Wall inscription at Dholavira:[1]

"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate"



May 16/17  1999



Dudley House, Lehman Hall, Harvard Yard

Sunday 9:30 a.m. through 5 p.m.

Monday 9:30 a.m. through 1 p.m.








       "Edwin Bryant (Harvard)" <ebryant@fas.harvard.edu>,

        "Frederick Hiebert (U. Penn.)" <hiebert@sas.upenn.edu>,

        "Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky" (Harvard)  <karlovsk@fas.harvard.edu>,

        "Victor Mayr (U. Penn.)" <vmair@rain.admin.ias.edu>,

        "Richard H. Meadow" <meadow@fas.harvard.edu>,

        "Gregory Possehl (U. Penn.)" <gpossehl@sas.upenn.edu>,

        "Arvind Sharma (McGill)"  <cxlj@musica.mcgill.ca>,

        "Franklin Southworth (U. Penn.)" <fsouth@sas.upenn.edu>,

        "George Thompson"   <thompson@jlc.net>      

        "Brian Wells (U. Calgary)" <bwells@ucalgary.ca>

        "Katherine Young" (McGill)  <kyoung@wilson.lan.mcgill.ca>

        "Michael Witzel" (Harvard) witzel@fas.harvard.edu



The topics below will be introduced by individual specialists. Some names have been suggested below, but not for all areas. Please feel free to volunteer also for those areas already "occupied". Changes will be made according to your wishes.


We may have to throw open our discussion to a wider

public on Monday. Please suggest summaries or discussions of

particular topics you would like to present to a more general public at that time.




                                    Proposed Topics of Discussion





ethnogenesis in C. and S. Asia and the "Aryan/Dravidian" conundrum

the need for a more informed and sophisticated view

history & politics of the question

state of the art

possible results, by order of degree of certainty







Comparative linguistics & methods (SOUTWORTH & WITZEL)

* Linguistics as natural science & as part of humanities

* Nature of historical reconstructions:

- within a wider time frame of reconstruct

- with several dialects in the reconstruct

- reconstruct used as starting point


Language families of S. and Central Asia

* The 'blank' of C. Asia in Neolithic/bronze age period

* Theoretical spread of  ancestral languages  (Indo-European, Uralic, Altaic etc.)

* Spread of IE, Indo-Aryan and Iranian (North Iranian: Danube, Don --> Saka Haumavarga -- Xinjiang);


* Tracing bronze age language families by loan words


The situation in Iran:

* Elamian (Susa, Anshan, Simashki)

* other languages (Bactria, Marhashi, Aratta)

* little impact on Old Iranian


S. Asia:  language families (SOUTHWORTH & WITZEL)

* "unknown":   Burushaski, Kusunda, Nahali, etc.

* Munda (Austro-Asiatic) and RV substrate

* Dravidian and case of Brahui

* Vedic/Old Indo-Aryan (Indo-European)


*date of attestation, early materials

* strong impact of substrates on successive immigrant languages



*question of substrate languages: how to detect them?

* spread of substrates in Vedic, Dravidian, Munda

* other substrates


Relationships outside the subcontinent (SOUTHWORTH & WITZEL)

* IE, Drav. ~Uralic, Munda ~ Mon-Khmer (Austro-Asiatic)

* Macro-comparisons (Nostratic, etc. )

* local genesis of "new" languages: pidgins, lingua franca



* immigration of languages into S. Asia

* timeline of data


The indigenous perspective  (BRYANT & SHARMA)






Methodological questions  (HIEBERT, LAMBERG-KARLOWSKY, MEADOW)

* materials & interpretation

* 'new' dating tools: C14, tree ring, thermo-luminescence, etc.

* older and 'new' archaeology: spread of cultures vs. spread of people

* how to find a balance?

* timeline of data



Central Asia : Neolithic and Bronze age  (HIEBERT)




Bactria-Margiana-AC and the Indo-Iranians? (HIEBERT)


  Xinjiang (MAYR)


Pre-Indus civilizations  (POSSEHL, MEADOW)


Indus Civ. (MEADOW)


Post-Indus cultures:

*Cemetery H (MEADOW)

* Jhukar, Jhangar   (POSSEHL)

* The situation in Gujarat  (POSSEHL)

* The situation in Haryana and U.P.  (MEADOW)


Gandhara & Swat





A 'Vedic culture'??

