The site of Mohenjo-Daro is located in contemporary Pakistan and is considered one of the main urban centers of the Indus Civilization, extending well over 250 hectares. Inscribed in 1980 as a World Heritage Site, Mohenjo-Daro is one of the first ancient cities in South Asia to demonstrate extensive urban planning and infrastructure. This 3rd millennium BCE site is one of the best preserved urban centers in South Asia. Discovered in 1922, archaeological excavation work at the site has been prohibited for over 40 years due to concerns over conservation. With technological advancement and capacity to study architectural remains without any impact on the ancient material, projects such as M_LAB have the ability to address some of the key queries about the past.
The archaeological site is located in the semi-arid region of Sindh, situated on a Pleistocene ridge that sits like an island in the floodplain of the Indus River. Although this ridge is now deeply buried by annual flooding, most archaeologists agree that the city was probably more prominent in the third millennium BCE, standing out above the surrounding plain. Moreover, the site is located in a very central position between the two vast river valleys, the Indus to the West, and the Ghaggar Hakra on the East. The farming in the surrounding area is primarily conducted through an extensive network of canals.
Archaeological excavations at Mohenjo-Daro document hundreds of dwelling houses and large buildings constructed along streets and lanes oriented towards cardinal points, which index an architectural sophistication of a well planned city. Early research on the site recognized it as part of the Harappan Culture by 1922, with subsequent excavations over the next 50 years uncovering the densely built up urban area and continued studies of the material culture until present.
Visually arresting due to its elevation, the western mound at Mohenjo-Daro variously called the “Stupa Mound,” (Marshall 1931), the “Citadel” (Wheeler 1953), the “Acropolis” (Jansen 1989) and even the “Mound of the Great Bath,” (Possehl 2002), is spatially separated from the “Lower Town” area by its construction on an artificial platform or substructure upon which structures still visible. This artificial mound, which is about 400 meters by 200 meters (8 hectares), consists of a huge retaining wall with inner filling surmounted by structures (Possehl 2002: 185; Jansen 1994: 269). The last major excavation was carried out by George Dales in 1964-65, after which excavations were banned due to the problems of conserving the exposed structures from weathering and the rising water table.
It was 1963 that the Government of Pakistan asked UNESCO to send a mission of experts to study the condition of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, and by January 1964, Harold Lenderleith, from the UK and the Director for the International Center for the study of the preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property in Rome; was joined by two experts from the Netherlands, Theodoor Beaufort an engineer, and Caesar Voute, a geologist. And according to the report filed by NEDECO on the desalination of Mohenjo-Daro in 1966 and 67, one of the key things to do was to lower the water table, and that, they claimed was possible by a three-pronged drainage system. This prompted the formation of UNESCO’s “International Safeguarding Campaign for Mohenjo-daro,” created in order to raise money to protect and conserve the site from the rising water levels of the Indus.
Also known as the Save Mohenjo-Daro campaign, this initiative ran from 1974 to 1997, raising over 8 million US dollars from member states to combat “saline action” on the foundations and the structures of the ancient city. As per UNESCO reports, “The safeguarding campaign comprised of groundwater control through the installation of tube wells, river training, conservation of structural remains, landscaping, and plantation.”
The main project at Mohenjo-Daro since 1979 has been the architectural documentation and investigation of formal and functional aspects through the ARPM (Aachen University Research Project Mohenjo-Daro) directed by Michael Jansen and IsMEO by Mauritzo Tosi (Jansen 1994; Jansen and Urban 1984; 1987; Jansen and Tosi 1988).
There are three World Heritage projects in Mohenjo-Daro. For more information: