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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]
Domingo Martinez (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes, concerning my
mention that Carl Johannessen was planning to put high-resolution color GIFs
of the figures in Johannessen and Parker, "Maize Ears Sculpted in 12th and 13th
Century AD India as Indicators of Pre-Columbian Diffusion," Economic Botany
1989, 164-80, on his web site at
>I does not matter how beautiful are the photographs Mr Johannessen will
I never thought I would see the day when a scholar from Missouri would say,
in substance, "Don't even bother to show me!"
The photo reproductions in Economic Botany are grainy (pun intended),
and have been rendered as B&W. Figures 2-13 are perhaps adequate, but it's
hard to tell what J&P are trying to show with figures 14-16. I've seen his
color slides, and know that what his original photos are a lot more
convincing. EB could not afford to run color blow-ups of all his photos, but
this would be virtually free (to Johannessen) on the web, given that UO
supports his web site and has scanning facilities. Domingo's mind is made up,
so I'm sure he won't look at them, but perhaps other readers will take a peek.
Give Johannsessen several weeks to get these up, though.
> The issue has been discussed for over two months, I believe, in
>sci.arch.mesoamerican, and even for the unusual first proponent, the issue
>cannot be demonstrated if corn cobs or kernels are not found in the right
>contexts in Asia or wherever your imagination takes them. And they have not
>been found in all the excavations.
Certainly, if J&P are right, direct evidence of pre-Columbian maize should be
findable in archaeological sites in Hoysala horizons in Karnataka, and perhaps
elsewhere in the subcontinent. Can Domingo tell us where has been published
a survey article of all site reports on digs in Karnataka, showing which ones
might have found maize if it was present, whether maize would have
been reported if it had been found given the goals of the dig, how maize
was looked for, what flotation procedures were done to look for what types of
pollen, and what C-14 dates were run on any kernels or cobs that were found?
J&P's article should elicit such a survey article, but I strongly doubt that
it exists as yet, or even that anyone is even working on it.
If an American archaeologist were to dig into an Hopewellian mound and
find a stratum cluttered with beer cans, he or she would understandably
conclude that this stratum was contaminated with modern (post-WW II)
debris and of no archaeological interest. Perhaps someone will correct me,
but my guess is that the beer cans would not be catalogued and placed in a
permanent museum collection, and that the site report would not
enumerate the number, brand names, and condition of the cans.
No funds would be wasted C-14 dating beer residues. Indeed, the
site report might just report that the stratum was contaminated by "modern
debris", without even mentioning its character.
Now the Hoysala period terminated with the Moghul conquest of Karnataka, circa
1350. I head in a talk on recent excavations on a huge Moghul fortress in
India that very little work has been done on the Moghul period et seq. in
India, since from a Hindu-Indian perspective this is the modern period of
alien domination, and is considered to be of little if any interest,
culturally or archaeologically. A Hoysala horizon would be of interest, but
only if archaeologically intact and not contaminated with modern debris.
So if an Indian archaeologist looking for Hoysala garbage dumps were to
find a stratum full of corncobs, which in the past at least have been firmly
believed to solidly indicate a post-Columbian date, it would have been
completely understandable to conclude that the dump had been contaminated
with "modern" material. C-14 dates would be a waste of time and money,
if the corncobs themselves are regarded as conclusive indicators of
So I'm not entirely convinced, pending publication of the hypothetical
survey I mentioned above, that no Hoysala period corncobs have been
found by Indian archaeologists.
> The pictures of the objects you are pushing so hard as Maize are
>subject to interpretation, and Indian archaeologists have reccognized them as
>"an imaginary fruit bearing pearls known in Sanskrit as 'Muktaphala'". (Payak,
>M.M., and Sachan, J.K.S. 1993 "Maize Ears Not Sculpted in 13th Century
>Somnathpur Temple in India." Economic botany. APR 01 1993, vol. 47 no. 2, P.
I am told by an Indian informant that Mukta means pearl, and phala means fruit.
