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How climate change destroyed one of the world's largest civilizations

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Nearly a century ago, researchers began discovering numerous remains of Harappan settlements along the Indus River and its tributaries, as well as in a vast desert region at the border of India and Pakistan. Evidence was uncovered for sophisticated cities, sea links with Mesopotamia, internal trade routes, arts and crafts, and as-yet undeciphered writing.

"They had cities ordered into grids, with exquisite plumbing, which was not encountered again until the Romans," Giosan told LiveScience. "They seem to have been a more democratic society than Mesopotamia and Egypt — no large structures were built for important personalitiess like kings or pharaohs."

Like their contemporaries in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Harappans, who were named after one of their largest cities, lived next to rivers.

"Until now, speculations abounded about the links between this mysterious ancient culture and its life-giving mighty rivers," Giosan said.

Now Giosan and his colleagues have reconstructed the landscape of the plain and rivers where this long-forgotten civilization developed. Their findings now shed light on the enigmatic fate of this culture.

"Our research provides one of the clearest examples of climate change leading to the collapse of an entire civilization," Giosan said. [How Weather Changed History]

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