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A literary tradition is traceable in post-Vedic times, after the rise of Buddhism in the Maurya period, perhaps earliest in the Kanva recension of the Yajurveda about the 1st century BC; however oral tradition of transmission remained active.
Witzel suggests the possibility of written Vedic texts towards the end of 1st millennium BCE.
1000-500 BC, resulting in a Vedic period, spanning the mid 2nd to mid 1st millennium BC, or the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age. He gives 150 BC (Patañjali) as a terminus ante quem for all Vedic Sanskrit literature, and 1200 BC (the early Iron Age) as terminus post quem for the Atharvaveda.
The Vedic period reaches its peak only after the composition of the mantra texts, with the establishment of the various shakhas all over Northern India which annotated the mantra samhitas with Brahmana discussions of their meaning, and reaches its end in the age of Buddha and Panini and the rise of the Mahajanapadas (archaeologically, Northern Black Polished Ware). Transmission of texts in the Vedic period was by oral tradition, preserved with precision with the help of elaborate mnemonic techniques.
For example, memorization of the sacred Vedas included up to eleven forms of recitation of the same text.
The texts were subsequently "proof-read" by comparing the different recited versions.
Witzel, also notes that it is the Vedic period itself, where incipient lists divide the Vedic texts into three (trayī) or four branches: Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva.
The Rigveda is the oldest work, which Witzel states are probably from the period of 1900 to 1100 BC.In other parts, they show evolution of ideas, such as from actual sacrifice to symbolic sacrifice, and of spirituality in the Upanishads.