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Re: Maize origins [was re: "Corn" in medieval Europe]

In article <hmccullo.36.32FA0021@ecolan.sbs.ohio-state.edu>,
hmccullo@ecolan.sbs.ohio-state.edu (Hu McCulloch) wrote:

>                 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.  

This is an interesting proposition.  One of my objections to the
"maize in India" proposition was that maize was introduced into
Europe from the New World, not from India, even though traders 
reached India long before the New World was discovered.  Seeds of
a food crop are a very high profit item for traders.  They are
a cheap commodity at their point of origin, will reproduce themselves,
and can be sold for a large profit where they are unknown.  It seems
certain that maize would have been widely dispersed by European traders.

This does not explain why traders in the area did not disperse maize
throughout the east.  I'm not familiar with the history of India of
700 years ago, but I have never heard of an agrarian society that did
not welcome trade.  Maize in particular is one of the best adapted
crops for low moisture growing conditions, and will make a crop
in areas that are too dry for wheat, barley or millet.  Substantial
portions of Asia are well suited for maize cultivation.

Another question I have is why maize would have been the only food
crop traded.  North American natives also developed squash and beans 
as food crops.  Squash, in particular, are easy to grow, vastly 
productive, and a great source of vegetable oils as well as food.
Squash cultivation was well established in the New World by 1000 ce.
Other vegetable candidates for trade include tobacco and potatoes,
though potatoes are perishable and more difficult to transport.

In any reasonably dry area, it should be easy to find the remains of
maize cultivation.  Not only are the stalks and cobs quite woody and
persistant, but cobs have been used as raw material for manufacture
wherever they are available.  Think of corncob pipes, for instance.
Even if tobacco was not traded as a seed crop, the Indians certainly 
had plenty of other things to smoke.  Cobs are also used as natural
abrasive tools, and as the basis for dolls and figurines.  It might
be easy to dismiss a layer of maize cobs, but not so easy to ignore
a cob that had been used as a tool for polishing copper or silver.

Archaeology is an ongoing science, so we may all someday be surprised
by new discoveries.  In the meantime, interpreting the temple
carvings as maize makes no sense in the larger context of history,
culture, and evidence.

-- Larry