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Re: maize in Europe and India: a twisted tale

[part 2 of my reply to Greg]


You wrote further,

GKeyes6988 (gkeyes6988@aol.com) wrote:

: 2.  The maize races of Asia are still poorly researched understood and
: their lineages thus uncertain.

To me, this is a very important finding. Further, you wrote,

: I then did index searches on the most current books on maize genetics I
: could find, searching in particular for current findings on the origins of
: Asian maize, genetic distance from other types of maize, "waxy" maize,
: Sikkim maize, etc.


: Goodman and Brown, in CORN AND CORN IMPROVEMENT (Sprague and Dudley,
: eds. 1988) sum up what seems to be the consensus on Asian varieties in
: their chapter "Races of Corn":

: "This report contains no reference to corn found outside of the Western
: Hemisphere.  There are many reasons for this, the foremost of which is the
: limited information available on the variability of corn of Europe,
: Africa, and Asia.  In our opinion, much more information is needed before
: a complete and orderly classification of the corn of the Old World is
: possible (Goodman and Brown pg 39).

: In other words, while the  maize races in the New World can be grouped
: into lineages based upon genetic evidence (the rest of their chapter) we
: cannot yet do this with Old World maize.

So, here we go. It turns out that this whole area of Old World maize is
not yet studied and surveyed adequately. Important information is
lacking. And, at the same time, it seems like this research is continuing
and, perhaps, not too far in the future we will have some important
answers based on genetic evidence. 

This is the area that, I believe, will provide in due time the answers
that we seek. These answers will be pretty definitive -- one way or the
other -- because they will indicate strongly how long maize was in India,
and whether or not it was pre-Columbian. 

And now, to your final conclusion,

: 3.  Some races of maize in India are suggestive of pre-Columbian
: distribution.

And further you write,

: I combed through two sets of journals dedicated to the study of maize
: genetics.  They were unindexed, as far as I could tell, so I went to the
: tables of contents.  These journals were  MAIYECAE (I may have mispelled
: this.  I found nothing of note and forgot to write down the title) and 
: the MAIZE GENETICS COOPERATION NEWSLETTER.  The first I scanned back to
: 1980, the second (which was more voluminous) back to 1990.


: By the by, though Sachan (along with Kumar) also disputes Johennessen's
: assertions, he makes his own, more cogent argument for an old variety of
: maize in India.

Frankly, I find this quite remarkable. So, it seems like the major
critics of Johannessen THEMSELVES think that maize was pre-Columbian in
India?! How's this for a surprise? Say what you may, but don't S & K seem
here like they are painting themselves into a corner, in a manner of

You know, if _I_ wanted to discredit J & P, I would be announcing to any
and all that those carvings are not maize -- that maize was nowhere to be
found in India before Columbus -- that the very idea is fantastic, etc... 
I would _not_ be declaring to the world that these carvings are not maize
-- BUT maize was around in India around that time anyway... 

At the very least we should be grateful to J & P for being objective
enough to admit, in effect, that their findings are ambivalent.

: 3.  I found two articles by Sachan and Kumar in the "Maize Cooperation
: Genetics Newsletter.  In the first, from 1992, they examine some genetic
: peculiarities of some maize in the Himalayan region, mostly to do with
: "knob" positions on chromosomes. They note:

: "The presence of some new and unusual knob positions in NEH maize,
: hitherto unknown in American maize races, have been identified in the
: present study (1992: pg 84)"

: What they suggest is that this maize has many "primititive"
: characteristics of Teosinte.  In 1993, they go farther, arguing that this
: could be explained by a very early form of maize  coming across in
: pre-Columbian times (I took notes on this article but seem to have
: misplaced the photocopy, so I cannot quote from it -- I'll get it again,
: if anyone is interested). 

Well, I sure am interested...

: A  study of Sikkim maize produced more
: equivocal results: they allow that it might be related to the Confite
: Morocho (Peruvian) Toluqueno or Nal-Tel_Chapalote complex of Mexico (1992
: pg 84).  This latter point of view was held by Mangelsdorf.

: I am in no position to support or refute the claims of Sachan and Kumar --
: I do not frankely understand much of their data and analysis techniques --
: and in my brief research period I found no rebuttle to their postion on
: the Himalayan corn.  In their 1993 paper, they admit that most corn
: researchers do not buy the early corn theory, but that in itself doesn't
: mean anything.  These two seem to be of a small handful of expert
: researchers in the area of Indian corn genetics (going by the other papers
: in the six years of issues I looked at)


And you conclude,

: I can only conclude that the question of the antiquity of maize in Asia
: is unsettled. 

Yes, this is the way it seems. Unsettled, but for how long? Perhaps not 
for too long...

Also, what about those findings of ancient Indian maize pollen? This is
another very relevant direction of research that you haven't mentioned in
your post (as if it wasn't long enough already <grin>). Perhaps very soon
we will have more evidence on this that will clarify things considerably?
I think this, too, is on its way...

So, to summarize, I think all our sometimes heated debates in these ngs
were certainly not in vain. Because we are not talking about Unicorns
here. We are talking about a major scientific and historical puzzle, this
much is true. But this puzzle certainly has a solution. Science is more
than capable of providing a solution here, and it seems like science is
very close to providing this solution. The answer will be loud and clear
-- either yes, or no.

If yes, i. e. maize indeed came to India before Columbus, this will be a
huge breakthrough that will shed much light on research in quite a large
number of disciplines: archaeology, anthropology, ethnobotany, and
ancient AND modern history, to name but a few. This will prove beyond any
reasonable doubt that ancient Americans possessed sailing craft capable
of crossing the Pacific, that they did cross the Pacific, and that they
perhaps even had regular links with Asia -- however incredible this may

Moreover, our whole understanding of Columbus and his "discovery" will
have to be reevaluated, as, also, our historical method, that, perhaps,
created/constructed and perpetuated a whole -- clearly Eurocentric --
false myth of "Columbus Bringing Maize to the World". 

And if no? What if the evidence will point in the other direction: that
maize was indeed introduced to India post-Columbus, as is commonly
believed now? (I think genetic research is probably _capable_ of coming
to such a conclusion at this stage. Please correct me if I'm wrong.)
Well, in this case the carvings may indeed represent some mythical Fruit
of Paradise, and Johannessen is wrong. I will accept such evidence if
it's conclusive, and will admit that I was wrong.

Meanwhile, I would welcome a reduction in the emotionalism of our
debates. All of us, I think, can see the limits of what we can achieve at
this stage by merely arguing about how these pictures look. Let the
pictures speak for themselves while we look forward to seeing the results
of the research that is being done. And let's hope that this research is
being done and will be published soon.

Best regards,



(provided originally by Domingo Martinez Castilla 

Johannessen, Carl, 1988 "Indian maize in the twelfth century B.C." 
Nature 332:587 (note that the date was wrong: should have said A.D.)

Johannessen and Parker 1989 "Maize ears sculptured..." Economic Botany. 

Payak and Sachan 1988 "Maize in Somnathpur, an Indian medieval temple",
Nature 335: 773-774

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. 202-

Veena and Sigamani 1991 "Do objects in friezes of Somanthpur temple (1268
AD) in South India represent maize ears?" Current Science 61:395-396


            =O=    Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto    =O=
  --- a webpage like any other...  http://www.io.org/~yuku ---
Diffusionist studies are not, as they are sometimes said to be,
attempts to depreciate the creativity of peoples; rather they are
efforts to locate and specify this creativity. D. Frazer,
Research, 32 (1965) p. 454, as quoted by J. Needham.