Designing from Bones ~ Enigma and the Iron Thunderbolt

Welcome to Designing From Bones, where we use archaeology, myth, mysteries and history to unearth the stories of tomorrow.

This week concludes a Special DfB series on unusual historical settings and how we can use them as inspiration for our fiction. If the planet provided a place to build, humans have tried to live there. Most are aware of the ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia, these civilizations well-documented by both themselves and a host of archeologists that have studied them. But, there was a third great flowering of society, a contemporary and possibly older one that remained hidden until recent times. This society obtained a high degree of societal and technological advancement but due to its location and yet undecipherable writings continues to offer an enigma. Welcome to, the Indus Valley.

The Indus Valley Civilization

Map of the Indus Valley Civilization. India to the right, Pakistan to the left.

Major fresh water rivers provide the food required to birth civilizations. In ancient India, the Indus and now dried Ghaggar-Hakra rivers formed one such fertile valley that provided sustenance to millions – far beyond the populations of Egypt of Mesopotamia. It is this burst of human life that formed into the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC from here forward) between 3300 – 1300 BCE.

The IVC flourished for nearly two millennium and then, dissipated. It is likely that climatic shifts in the position of the Indus River and subsequent drying of the Ghaggar-Hakra led to this sudden change – no food, no way to support the civilization (this is a common reason for the sudden collapse of the Mayan culture as well). What was left in the wake of the IVC is a puzzle and a mystery that continues to baffle.

Examples of the as yet undecipherable Indus Valley writing system

You see, the Indus built hundreds of villages and cities spanning through modern day India, Pakistan and as far as Afghanistan. Cities capable of housing tens of thousands, sometimes within a single structure. Well-planned cities with straight streets and defined sections for housing and public services (such as baths). Cities with plumbing equivalent to what we now use. Heated baths. Advanced metallurgy, art, pottery and jewelry. And, metallic seals that bear a form of pictographs that defy decryption.

The Indus had no known king or standardized religious influence yet they used a uniform system of urban development and planning, brick sizes, weights and measures and general equality amongst all members of society that suggests a ruling body of some form that continues to elude discovery. Or perhaps it is right in the open and simply hard to believe.

Mohenjo-Daro

View of Mohenjo Daro

The largest of the Indus cities was rediscovered in 1922 when an officer of the Archeological Society of India was led to a mound by a Buddhist monk that believed it to be a stupa (reliquary for Buddhist icons and artifacts). The mound proved to be part of an extensive complex forming the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro.

Mohenjo hosted a central market, multi-storied housing (a rarity of the ancient world), a major public bath with a

The carefree Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro. A few bangles and a proud stance.

hypocaust (which would allow for heating), large assembly halls and a massive residential structure in the upper part of the city capable of housing 5000 residents. Perhaps the worlds first apartment complex.

Artifacts found at Mohenjo show a complex and diverse society. A statue found here called The Dancing Girl elicits the idea of a free and relaxed society while a soapstone bust is reminiscent of those found depicting rulers throughout the ages – however, like all Indus complexes, there is no evidence of palaces, temples, rulers or priests. Is it possible that one of the first societies was egalitarian? A free and open democracy? The thought is an intriguing one and if true would make the Indus unique among ancient cultures.

So, how do we turn all of this into story? First, we shift the setting from the real world to that of story and then blend in a point of pure fiction associated with the site. Easy, right?

The Iron Thunderbolt

Powerful beings in chariot-like Vimana could summon a powerful weapon called the Iron Thunderbolt to smite their foes according to the Hindu text, Mahabharata.

Whenever a point of history is questionable or difficult to define fertile ground exists for pseudo-history and its cousin, pseudo-archeology. In the case of Mohenjo-Daro, this comes in the form of something called the Iron Thunderbolt.

According to a Hindu religious text called the Mahabharata, powerful beings flying in blazing luminous vehicles carried an energy weapon capable of destroying cities and even entire cultures known as the Iron Thunderbolt.

Mohenjo Daro had neither temples nor a king yet this bust was named the Priest King.

