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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]
Scott Begg (email@example.com) wrote:
>> : Perhaps I'm a bit new to this newsgroup and certainly to this thread.
>> : However, I had the same question before, and got some decent answers
>> : off sci.bio.evolution. I had seen in Bede and in Tacitus (and I
>> : believe also in Seutonius) references made to "corn" crops and
>> : "corn"supplies in Europe at dates much earlier than the medieval
>> : period. However, I really think that the "corn" referred to is much
>> : like a "barley-corn", and NOT a derivative of maize.
This is quite right -- the original English meaning of the word "corn"
was "grain" (cp kernel, Ger. Kern = seed). The English colonists
in N. Am. originally called maize "Indian corn", since they got this "corn"
from the American Indians, but this later was
shortened to where now "corn" means maize in the U.S. In
the U.K., however, "corn" still means "grain", and that is how it should be
taken in translations of Bede and Tacitus.
>> : I do no believe that there is any good
>> : genetic evidence to indicate that maize left the Americas and appeared
>> : in Europe or the Indian subcontinent before then.
Yuri Kuchinsky replied,
>> See the work of Jeffreys in this area. Although he's somewhat dated by
>> now, he collected much useful information.
Jeffreys' paper "Pre-Columbian Maize in Asia" was in CL Riley et al, eds,
_Man Across the Sea_, 1971.
Vincent Deluca then wrote:
> Maybe someone can help me in regards to Corn.
> The word for corn in Italian is "GranTurco"; this means, Turkish Corn.
>The Italians also use the word Maize.
> What the heck does Turkish Corn mean? My wife, who is Italian, refers
>to Corn as Granturco" and rarely uses the work Maize when she is
> Appreciate any information.
If "Indian corn" is a grain the English colonists got from the
(American) Indians, then "Turkish corn" (or Turkish grain), ie maize,
was most likely obtained by the Italians, not from Spain or Portugal
in the West, but from Turkey in the East. I haven't read Jeffreys for
some time, but as I recall, he makes this point. I think he says there
are other European languages (Polish?) that call maize "Turkish grain."
Does anyone on soc.hist.med know when granturco was first mentioned
If Carl Johannessen and Anne Parker (Economic Botany 1989) are right that
maize is depicted in Hoysala sculptures in southern India dating to 1268 AD,
and thereabouts, then the Turks could have picked it up from India via
Persia etc. Jeffreys also points out that although maize is first reported in
China in the mid-16th century, the Chinese sources indicate that it was
introduced from the west, ie from central Asia, where it must have been
long established, and not from the eastern
seacoast where it might have been recently left by Portuguese traders.
Domingo Martinez has called my attention to a critique of J&P by T.
Veena and N. Sigamani in _Current Science_, a pub of the Indian
Academy of Sciences, 25 Sept. 1991, 395-7. It is most commendable
for an excellent glossy color photo of one of the sculptures on the front
cover of the issue. Even though the colors are mostly just brown tones,
this photo show how much color adds to the information in the photos.
Carl J. is currently at a Diffusionist conference in Seattle, but says he
will work on adding color gifs to his website,
after he gets back. The CS photo is of a sculpture that was not included
in the JP article. The kernels on its "corncob" are somewhat larger than
those in most of the JP photos, so it is a useful addition to their
The V&S paper runs some statistical tests on three quantitative and one
qualitative attribute of the Hoysala sculptures, and concludes that what
is depicted is not maize. However, they are asking the wrong questions.
Maize is known to come in a variety of shapes, and sizes, with varying
kernel shapes and numbers of rows around each ear. They compile
data on the spectrum of all known varieties of maize,
from several sources, and then demonstrate that the Hoysala
sculptures do not depict this complete spectrum!
For example, they show conclusively that the mean diameter-
length (D/L) ratio of the Hoysala objects is significantly different than
the mean of their data on all types of maize ears. Given that most varieties
of maize are different than the average of all types of maize, this is not
an interesting question. The relevant issue is whether these objects
could have come from the known distribution of maize types, and as
far as the D/L ratio, number of rows, and qualitative shape, the answer is
clearly yes. The only problem, as J&P already indicated (their Fig. 5),
is the width/thickness ratio of the kernels (W/T): many of the Hoysala
kernels are distinctly squarer than known modern varieties.
However, J&P cogently point out that
this squarer shape is consistent with known ancient varieties from Bat Cave,
New Mexico, as cited by Mangeldorf and Smith, 1949. (See J&P Table 1). V&S
run a regression on the 6 observations in this table to demonstrate that there
is no significant correlation between shape and age (I've replicated this --
the t is 2.324, but with only 4 DOF, p = .081). But again this is not a
pertinent question. The issue is not whether there is a time trend in
favor of flatter kernels, but whether squarer kernels like those
in the Hoysala sculptures have ever been known. This answer, as
J&P have demonstrated, is clearly yes.
I'll probably get around to writing up a comment on the V&S paper for
Current Science. If anyone knows of any further discussion of
these issues there please let me know.
V&S go on to suggest that the Hoysala objects are "copy errors" of
objects called _Kalpa Vriksha_ that appear in Jain iconography.
An Indian student tells me that Vriksha in Hindi or Sanskrit means
tree, and that Kalpa Vriksha would be a mythological tree, or sacred
tree, or perhaps a tree of life. Can anyone on soc.culture.indian shed
any light on this?
-- Hu McCulloch
Ohio State U.