Iranians in W. & E. Turkestan  (HIEBERT & MAYR)


The indigenous perspective  (BRYANT & SHARMA)





Types of textual material   (THOMPSON & WITZEL)

*written, orally composed (Bardic),

* oral transmission of Epic versus Vedic texts

* documents and inscriptions



The Indus texts  (POSSEHL & WELLS)

* nature of material & preservation

* type of script involved

* analysis of 'grammar' of inscriptions

* attempts at reading the inscriptions

* no secure reading and 'translations' so far


Early Vedic texts  (THOMPSON & WITZEL)

* nature of texts & transmission: high-flown poetic texts composed by traditional 'bards', employed by chieftains

* difficulties of interpretation: archaic language and concepts, state of the art


* levels of texts: Rgveda vs. other Vedic texts: 5 linguistic levels

* levels of texts inside Rgveda: early (RV 4,5,6), middle (2,7,8,2), late (1,10)


* geographical spread of Rgveda:  greater Panjab

* of post-RV texts: E. Panjab to Patna, Nagpur


* historical content  vs. legends, propaganda

* indigenous aspects: traditions of lost texts (SHARMA)


* possibility of dating the texts:    internal chronology,

* absolute chronology not possible without archaeology (nuclear) and links to other great civilizations (none?)

* relevance of astronomical evidence  (SHARMA)


* culture described in the texts : semi-nomadic, pastoral, tribal, patrilinear, with complicated private & tribal rituals



Avestan: post-RV(?) (THOMPSON),

in E. Afghanistan,

with very similar culture & religion,

of unknown date (RV links?, name of Bactria)



*as offshoot of Indo-Aryan movement into Iran,

* with early IA words, religion  (c. 1380 BCE)

that heavily influenced the Caucasian (Hurrite) Mitanni in Iraq/Syria/Palestine


The indigenous perspective  (BRYANT & SHARMA)


Dravidian: Sangam Lit. (YOUNG)

* date and nature of early Dravidian texts (in Archaic/Old Tamil)

Bardic poetry of S. India from around the beginning of CE, with still little Brahmanical influence

* contents and type of society described


Comparative Mythology : (WITZEL)

The Eurasian complex, with a Near eastern cluster, IE-Altaic, etc.





*multivariate measurements of S. Asian human remains  (Kennedy, Vallois, Sergent, )

*its value in linking modern populations

*typology modern S. Asians



* various types of data used (blood groups, rh factor, etc.)

* multivariate analysis of data

* mytochondrial data

* cell nucleus data

* principle component analysis

* principle components in S. Asia


* some typical cases (Tharu, Vedda :: Brahmins )

* the emerging picture (Cavalli-Sforza 1994, etc.)


The indigenous perspective??  (BRYANT & SHARMA)





1.  Necessity to argue from present state of the art, not by refuting 19th cent. positions


2. Practical problems in achieving a consensus

- mutual incomprehension (general)

- taking over of partial results (e.g., historians)

- refusal to use data from outside one's field (e.g., J. Shaffer)


3. Links between the fields involved

* language and genetics

- possible for stone age times, but not for later periods

- question of isolated, remnant groups

- anthropometrics and languages??


* texts and archaeology

- problems of dating and of areas involved

- close comparison of texts and archaeology not yet done

- how to link the Harappan Civ. with texts?

(Rgveda etc.  is later but offers some links; Sangam texts are too late and too distant)


* physical anthropology and attestation in archaeology:

- data hardly found in texts;

- cases such as the Nisada = Nahal, Kirata as remnant populations offer some limited insights


4. Procedure

* Avoidance of circular feedback and argumentation

as discussed in Erdosy volume (1995):

- traditionally, archaeologists use linguistic and textual conclusions (and the philologists, vice versa) and build new interpretations on them;

- more direct interaction, especially between arch. & textual scholars necessary


* Preferable: overlap of large sections of 'raw' data.

- close cooperation would entail comparison of data with as little interpretation as possible;

- but such data would have to be transparent enough to be usable (avoidance of jargon)

- or must be made understandable by interaction


* Plea for more consistent cooperation

and maybe a yearly(?) review session such as the present one.


5. Cooperation

List of urgent tasks for cooperative research:

- material culture of the (post-)Indus civilization and their

representation in textual materials (Rgveda and later Vedic texts), e.g. vessels, hair dress, etc. etc.  (note W. Rau's work, now under translation)

- agriculture and pastoralism in archaeology & texts

- indications for religion and mythology in archaeology & texts (bow shooter myth in Mohenjo Daro and Rgveda 8)

- etc., etc.


[1]  English transl.:         "300 miles to Mohenjo Daro"..