Muktaphala therefore means pearl-fruit. If someone were to make up a name
for maize, pearl-fruit would be as like as any. J&P point out that the
Hoysala maize sculptures are modelled from individual, actual ears, rather
than from a stylized concept. But maize seems to have disappeared
from Karnataka sometime after the Hoysala period, since it was not
present, according to P&S, in 1960. My guess (which I posted several
weeks ago on a related thread) is that some sort of blight, smut or
mildew attacked it and wiped out cultivation of it. A century later,
and especially outside of Karnataka, the objects in the sculptures would
come to be thought of as being as imaginary as many of the other
objects in Hindu sculptures. So it's possible either that Muktaphala
was the actual name used for maize in Karnataka, which later came to
be viewed as the name of some imaginary edible, or that it was a
name applied later to the maize sculptures, not realizing that they
represented a food that was once actually raised.
John Emery had written earlier,
>>> This does not discount the possibility of maize being present
>>>in the old world before Columbus, but if it was, it was certainly brought
>>>there from the new world.
>>>[botanical details deleted]
>>>Dept. of Plant Pathology
and I had replied,
>>This is precisely J&P's point -- if maize is accurately depicted in
>>pre-Columbian sculptures in India, there must have been some contact.
>>But _is_ maize what is being depicted? As a botanist, do you know of
>>anything else the photographs in their article could be depicting? Do
>>cucumbers or bananas have parallel rows of kernels, overlapping husks,
>>and/or silk? Pomegranates have been seriously suggested ...
>Not in the literature, unless you provide me with a reference mentioning
>pomegranates. I have found references only to the 'Muktaphala' mentioned
>above. Also, there seems to be many other representations that do not
>resemble maize at all. In any case, the sculptures are subject to
>interpretation, and that is a major obstacle to accepting Johannessen's point
>of view as "evidence" of anything but his own reading of the objects.
Domingo evidently has not read even the Johannessen and Parker article.
On p. 173, J&P discuss B. Mundkur, "On pre-Columbian maize in India and
elephantine dieties in Mesoamerica", Curr. Anthropol., 1980, 676-9:
"Mundkur's other suggestion [ie other than a cornucopia] for the same maize-
ear-shaped object, [ie similar to the Hoysala object in J&P's Figure 8] carved
in an 8th century AD representation of the god Kubera, is that of a peeled
pomegranate with carved locules in parallel rows with 'no more than artistic
license on their normally disorderly distribution' (Mundkur 1980:677). How
the 'pomegranate' also came to have no placenta tissues showing and to have
a maize ear-like pointed tip stretches credulity."
Individual pomegranate seeds may create bulges in their skins indicating their
presence beneath the skins. J&P note that in about 10% of the Hoysala
objects, husks still enclose the entire ear (figs. 14-16.) Fig. 15 admittedly
isn't too clear in the article, but as I recall from J's slide presentation,
it represents a relatively young ear, in which the husks are so thin that
the kernels are visible through the husks, creating a pomegranate-
like texture. This is perhaps
what Mundkur had in mind. However, as J&P note, the shape is totally
wrong for pomegranates, pomegranates don't have curls of cornsilk
dangling down from the top as in Figure 15, and this is part of a sequence
of objects in the same temple, some of which are partially unhusked (figs
12-13), and most of which are completely unhusked (Figs 2-11.) J&P
claim that the edges of the husks are visible in some of the photos
reproduced in Figures 14-16, but the journal reproductions are inadequate
to see this. Perhaps this will be visible when Johannessen gets them
online. Domingo will not be interested in looking, but maybe others will.
I was just being facetious about bananas and cucumbers. Payek and
Sachan (Nature, Oct. 1988, p. 773-4) do suggest mangoes, however!
>>Carl Johannessen is working on getting better color photos up on his U. Oregon
>>Geography Dept. web site. This may take several weeks, however, since
>>he is new at cybermatters. (He didn't even know he _had_ a web site until
>I hope he includes an unbiased sample of all the objects in the hands of the
>deities, and not only those that looks just like maize. But I seriously doubt
Hindu sculptures contain a myriad of objects that are clearly not maize --
eg lotuses. Why is it incumbent on him to catalogue all Hindu iconography?
P&S (Nature, Fig. 1) do show a photo of a male figure holding an interesting
beaded object which is clearly not maize, but which they argue is just a
variation on the "maize" objects. Perhaps they or Domingo could put
a clearer photo of this and related objects on a competing web site,
preferably with detailed blow-ups.
Please note that I have added soc.culture.indian to this post.
--- Hu McCulloch
Ohio State U