Sir Mortimer Wheeler is without doubt one of the big names of archaeology and along with his contributions to furthering our knowledge of Britain's past is best known for the ground breaking work in India. The area he worked in on the Pakistani/Indian border has become known as the Indus Valley Culture for its geographical location and whilst people tend to focus on the more glamorous regions of Egypt and Sumer, it is quite possible that his area of interest may be a pivotal pin in our understanding of mans development. In this book Wheeler provides a good introduction to the ancient history and development of that area, and whilst in the years since it was written some of the theories have moved on, this does still act as a good place to start.
Before delving into the big stuff, wheeler manages to acclimatise the reader by laying down some background information regarding climate, the nature of village and settlement patterns and shows the rich and diverse living that was to be had in the region. With the table set before the reader it is time to serve up the main course and what a feast it is. The two city sites, Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro feature heavily and along with the other lesser sites, the actual dig sites take up about a quarter of the book. The text is supplemented by some helpful plans and cross sections to aid your understanding of what was found.
Along side the specifics of actual finds and individual cities the book then takes these discoveries and uses them to paint a picture of the culture as a whole. Trade, transport, military service, farming, burial and arts and craft are all examined to show a culture flourishing not only at the same time as early dynastic Egypt but in many was as accomplished. A wealth of line drawings helps illustrate everything from jewellery and pottery styles to weapons and the tail section of the book contains over thirty black and white photographs of the sites.
To place the culture in its slot in history a table of dating based on carbon 14 results is included, incidentally running from 2605 BC to 1640 BC.
As I mentioned before as the book was first published over fifty years ago, it does suffer from new discoveries undermining some of its value. The big argument that has dogged this area of cultural development is the idea that a later Aryan race invaded from the north and brought about the demise of this culture. This was an idea prevalent in Wheelers time but like many of these invasion and dispersal theories has been shelved in favour of a more gentle assimilation model. This aside the book does provide a good starting point for those that wish to acquaint themselves with one of the lesser-known areas of ancient history. The specific details on the city sites are especially useful even if some of the conclusions have been re-drawn.
What is particularly relevant to the modern reader are the obvious links between this culture and those of Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, trade connections and the exchange of ideas are obvious showing that even though the Indus Valley Culture is currently far less understood than its neighbours it in no way stood in splendid isolation. At only 140 pages it is not a massive challenge to read and is written in a way that is informative without being overwhelming and detailed without being overly academic. It's the sort of book that you expect from such an accomplished talent as Sir Mortimer Wheeler.