Pseudo-historians grabbed hold of this idea and used a few unrelated (and debunked) points of Mohenjo history, such as flattened bodies holding hands in the street and glassified pottery remnants (baked to such a state by natural heat) to create a theory involving aliens, atomic weapons and an ancient war that led to the destruction of the Indus culture. Fantastical claims are always suspect and perfect fictional fodder.

Let me hurl an idea at you – an Iron Thunderbolt if you will.

For hundreds, possibly thousands of years the Overlords have ruled the land, the people and history with an iron fist. The cruelty of the Overlords is such that few oppose them and those that do suffer horrid public executions that encourage others to conform out of fear. Conformity is paramount to slavery but the alternative is worse.

From this world rises our hero, brimming with primal motivation to risk his life to free the land.

Against all efforts of the Overlords, there exists a whispered legend. In the long ago time, before the now, a place and a people existed that defied the Overlords advances by use of a powerful weapon. An Iron Thunderbolt. At some point, these mighty people fell to a natural catastrophe and they and their weapon vanished.

The Overlords covertly seek the weapon. A secret society of resistance seeks it as well. And it is out there. Waiting.

But is the real weapon the Iron Thunderbolt or the idea of a free and open society? Both are waiting in Mohenjo and it is up to you and your hero to decide which will truly free the oppressed from the grip of the Overlords.

In the twilight between history and pseudo-history, story thrives. What do you think? Other ideas come to mind? Any thoughts on Mohenjo and the Indus culture? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

This post is the final one for the series on places. Next week we’ll move on to a new subject with tales of cannibalism, burials, the wicked and disease – the dark side of character and culture that harbors the visceral elements of story. I hope you’ll join me.

Peaceful Journeys!

Unicorn Seal of Mohenjo Daro.

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About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. β€œOnly the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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12 Responses to Designing from Bones ~ Enigma and the Iron Thunderbolt

  1. Where I come from, Thunderbolts are made of duraluminum πŸ™‚ More seriously, I am often amazed by the pseudo-science/history that gets attached to the unknowns of our past – the Indus civilisation being a case in point. Often the problerm isn’t that there is an actual mystery – it’s that the pseudo-scientist doesn’t know the answer – and that, I think, is why the lesser known civilisations such as the Indus or the South American get targeted for a lot of quite wild speculation.

    New Zealand’s big problem is a flock of alternative thinkers who insist that Maori displaced earlier people – variously Celts, Persians, Chinese and so forth. This stuff, I fear, wouldn’t even make a good novel. Try this for size. A few years back an ‘alternative thinker’ found ‘pre-Maori Chinese’ artefacts in an Akaroa borough council barbecue pit, which he interpreted as the remains of a forge (I am not joking) and had them sent for C14 analysis. I was commissioned to write a review of a book on the general topic, and discussed it with the director of that lab, who said there was no science behind the samples, they were random bits of slag and sand, and they’d simply dated them without comment. The resulting dates were not meaningful.

    It’s not hard to debunk these ideas – the same ‘alternative history’ theorist thought a shipwreck found in Dusky Sound was more evidence of his theory – actually the ship was an Endeavour (not Cook’s Endeavour, another one captained by William Bampton) that collapsed there from rot in 1793 – it’s extremely well known here, and I’ve covered it myself in several books. Another favourite target are the spherical boulders at Moeraki, well known to have been of natural origin since they were discovered by Europeans in the 1850s – we know their chemical composition, how they were formed, and where they came from (the bank above the beach, in fact). All obvious.. But not if you are an alternative thinker…

    Fact is often stranger than fiction. In the case of these ‘alternative thinkers’, though, I fear that their fiction is stranger than – well, fiction… I know what i said πŸ™‚

  2. It’s amazing how advanced cities ancient people built. I really enjoyed learning more about Mohenjo-Daro and The Iron Thunderbolt.

  3. This is a great entry to this series. What happens on the connecting roads between what we know and what we think we know is the most fertile ground for creativity. I like to think of history as that long storage building shown at the end of the first Indiana Jones movie: an endless stack of crated ideas just waiting to be opened and fit into the possibilities of our world.

    Cannibalism? I’ll be there with bib on. πŸ™‚

  4. ralfast says:

    If not the Old Gods then ALIENS! Sorry, had to get that out of my system. Of course if you know anything (and knowing is half the insanity) about the Old Ones, well they are aliens so….

