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

In article <5dibns$of8$1@trends.ca> yuku@mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky) writes:
>Lars Arnestam (lars.arnestam@al.etx.ericsson.se) wrote:
>: I'm an absolute novice in the field, but I wonder:  If someone seriously
>: wanted to prove that maize was grown in India (or "the Old World")
>: before Columbus, couldn't pollen analysis be one mean of at least either
>: strengthening or weakening that hypothesis?  I realize that a very large
>: percentage of the land in India probably has been continually cultivated
>: for a very long time, but even so I don't think that it can be
>: impossible to find pollen deposits that are older than Columbus.  Does
>: anyone know anything about this?
>Well, Lars, this matter of pollen has certainly been considered by J&P. 
>In their ECONOMIC BOTANY article they summarize the evidence available. 
>Some ancient maize pollen in India has been apparently identified about 30
>years ago. But it seems that there has not been any recent effort to
>conduct further studies in this area. Please contact me by e-mail if
>you're interested in further refs. 

[soc.history.medieval edited out of followup per request of certain 
individuals in that group.]

The issue of maize pollen in India was previously discussed in sci.arch.meso.  
It is true that 35 years ago a few individuals thought they had identified 
maize pollen in ancient deposits, however, this identification contains 
enough problems that at least one author of the original identifications has 
since changed his mind about the accuracy of the indentification.  Below I 
include info. I previously posted which addresses each of the "maize 
pollen" cases cited in the Johannessen & Parker article.

Also in the same vein it was remarked by Jeffrey Baker (a grad. student 
student studying ancient Maya agriculture from an archaeological perspective) 
that there is a difficulty with identifying maize pollen because apparently it 
has significant overlap with various species of wild grasses making it 
difficult to determine if a given pollen grain is from maize or a wild grass.

---------Previously posted comments on J&P's maize pollen cases:-----------
Johannessen and Parker (1989:175) list three cases where people may have 
recovered Precolumbian maize pollen from India

  Case 1 - they remark that the dating of the cores containing the pollen
    recovered by Singh (1963) is uncertain.  Also keep in mind the comments of
    Jeffrey Baker that the identification of maize pollen is not necessarily
    a simple task.
  Case 2 - In a nearby site of Tosh Maidan, maize pollen was identified in
    two other cores.  A review of the article (Singh 1963) indicates that not
    only did they identified maize pollen from a level dating to 2790 +/-160 B.P.,
    they also identified maize pollen stretching all the way back to 10,000 B.P.
    This is truly astounding since the earliest evidence we have of maize in
    the New World may date to about 7000 B.P. (some argue that it is even more
    recent).  So if Singh and co. are correct then they have domesticated maize
    in India about 3000 years before it was originally domesticated in the New
    World.  This runs counter to all evidence which indicates maize is a crop 
    New World origin.
  Case 3 - Vishnu-Mittre and Gupta (1966) initially believed they had recovered
    Precolumbian maize pollen and maize impressions from ceramics but by 1986 
    Vishnu-Mittre told Johannessen & Parker that he was no longer confident of 
    the identification.  Given that even the original researcher is not confident
    in the initial report, why should anyone else be?

So due to the problems of dating the cores, the difficulty of identifying maize
pollen and even the possibility of stratigraphic admixture it is easy to see 
that each case of "maize remains" listed in Johannessen & Parker is equivocal.
Given this it would certainly be very premature to conclude that Precolumbian
maize remains had definitely been found in India.

Peter van Rossum

Singh, Gurdip
  1963 "Post-glacial Vegetational History of the Kashmir Valley," The
       Palaeobotanist 12(1):73-108.

Singh, Gurdip & D.P. Agrawal
  1976 "Radiocarbon Evidence for Deglaciation in North-Western Himalaya, India,"
       Nature, 260:232.

Vishnu-Mittre, & H.P. Gupta
  1966 "Pollen Morphological Studies of Some Primitive Varieties of Maize (Zea
       Mays L.) with Remarks on the History of Maize in India," The Palaeobotanist