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Re: Old World maize: archaeological evidence? Yes!

In article <5e74ms$s02$1@trends.ca> yuku@mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky) writes:

[Discussion of evidence for maize in India deleted]

I said:
>: Already did, already posted twice why the evidence is not compelling.  Here 
>: I'll post it for you again.  

Yuri replied:
>No you didn't. Your old post was only talking about the pollen evidence,
>and I read it carefully the first time you posted it. I did not make any
>reference to pollen evidence in my latest post. What I'm talking about now
>is the _archaeological evidence_. 
>[deletions..] Vishnu-Mittre was talking about _two
>kinds of evidence_: pollen AND ALSO about grain impressions on potsherds.
>But your post is dealing ONLY with pollen. 

Thank you for the clarification, it seems I did misunderstand the intent of
your last post.  Can I assume however, that we are in agreement that as far
as we know there have been no verified reports of the finding of the actual 
remains of maize in Precolumbian India (there have been some reports of
finding pollen but these are under serious debate)?

Let me now address the piece of evidence you were referring to. Vishnu-Mittre 
& Gupta (1966) do report finding two ceramic sherds with more or less parallel 
depressions that they thought might have been made by rolling a corn cob over 
the ceramic surface while it was still wet.

It is undeniable that they found two sherds with parallel depressions, the
question remains, however, was this pattern made by using a Precolumbian
corn cob?  Here's what they say on the topic:

  "The identity of the impressions on the potsherd to a cob of maize is
   perhaps of prior importance before the age of the specimen is considered.
   The plasticine casts of modern cobs of maize produced by rolling them
   on the plasticine mould of a potsherd produced identical prints, although
   the alternation of rows of grains was prominently marked on the plasticine
   casts rather than on the actual specimen" (V-M. & G. 1966, p. 182-183).

So it appears there own attempts at replicating the design produced a similar
but not identical patterning.  They then went on to get the opinion of other
experts in the field:

  "For confirmation of its identity to cobs of maize, photographs of the
   specimen were sent to Dr. Manglesdorf for his opinion.  Disagreeing that
   the impressions could be of maize, he suggested the following possibilities
   after consulting some of his colleagues - Dr. Richard MacNeish of the 
   National Museum of Canada and Dr. James Griffin of the University of
   Michigan -
    1. that it could be the impression of a piece of basketry.
    2. or of a coarse textile or fabric." (V-M & G. 1966, p. 183).

So they sent photographs to one of the leading researchers on maize origins
who along with two of the major figures in New World archaeology disagree
with the hypothesis that the indentations were made by a maize cob.  They
also sent photographs to another expert (a Dr. Dhawan) who responded in
the following way:

  "Dr. Dhawan of I.A.R.I. gives the following three reasons in support of
   his view that the impressions could not be of maize -
    1. There are six rows of depressions, corresponding to the rows in a 
   maize ear.  The imprint should make a concave depressions if it were made
   by a maize ear.  The photograph does not show this.
    2. In an ear of maize the grains in adjacent rows alternate with one
   another.  In the photograph this alternating pattern is absent.
    3. In the actual size photograph, there appear to be six rows.  The
   imprint indicates that if it was a maize ear, it must have been very small.
   It is difficult to visualize how such a small ear of maize could make an
   imprint of six rows from one face." (V-M & G. 1966, p. 183).

Again another expert disagrees with the identification that the impressions
were made by a maize cob.

Let's also see what Johannessen & Parker have to say regarding this piece of

  "Potsherds with maize ear imprints are reported from a pair of archaeological
   examples: Vishnu-Mittre (1966) from 1435 A.D. at Kolhapur, Madhya Pradesh.
   His photograph of the pieces of the pot provides a comparison of shape in
   which the oval cavities created by the kernels are rectilinear, with a W/T
   ratio of about 2.0, and the 'kernels' are arranged in parallel rows, not
   tessellate, on the visible portions of his photograph.  Vishnu-Mittre
   postulated that a leaf-like impression on the potsherd may be from a maize
   leaf.  If maize was the source of the imprint the W/T ratio of 2.0 would
   have to have been that of actual 800-yr-old maize.  However, the sculptor's
   representation of the maizes in the 13th century A.D. temples has an average
   W/T ratio of 1.3.  Therefore, the W/T ratio may be too high for maize to
   have made the imprint." (J&P 1989, p. 175).

So even J&P (who are championing the Precolumbian maize in India hypothesis) 
have trouble reconciling the imprints with their analysis.

>Vishnu-Mittre said in a published article that he was certain maize was 
>in Kashmir before 1430 based on _archaeological evidence_. I'm not aware of 
>any retractions he made from these claims. Let me know if you find any. 
>Otherwise, his old claim still stands.

Well, I don't know if he has decided to retract his original view on this
point but it seems pretty clear that there is a great deal of debate as to
whether he was initially correct.  And anyway his original view is not nearly
so strong as you claim it to have been ("was certain maize was in Kashmir 
before 1430").  Also note the recent paleobotanical investigation of Kashmir
by Lone et al (1993) which does not report finding any Precolumbian maize in
any of the assemblages investigated.

Peter van Rossum

Johannessen, Carl L. & Anne Z. Parker
  1989 "Maize Ears Sculptured in 12th and 13th Century A.D. India as
       Indicators of Pre-Columbian Diffusion." Economic botany 43(2):164-???.

Lone, Farooq A., Maqsooda Khan, G.M. Buth. Rotterdam, A.A. Balkema
  1993 Palaeoethnobotany, plants and ancient man in Kashmir.

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 15(1-2):176-184.