    On a personal note, the whole notion of the Ancient Astronauts (outside of fiction) smacks of cultural posturing/racism as if somehow ancient non-European cultures were so mentally deficient they could not invent mathematics or use the tools around them to create.

  5. angelaackerman says:

    In places like this, I am always amazed at how people can survive–they seem so barren. Looks like there was some cross mythology going on here with Zeus and his chariot!

    And cannibalism next week? I love you Gene–you rock!

    Angela

  6. K.B. Owen says:

    Absolutely fascinating, as usual, Gene! Location, location, location – right? I know that Mesopotamia is considered the “cradle of civilization,” but I wonder if it would have had a rival, if only the Indus Valley Civilization had endured…

    Great post!

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Matthew: I’m going to have to do a post on New Zealand one of these days. I’ve met the kind of people you talk about, trying to “create” history from nothing and in many cases I’m never quite certain whether the person is an intentional cynic or incapable of reading. Honestly, it does have to be one or the other. I write Alternate History, but it is labeled as fiction, never purported as factual in any way – always been one of those “but what if things had gone like this instead” kinda guys. Thanks for the well-thought and insightful comment πŸ™‚

      Reeta: Modern humans love to think that all of those that came before us were “primitive” – all while living in a world that would not exist without the efforts and inventions of those same primitives. The grotesquely beautiful paradox of humanity. Glad you enjoyed the post πŸ™‚

      John: Yes, the mass storage facility in Indiana Jones is an apt analogy of how the modern world likes to approach history. If it meshes great, if not, then tuck it away and hope no one ever finds it again. Interesting way to handle history. Oh, and you’ll need more than a bib *grins*

      Ralfast: LOL! You crack me up. As I mentioned to Reeta that is a failing of humans – we all think we are the greatest yet could never achieve greatness without our ancestors having been great first. Imagine if no one had ever figured out how to make fire. Or gunpowder. Or harness electricity. Who, in the modern world would then be greater than the cavemen often disdained as near-mindless primitives?

      Angela: Actually that isn’t Zeus, that picture is part of the Hindu pantheon. One thing about the various mythologies is that they often walk on common ground, something Joseph Campbell spent a lifetime studying. The Iron Thunderbolt, at least as far as I can determine, may well have been the iron-shod wheel held by the other main figure in that painting. Imagine what an advantage that, or any advancement would be if you were the first to have it. Like the saddle or steel instead of iron. Yeah, cannibalism next week, touched on it once before but this is something a bit different *grins*

      Kathy: Actually, I think that the Indus would have far surpassed both Mesopotamia and Egypt had they survived the climatic changes they faced intact. One of the pre-Indus locations has a copper smelting operation that is over 5000 years old. They were ahead of the other two cultures in many areas of technological and social advancements. They also had a “more fertile” valley, thus a greater population, that would have been difficult to overthrow. Unfortunately, the area was not as stable as the other two and brought a doom that could not be defended against. Great comment, thanks πŸ™‚

  7. lynnkelleyauthor says:

    I’d never heard of the Indus culture. Plumbing that equals that of today? Amazing. And to think all the inhabitants might have been considered equal, wow! It makes me wonder how far they would have advanced if they could have survived. I imagine world history would have been changed dramatically. Thanks for sharing this, Gene. I loved this series on settings. Now, the dark side starting next week — well, you know what a big scaredy cat I am. Might need beer to get me through those posts! πŸ™‚

  8. Marcia says:

    It’s always enlightening reading your posts, Gene! I love the idea of pseudo-history/archeology and growing story ideas from ancient history with lots of factual gaps. Looking forward to cannibals!

  9. ralfast says:

    Angela may not be that far off. Some linguist believe that Zeus shares the same root as the Proto-Indo-European word for god, i.e. deus (or an earlier variant). Not only that, but after Alexander reached the India, his successor states blended Greek deities with Buddhist believes as part of the Greco-Bactrian kingdom.

    And of course Sky/Thunder deities tend to share an archetype as depicted by Joseph Campbell.

  10. amyshojai says:

    I am loving this! What a great premise for a fiction series. I would sooo read that! Iron thunderbolts…awesome!

  11. Pingback: Mind Sieve 6/11/12 « Gloria Oliver

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