Interpreting the Past

Ancient India Unit: Predicting Areas of Early Settlement in India

Assignments to hand in: Map of Indian Subcontinent | Predicting Settlement Critical Thinking Questions (PDF Version)

Essential Questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Essential Question 3: Why do humans live and move where they do?

What will I be able to do?: You will be able to locate major physiographic features on the Indian Subcontinent and predict where the first humans would have settled and lived.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about the major physiographic features, like mountain ranges, rivers, etc. on the Indian Subcontinent and about where and why the humans chose to settle in India long ago.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will show what you know by completing a physiographic map of the Indian Subcontinent and by answering critical thinking questions predicting where and why humans would have chose to settle in India long ago.


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(Watch the video above to introduce yourself to India's geography - Discovery Channel)

Step 1: Mapping the Indian Subcontinent - Complete the Map of the Indian Subcontinent by looking at the pictures below of India's physiographic features. Label each physiographic feature on the blank map using symbols like triangles (for mountains), lines (for rivers), diagonal lines/cross hatching or dots (for highlands, deserts), etc. representing each feature (See Map Symbols Example). Then write the name/label in the immediate vicinity. Don't forget to complete the chart below the map. [See Indian Subcontinent Map Example]

The Physiographic Features of the Indian Subcontinent:

The Brahmaputra River
The Brahmaputra River
In this picture there are boats on the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh. The Brahmputra River originates on the Tibetan Plateau north of the Himalaya mountain in the northernmost part of the Indian subcontinent. The Brahmaputra extends for over 1,800 miles through various countries and is the longest river that flows through modern-day India. The river flows east and then southwest, until it joins the Ganga River in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta in present-day Bangladesh and empties into the Bay of Bengal. At 23,000 square miles, the Ganga-Brahmaputra is the world's largest delta. The lower part of the Brahmaputra is sacred to Hindus in modern India.

The Deccan Plateau
The Deccan Plateau
In this picture is the city of Tamil Nadu in the Deccan Plateau. The Deccan Plateau is located in the southern part of the Indian subcontinent between the highlands of the Eastern and Western Ghats. The Deccan covers an area of several hundred thousand square miles. Most of the plateau lies at elevations 1,500 feet above sea level and is fairly flat. Great granite rocks and plateaus formed from hardened lava beds cover much of the plateau. These rocks are among the world's oldest, dating back over 600 million years. The hilly portion of the Deccan are covered with either sparse forest or short, scrubby vegetation.

The Eastern and Western Ghats
The Eastern and Western Ghats
In this picture is a tea plantation at the base of the Nilgiri Hills at the edge of the Western Ghats. The Eastern and Western Ghats are highlands near the east and west coasts of the Indian subcontinent. Each range forms an edge of the Deccan Plateau - which lies between them - and they meet at their southern edges. The eastern range runs near the Bay of Bengal and the western along the Arabian Sea. The Eastern Ghats are of moderate elevation and are separated into several parts by major rivers and their adjacent plains. The Western Ghats are higher than the Eastern and more continuous. The Eastern Ghats contain forests of hardwood trees and the climate is substantially wetter than the relatively dry Deccan Plateau. The Western Ghats are wetter still and contain thick hardwood forests and tropical plant life.

The Ganga (Ganges) River
The Ganga River
In this picture is the Ganga River running through the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. The Ganga River originates in the Himalaya mountains and extends for more than 1,500 miles across the northern Indian subcontinent. It generally flows southeast until it is joined by the Brahmaputra River in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, where it empties into the Bay of Bengal. Like all of the major rivers in the north, the Ganga carries sediment down from the Himalaya mountains and deposits it in the adjacent plains. These deposits of sand, silt, and clay have made the northern plains some of the most fertile farmland in the world. During the rainy season, parts of the Ganga's banks are often flooded and crops planted there are sometimes destroyed. The Ganga is the most sacred river for Hindus in modern India.

