Age of the Veda ...

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Tue Nov 30 21:32:57 UTC 1999

Here we go again... There must be multiple records of this sort of
discussion in the Indology archives. But since J. Silk says, "Although he
will no doubt jump in himself to clarify this, Michael Witzel..." I suppose
I have to:

About the only thing we can say about the date of the RV , based on the RV
itself, is that

* it is a pre-iron age (copper/bronze) age text of the Greater Panjab
(incl. parts of Afghanistan).
This sets a date ante quem of c. 1200, the earliest iron in India.

(iron is, not surprisingly, found in an old section of the linguistically
slightly later text, the Atharvaveda, both SS and PS)

* a date ad quem is  the linguistically and mythologically closely related
Mitanni Indo-Aryan
in Syria/Iraq of c. 1380 BCE

with the names of the major gods: Mitra, VaruNa, Indra and Naasatya (Azvin)
and slightly *earlier*, pre-RV forms such as -azd(h)- for Vedic -ed(h)-,
e.g. Mitanni: Priyamazda :: Ved. Priyamedha.

<The development *az > e  is found in the oldest sections of RV , and not
just in expected locations (*sazd > sed-) but already in analogical forms
(yem-). Note the slight difference in dialect/linguistic development
between Mitanni and Panjab Old Indo-Aryan.>

* a date post quem is more difficult.

Nowadays we usually invoke the absence of Indus civ.  cities in the RV and
thus put it after c. 1900 BCE, the date of the demise of the Indus civ.

As Dr Ganesan said, horses are indeed not found in South Asia before 1700
BCE, all other reported finds are fom UNSTRATIFIED or BADLY recorded
excavations: such bones belong to the native half-ass (khor, hemiod,
onager) which is very similar to a horse (see R.Meadow's various papers).

     (NB: all other claims, such as 'astronomical data', do not apply. --
Long story)

Chariots of Indo_Aryan type first occur around 2000 BCE west and east of
the Ural mountains.

This points to a group of people using the horse drawn chariot, using an
Indo-Iranian (and Indo-European)-derived language and IE/IIr-derived
complicated poetry  all of which  were introduced into the Greater Panjab
after the demise of the Indus civ., which has neither chariots nor horses
nor IE type language, religion, rituals etc.

<NB: The speakers of IA  do NOT need to be *genetically identical* with
those in the Ural areas! "Aryan bones" are not required: language,poetry,
religion & ritual are; cf. Ehret & Mallory on such questions>

A possible date post quem thus is 1900 BCE, probably closer to 1700 BCE
(horses in the Kachi Plain of the Baluchi/Sindh border).

* In addition, the trail of the speakers of Indo-Iranian increasingly
becomes clearer: there is a strong Central Asian substrate (of
Bactria-Margiana), both in the RV  and in the Avesta/Old Persian (Witzel in
EJVS 1999, Lubotsky, forthc.) This substrate most likely comes from the
Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Comlex (BMAC,  (alibrated radiocarbon dates
1950-1700 BCE) and nearby areas.

--  Which again points to c. 1700 (and later) for the Indo-Aryans of the RV.


This is about as much as we can say today. Max Mueller has nothing to do
with the sketch given above (he simply guessed well -- for his time!), nor
inertia. On the contrary, with new evidence, the picture is fine-tuned year
by year. Sorry for all Mueller- and Orientalist Indologist-bashers.

<NB: The 3 levels of texts inside the RV, and the much later *final*
redaction of the RV by Sakalya are altogether different questions. The
redaction has done nothing but changing a few, well-known sounds and even
less syllables in the established text.  -- And, the relatively few hymns
that were added after the first collection of the RV materials in the RV
Samhita (c. 1200 BCE, under the Kuru) also  have been well known for 100
years (since Oldenberg 1888!) and do not change the scenario sketched
above. >

At 4:52 -0800 11/30/99, N. Ganesan wrote:
>I understand that the RV's time range ....

>Perhaps many Sanskrit texts are liberally assigned older dates.

Of course. -- Ditto, for some Tamil texts.

>I would like to know whether important inscriptions
>in Sanskrit exist prior to Rudradaman in 2nd cent. AD? (Iravatham
>Mahadevan said, "No").

Hardly, but there are some in Mathura which are a hundred or so years
earlier. See now S. Rhie Quintanilla, Harvard PhD 1999 (on Mathura
sculptures, with inscr. included) .
Plus the language of  Patanjali's MahAbhASya,  usually assigned to 150
BCE., probably from the same area.


Michael Witzel                          Elect. Journ. of Vedic Studies
Harvard University        
my direct line (also for messages) :  617- 496 2990
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