Moenjodaro’s Buddhist stupa as seen from the Great Bath. Photo: Benny Lin
Moenjodaro (also spelled Mohenjodaro) is truly one of the world’s most incredible ancient cities. Believed by many to be the oldest and best-preserved urban ruin on the Indian subcontinent, this 5,000-year-old settlement is a testament to the great Indus Valley Civilization, featuring an intricate layout, impressive brick architecture, and advanced water and sewage systems.
After being abandoned in the 19th century BC, Moenjodaro was rediscovered in 1922 by an officer from the Archaeological Survey of India, and significant excavations took place over the next several decades. To date, an estimated 10-30 percent of the site has been uncovered, but conservation efforts aimed at protecting these extraordinary findings have been highly inadequate.
According to a recent report by BBC News Magazine, an assessment by Dr. Asma Ibrahim, one of Pakistan’s most accomplished archaeologists, predicts that “the site will not last more than 20 years” without improved preservation measures. Many walls have already collapsed, while others are crumbling from the base up as a result of salinity in the ground water.
Moenjodaro’s walls are threatened by salt content in the ground water. Photo: Benny Lin
“It is definitely a complicated site to protect, given the problems of salinity, humidity and rainfall,” said Dr. Ibrahim. “But most of the attempts at conservation by the authorities have been so bad and so amateur they have only accelerated the damage.”
One ill-fated initiative has been to use mud slurry to cover all the brickwork across the massive site with hopes that the mud will absorb the salt and moisture. But after drying and crumbling, the mud has chipped off the ancient brick, while the decay continues underneath. Other parts of the site have seen whole original bricks replaced with brand new ones.
Moenjodaro was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980, but foreign tourism there has become increasingly rare, presumably due to Pakistan’s security problems. Some 40 precious artifacts, including copper and stone seals, were stolen from the site’s museum in 2002. These items were never returned.
The Indus Valley Civilization, which existed at the same time as those of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Crete, is one of the most important and least understood early urban civilizations. The preservation of major Indus sites like Moenjodaro and Rakhigarhi is critical to increasing our understanding of Indus society.
Click here to explore the Archaeological Ruins at Moenjodaro on Global Heritage Network (GHN)