Harvard University Professor Michael Witzel has noticed, in an article published in 1995, that a systematic comparison between the textual data of the Vedic corpus and the findings of Indian archaeology has never been attempted. A little more than 15 years after Witzel’s remark, this state of affairs did not undergo significant changes, despite some spectactular advances in archeology and philology. One of the reasons for this situation certainly lies in the absence of a common framework allowing these two fields of knowledge to communicate easily and with a reasonable degree of clarity. Such a framework is under development by myself and my collaborators at the University of Lausanne. We are currently devising morphological and functional seriations of artefacts and structures produced within the fold of polytheistic creeds. Our work is based on the analysis of excavations of Celtic and Gallo-Roman places of worship, as well as on ethnoarchaeological fieldwork in the Valley of Kathmandu, Nepal. Both approaches led us to lay the foundations for a taxonomical system for the study of polytheistic places of worship.
An Indologist of our University, Dr François Voegeli who is a reputed specialist of Vedic studies and who has a long lasting interest in the Bronze Age archaeology of South Asia, drew my attention to the fact that our system is suprisingly simple to apply to the exhaustive descriptions of Vedic rituals found in the Vedic texts. He made trials at analysing some samples of the Vedic corpus using our methodology and his preliminary results indicated that our taxonomical framework could be enhanced with new and valuable items gathered from these particular Indian sources.
The goal of this project will then be to extract seriations agreeing with our format from the minute descriptions of rituals found in the Kalpasutra and the Brahma?a texts and to compare these seriations with the archaeological findings made in India since the 1950s. As the Kalpasutras and the Brahma?as represent an immense corpus, a selection must be made to keep the project within reasonable limits of time. We will therefore study only rituals that are, first, said by the Vedic texts to be regularly or mandatorily practised and, second, mentioned by Indian epigraphical sources. This first stage of the project will lead to a complete seriation of the artefacts and structures belonging to Vedic rituals that were frequently and actually accomplished during Indian history. We will then proceed to compare these seriations to the findings of modern Indian archaeology. As they are drawn out of prescriptive texts, the seriations will represent a morphological and functional ideal preserved from the onslaughts of time. We do not expect remains of the rituals selected for this study to tally faultlessly with the seriations extracted from the texts. This second part of the project will however allow to select a number of candidates among artefacts, sites or cultural complexes which are most likely to represent remains of a true Vedic religious practice. It will also enable us to exclude from the Vedic scope a certain number of structures and thus help to refine the identification of some problematic objects unearthed by archaeologists in India. The results of our study will also be useful to identify with more precision future archaeological findings.