Institute of Archaeology


Sanchi Survey Project

The Sanchi Survey Project (SSP) which forms the core of the 'Landscape, Water and Religion in Ancient India' project centres upon Sanchi, a major Buddhist hilltop complex in Madhya Pradesh, India. A recently declared UNESCO World Heritage site, it is one of India's best preserved and most studied Buddhist sites with a continuous constructional sequence from c. 3rd century BCE to 12th century CE.

Initiated in 1998, the SSP developed into a multi-phase exercise aimed at relating the histories of Buddhist monasticism and urbanism as represented by the sequences at Sanchi and the nearby early historic city site of Vidisha respectively to archaeological patterns within their hinterland. The project sought these newly documented data within broader discussions in Indian religious, social, and economic history.

Of key interest is the question of how the Buddhist order (sangha), having spread from its base in the middle Gangetic valley during the early centuries BC, integrated itself within the social and economic fabric of the area in which it arrived, and how it generated sufficient patronage networks to grow into the powerful Pan Indian and subsequently Pan Asian institution that it became. Further questions include how Buddhist propagation related to wider processes of urbanisation, state formation, and changes in agrarian production and ways of managing water.

The main phase of exploration over an area of approximately 750 sq km, took place between 1998-2001, resulting in the systematic recording of about 35 Buddhist sites, 145 settlements, 17 irrigation works, numerous rock-shelters, as well as architectural and sculptural fragments. In subsequent years, the survey has been developed in several ways including the application of intensive site-mapping, satellite remote-sensing, and the collection of dam and reservoir sediments for geological dating and palaeo-ecological analysis.

Related outputs

  • Shaw, J. (2015), 'Buddhist and non-Buddhist mortuary traditions in ancient India: stupas, relics and the archaeological landscape', in C. Renfrew, M. Boyd, and I. Morley (Eds.), Death Rituals and Social Order in the Ancient World: Death shall have no dominion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 382-403.
  • Shaw, J. (2013), 'Introduction', in J. Shaw (Ed.), Archaeology of Religious Change, Special volume of World Archaeology 45(1): 1-11.
  • Shaw, J. (2013), 'Archaeologies of Buddhist propagation in ancient India: 'ritual' and 'practical' models of religious change', in, J. Shaw (Ed.), Archaeology of Religious Change, Special volume of World Archaeology 45(1):83-108.
  • Shaw, J. (2011), 'Monasteries, monasticism, and patronage in ancient India: Mawasa, a recently documented hilltop Buddhist complex in the Sanchi area of Madhya Pradesh', South Asian Studies 27 (2): 111-130.
  • Sutcliffe, J., J. Shaw, and E. Brown (2011), 'Historical water resources in South Asia: the hydrological background', Hydrological Sciences Journal 56 (5): 775-788.
  • Shaw, J. (2009), 'Stūpas, monasteries and relics in the landscape: typological, spatial, and temporal patterns in the Sanchi area', in A. Shimada and J. Hawkes (Eds.), Buddhist Stūpas in South Asia: Recent Archaeological, Art-Historical, and Historical Perspectives. New Delhi : Oxford University Press.
  • Shaw, J. (2007). Buddhist Landscapes in Central India: Sanchi hill and archaeologies of religious and social change, c. 3rd century BC to 5th century AD. London: British Association for South Asian Studies, The British Academy.
  • Shaw, J. (2007), 'Landscape, Water and Religion in Ancient India', Archaeology International 2006-2007, 43-52.
  • Shaw, J., J. V. Sutcliffe, L. Lloyd-Smith, J-L. Schwenninger, and M.S. Chauhan, with contributions by E. Harvey and O.P. Misra (2007), 'Ancient Irrigation and Buddhist history in Central India: Optically Stimulated Luminescence and pollen sequences from the Sanchi dams', Asian Perspectives 46(1): 166-201.
  • Shaw, J. (2005), 'The archaeological setting of Buddhist monasteries in central India: a summary of a multi-phase survey in the Sanchi area, 1998-2000', in C. Jarrige and V. Lefèvre (eds.), South Asian Archaeology 2001: proceedings of the 16th international conference of the European Association of South Asian Archaeologists, Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations, ADPF, Vol. 2, 665-676.
  • Shaw, J., and J.V. Sutcliffe (2005), 'Ancient Dams and Buddhist Landscapes in the Sanchi area: New evidence on Irrigation, Land use and Monasticism in Central India', South Asian Studies 21: 1-24.
  • Shaw, J., (2004), 'Naga sculptures in Sanchi's archaeological landscape: Buddhism, Vaisnavism and local agricultural cults in central India, first century BCE to fifth century CE', Artibus Asiae LXIV(1): 5-59.
  • Shaw, J., (2004), 'Early historic landscapes in central India: recent archaeological investigations in districts Raisen and Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, 2003-4', Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in History and Archaeology 1: 143-150.
  • Shaw, J., and J.V. Sutcliffe (2003), 'Ancient dams, settlement archaeology and Buddhist propagation in central India: the hydrological background', Hydrological Sciences Journal 48 (2): 277-291.
  • Shaw, J., and J.V. Sutcliffe (2003), 'Water management, patronage networks and religious change: new evidence from the Sanchi dam complex and counterparts in Gujarat and Sri Lanka', South Asian Studies 19: 73-104.
  • Shaw, J., and J.V. Sutcliffe (2001), 'Ancient irrigation works in the Sanchi area: an archaeological and hydrological investigation', South Asian Studies 17: 55-75.
  • Shaw, J. (2000), 'The sacred landscape', in M. Willis, with contributions by J. Cribb and J. Shaw, Buddhist Reliquaries from Ancient India, London: British Museum Press, 27-38.
  • Shaw, J. (2000), 'Sanchi and its archaeological landscape: Buddhist monasteries, settlements and irrigation works in central India', Antiquity 74, 775-776.
  • Shaw, J. (1999), 'Buddhist landscapes and monastic planning in eastern Malwa: the elements of intervisibility, surveillance and the protection of relics', in T. Insoll, (ed.), Case Studies in Archaeology and World Religion: the proceedings of the Cambridge conference, Oxford: Archaeopress, 5-17.
  • Shaw, J., and A. Beck, In Preparation, 'The archaeological application of satellite remote-sensing in Central India'.


  • British Association for South Asian Studies
  • British Academy
  • Merton College