The Himalaya Mountains
The Himalaya Mountains
In this picture is the Sherpas mountaintop of the Himalaya range in Nepal. The Himalaya mountains are located in the northernmost part of the Indian subcontinent and extend roughly east to west over 1,500 miles. The Himalayas are the highest mountain range in the world. Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, is part of the Himalayas and rises to 29,028 feet and is still rising. The Himalayas began to form tens of millions of years ago, when the Indian subcontinent drifted north into Eurasia and caused the earth's crust to fold and lift. True to its name, "home of snows," the higher elevations of the Himalayas are perpetually covered in snow and ice. Glacial waters from the Himalayas help feed three major rivers on the Indian subcontinent: the Brahmaputra, the Ganga, and the Indus. Rugged terrain and snow have historically discouraged large settlements in the Himalayas.

The Hindu Kush Mountains
The Hindu Kush Mountains
In this picture is the Hunza Valley in northern Pakistan. The Hindu Kush mountains are located mainly to the northwest of the Indian subcontinent in present-day Afghanistan. The Hindu Kush extend over 500 miles east to west and make up one of the world's highest mountain ranges. At its highest points, the range reaches over 25,000 feet. Much of the Hindu Kush is permanently covered in snow and ice and almost uninhabitable. The 28-mile-long Khyber Pass winds through one of the many lesser mountain ranges that fan out between the Hindu Kush and the Indus River plain. The pass was used for millennia as a major trade route between central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Invaders to the subcontinent - including Alexander the Great - also used the pass, although many died in the mountains' unforgiving terrain.

The Indus River
The Indus River
The Indus River originates in Tibet, north of the Indian subcontinent. It receives water from the Himalaya, Hindu Kush, and Karakoram mountains. The Indus flows northeast to southwest through the plains of present-day Pakistan and empties into the Arabian Sea. The river carries sediment from the mountains and deposits it along its banks and the surrounding plains. These deposits of sand, silt, and clay make the area along the Indus some of the most fertile farmland in the world. The Indus River has often been compared to Egypt's Nile River because of its importance as a source of water and rich soil.

TheThar Desert
The Thar Desert
This is a picture of the Thar Desert in the state of Rajasthan. The Thar (pronounced TAR) Desert is located in the northwest part of the Indian subcontinent and is approximately 500 miles long and 250 miles wide. It straddles the border between the present-day countries of India and Pakistan and is flanked by two river valleys, the Indus and the Sutlej. TheThar, also known as the Great Indian Desert, is mostly sand and is intensely hot in the sommer. It receives very little rain and the sparse plant life that exists on its plains includes scrubby forest and grasses. There is evidence of dried-up river channels near its borders.

Step 2: Predicting the Location of Early Indian Settlements - Answer the Critical-Thinking Questions (PDF Version) by looking at your map and chart (re-read above informaiton for more detail and to check your work) to determine the best answer for each. Cite details in your answers.

Step 3: Conclusion:

In the 1990's, satellite pictures revealed an ancient, dried riverbed located in India's present-day Thar Desert. Geologists have identified this riverbed as the route of the ancient Sarasvati River. The Sarasvati lay east of the Indus River and generally followed the same course, originating in the Himalaya mountains and emptying into the Arabian Sea. Geologists believe that the Sarasvati River dried up around 1900 B.C.E. Over time, the once fertile area around the Sarasvati River dried up around 1900 B.C.E. Over time, the once fertile area around the Sarasvati evolved into the dry, hot desert that exists today.

Early Indian agricultural settlements arose in the Indus-Sarasvati river region at least as far back as 6500 B.C.E. Like many other ancient peoples, the early Indians settled by rivers. They settled primarily on the banks of the Sarasvati River as well as along the banks of the Indus. These rivers provided the ancient Indians with plenty of water, and the land near the rivers was fertile and excellent for growing crops. The rivers also provided the Indians with a convenient way to travel and trade among themselves and with other civilizations. Archeologists have found artifacts from the Indus-Sarasvati civilization - such as carved seals - in Mesopotamia's Sumer. These discoveries have led scholars to believe that the early Indians traded with Mesopotamia, possibly by traveling in ships down the Indus and Sarasvati rivers to the Arabian Sea and then west to Sumer and other locations.

After the Sarasvati River dried up around 1900 B.C.E., the Indus-Sarasvati Indians moved to more habitable areas, such as the fertile banks of the Ganga river further east. Archeological evidence shows, however, that people settled by the Ganga River as far back as 5000 B.C.E.