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maize in ancient India: transpacific links (cont.)


[part 2 of 2]

Of course, information about this interesting ancient Indian (and
Chinese) corn has been around for a while (detailed bibliography is
given in the article). J. Needham wrote about this in his TRANS-PACIFIC
CONTACTS. But hard studies about this were quite scarce until this
publication in ECONOMIC BOTANY. 
      We photographed and studied the Hoysala temples at Somnathpur,
      Belur, and at Halebid in 1986. Dozens of other Hoysala temples
      may contain similar "maize" carvings. (p. 164)
      Many temples in South India contain abundant stone carvings
      that look remarkably like maize ears. They are depicted being
      held erect in the hands of attendants to the gods with very
      specific hand symbols (mudras), always with thumb and index
      finger touching and middle finger extended along the axis of
      the ear. (p. 170)
There is a great number of those carved representations in the three
temples discussed in the article.
      In Somnathpur, we find two male and 63 female attendants to
      the deities holding the "maize ears". (p. 170)
The following temples are also reported to have similar carvings,
      Sravana Belagola, a Jain Temple complex, 8th century AD;
      Boddgaya Temple, 1st century BC; and a Rajasthan (Kuvera)
      Temple, 8th century AD. ... [They are] comparable with those
      [of the temples under discussion]. (p. 175)
And there are many more others... So one thing that cannot
be doubted is the wide presence of corn in India in those ancient
times. These are no flukes...
      ...this maize-like fertility symbol must have been present
      long enough before the 12th-13th century AD for it to have
      been incorporated into the religious symbolism in many Hoysala
      temples. (p. 171)
      Maize is so tightly integrated at the Somnathpur, Belur, and
      Halebid temples that it might even be postulated that maize
      was the _cause celebre_ of the Hoysala Dynasty. (p. 179)
In the article, authors discuss what else could have been
represented by these carvings, but any alternative suggestions (such
as annona, pandanus, pomegranates, and mango fruits, considered on p.
171) appear unpersuasive.
Authors list possible difficulties with their conclusions, but they
don't appear too difficult in the least. One item of interest that
they bring up is the nature of evidence for ancient maize pollen in
India. Such evidence have been found in "two separate cores in two
mires in Kashmir" (p. 175), but so far such evidence is fragmentary.
Authors suggest that the sites in question should be recored and
examined again. But the difficulties with the evidence from pollen
cannot cast doubt on the _unequivocal evidence_ from stone carvings
that we already possess -- it can only, in the future, perhaps
provide us with additional supporting details about when and where
corn was in India. 
An interesting consideration is the lack of large scale present-day
corn cultivation in the areas where temples are. The authors give a
reasonable explanations as to why this is so. The best explanation,
it appears to me, is that corn was, at some point in time, replaced
in these areas by other crops that appealed more to the populace,
for whatever reasons. Authors inform us that corn (including of some
rather unusual, and possibly very ancient varieties) is still grown
in India, but it is grown usually at higher elevations.
      ... it [corn] appears to be a dominant staple for many
      (perhaps all) of the "Hill Tribes" in India and the Himalayan
      peoples up to about 1,700 m (8,000 feet)... (p. 176)
This alone, to me, is a strong indication of antiquity. It is a matter
well-known to anthropologists that the higher one goes into the
mountain areas, the more ancient and the more indigenous the tribes
residing there are. Usually, invading tribes throughout history come
in from the plains and push the previous residents (the more
indigenous peoples) to less fertile areas at higher elevations.
(Alternately, they can be pushed further into the jungle areas.) In
turn, the previous arrivals to this general area push the even more
indigenous people ever higher up into the hills. This sort of a
process was, and of course still is, quite common around the world.
(The destruction of native cultures is occurring at a very high rate
The authors mention briefly the very interesting variety of corn
found in the Sikkim area in the Himalayas. 
      In the remote valleys in the Himalayas such as Tashigang in
      Bhutan and Ilam in eastern Nepal, we find primitive popcorns
      with seven to nine ears per stem, all concentrated in the
      upper 20% of the stem. Similar "Sikkim primitive" popcorn was
      also recorded ... [elsewhere in Sikkim] ... [and] in
      northeastern India. These stems have distinctive arrangements
      of leaves and ear locations and tassels that droop in a form
      not typical for American maize. (p. 177)
The varieties of corn in India and in China are often quite unlike
the ones found in the Americas. In particular, besides the "Sikkim
primitive", the authors mention the "conical" corn with a "somewhat
pregnant shape like the Mysore carvings" (in Bhutan, p. 177). Such
variety is normally a sign of ancient speciation. Also, the waxy 
starch maize is found widely in Asia,
      Waxy starch maize is widespread in Asia from Manchuria and
      Korea to Burma and Assam, but rare in ancient America. This is
      a sticky starch. Professor You Xiuling of Hangzhou (pers.
      comm.) has stated that waxy-starched maize in China has a
      significantly distinctive isozyme distribution that is very
      different from New World maize isozymes. How far these new
      isozyme patterns extend into Southeast Asia and Subcontinent
      India has not yet been thoroughly explored, but Sachan et al.
      (1982) and Sachan and Sarkar (1986a,b) found that the multi-
      eared Sikkim primitive popcorn exhibits a distinct
      constitutive heterochromatic phenomenon similar to that found
      in South American maizes. Therefore, some ancient maizes have
      likely existed in Asia for a long time. (p. 177)
So, great genetic variation of maize in India is an additional
strong indicator of its antiquity there.
Obviously more research needs to be done about all this, and maybe
it is already being done, since, after all, the article was written
in '89. 
Also, the authors say this,
      Finally, we should admit that only a few geographers,
      ethnobotanists, and anthropologists believe that maize was
      present in India before Columbus. Most researchers in these
      sciences have not seen the temples and the extensive
      representations of maize nor have they seen the variability of
      maize in the Americas; they are probably unaware of the
      evidence. (p. 176)
Academics unaware of important evidence? I think we have heard these
words before somewhere... 

Much needs to be done to evalute this evidence fully, and to put it in
the context of culture development on both sides of the Pacific. It's
interesting that two important "Smoking Guns" for diffusion provided by
botany, the maize and the sweet potato, both indicate that cultural
traits diffused _from_ the Americas to the Old World. This should give
pause to those who like to toss around the accusation that the
diffusionists "minimize and discount" the creativity of the ancient
American peoples. For here, we have precisely the case when the ancient
Americans contributed much to the Old World _even before_ Columbus'
"discovery". (Of course, all of us know how many plants came from America
_post-Columbus_ to enrich world agriculture.)

Who is minimizing what here? I, for one, _know_ how creative and talented
the ancient Americans were, and how much they have accomplished. The
diffusionists that I read only wish to describe the particulars of
cultural evolution objectively -- the way it was in reality. That reality
clearly included cultural interaction across the Pacific that went _both
ways_, starting from a very early date. To pretend that good evidence for
this does not exist, to close one's eyes to all this, is to choose to
live in a world of delusion, it seems to me... 



            =O=    Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto    =O=
  --- a webpage like any other...  http://www.io.org/~yuku ---
It matters [whether Monte Alban ceramics reflect Chinese art forms]
because questions of human inventiveness and the nature of human
freedom are involved, and these are pivotal for the understanding of
humans everywhere.  D. Frazer, THEORETICAL ISSUES IN THE TRANS-
PACIFIC CONTROVERSY, Social Research, 32 (1965) p. 453, as quoted by
J. Needham.