Sudden collapse of Harappan civilization may foreshadow superbug threat to modern humans
by: Ethan A. Huff
Monday, February 03, 2014
The mystery surrounding the sudden collapse of the ancient city of Harappa, a major urban center that was a prominent feature of the now defunct Indus civilization, recently became a little bit less mysterious thanks to new research out of Appalachian State University. An international team of climatologists, archaeologists and biologists found that rampant disease, among other things, played a major role in the swift decline of this primordial people group — and the same thing could happen to modern humanity as a result of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” believe some.
What exists from the historical record shows that Harappa flourished even before the Indus civilization as a whole reached its peak, spanning 1 million square kilometers in what is now Pakistan and India. Scholars say the city thrived primarily between the years of 2600 and 1700 B.C. but suddenly collapsed for reasons that up until now have remained elusive due to a lack of reliable records and other concrete evidence.
But we now know that the uncontrolled spread of disease played a significant role in the downfall of Harappa, as did the violence and chaos that erupted as a result of a widening social hierarchy. Specifically, the new research found that a combination of socioeconomic inequality and disease — tuberculosis and leprosy, which were new at the time, are believed to have spread quickly during the final days before the collapse — were largely to blame for the city’s ultimate demise.
“In this case, it appears that the rapid urbanization process in Indus cities, and the increasingly large amount of culture contact, brought new challenges to the human population,” says Gwen Robbins Schug, one of the lead researchers involved with the project. “Infectious diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis were probably transmitted across an interaction sphere that spanned Middle and South Asia.”
Rapid urbanization spawned disease spread that killed off entire civilization