurel] Stein in the deserts of Turkestan, to light upon the remains of a long-forgotten civilisation. It looks, however, at this moment, as if we are on the threshold of such a discovery in the plains of the Indus.’

Subsequent Indus excavations certainly made an impression on the young Kenneth Clark. In Civilisation, Clark, while pondering the non-western beginnings of civilisation two-and-a-half millennia before the classical Greeks, observed in 1969:

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