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Re: Yuri's Credibility Problem

On the subject of the Coconut :

"We now come to the ethno-botanical evidence about Trans-Pacific voyages;
the possible carrying of esculent and other plants between the Old and New
Worlds by human means.  When we wrote in 1971, this appeared  to
constitute rather strong evidence for trans-pacific contacts, but while
many other culture-traits that we have mentioned seem to have grown in
importance, this line of argument seems to have greatly declined.  In
spite of the repeated efforts of Carter to maintain its importance, the
present position is more as stated in the lucid view of Baker and this is
broadly supported by judicious authors, even though favororable to
diffusion, such as Tolstoy.  It was at one time believed that the
distribution of the coconut palm ( COCUS NUCIFERA) and the gourd or
calabash (LAGENARIA SICERARIA) both indicated transmission across the
Pacific by human means.  But it is now considered that both of them could
have been sea-borne (NEEDHAM AND LU, pg 60)."

LISTENING ONCE AGAIN. (1985: Singapore, Philadelphia: World Scientific)

I hasten to add, for the sake of fairly representing this quote, that in
1985 Needham was still defending diffusion -- he has just thrown in the
towel on the coconut and gourd.  He still maintains that the Sweet Potato
is still a very likely candidate as evidence of contact (pg 61).  He also
mentions the "chinese" peanut, cotton, and a strange plant found in Assam
in the 1950's which  one researcher (Jeffreys) maintains represents a
pre-contact maize, and the Amaranths, but Needham expresses the
doubtfulness and ambiguity of all of these.  If the full quotation is
desired, I will give it.

As to the culture traits which have grown in importance, since I haven't
read the earlier Needham, I don't know how RELATIVELY strong or weak his
current culture traits (in comparison to the earlier work) are but I still
find them all weak and unsupported.  This isn't always his fault; I
suspect he would not have even tried to make the laconic case he did for
the "resemblence" between Mayan hieroglyphs and Chinese characters (pg 16)
if the state of Mayan epigraphy was (in 1985) where it is now.  Though by
'85 most of the real breakthroughs had happened, it had not really had
time to sink in everywhere.  

This assertion that even Needham's "strongest" arguments are weak is my
own opinion, but in each case I'd be happy to share where I think the
weakness lies.

--Greg Keyes