ancient corn

bortiz at cms.cc.wayne.edu bortiz at cms.cc.wayne.edu
Sun Jun 8 23:37:47 EST 1997


In article <5nebid$kq$2 at trends.ca>,
  yuku at mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky) wrote:
>
>
> : : Jeffreys did a lot of work on Portugese accounts. According to him, they
> : : confirm that corn was in the Old World before Columbus. I read about this
> : : (his article in MAN ACROSS THE SEA) a few months ago, and I believe his
> : : case is valid. I have something about this on my webpage. His case hinges
> : : on what term exactly the Portugese used for "maize".
> :

Paul Gans wrote;
> : I'll go 'round this again.  Linguistic terminology is not
> : at all helpful.  Terms shift constantly.  Anyone who has
> : dealt with medieval manuscripts knows this.  If the
> : case "hinges" on the meaning of a Portuguese word, it22
> : is hopeless.
>
> Hmm, Paul, did you think before you wrote this? Obviously you _didn't read
> the orginal article_, and yet you already _refuted_ it? Something wrong
> with this picture? Is someone's bias betrayed here?
>
> So scholars who study literary evidence to learn abour ancient or medieval
> crops all "are wasting their time" according to you? Funny that
> peer-reviewed journals published their research...
>
> Sorry, Paul, but you sound like an ignoramus above. An ignoramus who
> has no desire whatsoever to remedy his condition...
>
> Best,
>
> Yuri.
>

I hate to get into this but as usual Yuri relies on an obsolete and
discredited source *Man Across the Sea* published in 1971 and written
probably a couple of years before. As I've quoted before even the
diffusionists editors of the book wrote in it that "The consensus of
botanical evidence given in the symposium seems to be that *there is no
hard and fast evidence for any pre Columbian introduction of any single
plant* [emphasis in the original] across the ocean from the Old World to
the New World, or vice-versa. This is emphatically *not* [emphasis in the
original] to say that it could not have occurred (Riley, Kelley,
Pennnington, and Rands 1971: 452-453).

I again recommend that you read my article in *Current Anthropology*
where I discuss the so-called "evidence" for pre-Columbian African corn.
I quote:

"Jeffreys' arguments are primarily linguistic and mythological with
little archaeological support and have been severely criticized because
of this (Willets 1962; nine of eleven respondents to Jeffreys 1971).
Jeffreys' critical judgment can be discerned from his conclusion based on
an article by Li (1961), which Van Sertima also cites, that, "Li showed
not only that the Arabs had crossed the Atlantic well before A. D. 1100,
but also described maize." Li identified the destination described in two
Chinese texts dated A. D. 1175 and 1225 as Maracaibo, Venezuela. Li also
identifies large melons described as, "six feet round... enough for a
meal for twenty or thirty men," as pumpkins, and "grains of wheat...
three inches long," as kernels of large seeded Andean flour maize. How
one can take as fact rather than as fanciful inventions pumpkins with a
six foot diameter, is beyond us. Mangelsdorf (1974: 205) points out that
the proposed Andean maize is in fact post-Columbian and is not found in
plant remains in archaeological sites or depicted in prehistoric
ceramics. All of Jeffreys' and Van Sertima's linguistic pirouettes do not
outweigh the fact that, even though corn is particularly well suited to
be preserved archaeologically and has been abundantly found throughout
its range in the New World including the wet tropics, "not a single
corncob, unmistakenly pre-Columbian, has yet been found in any part of
the Old World (Mangelsdorf 1974: 206)." Corn was grown in Spain by 1498.
Giovanni Ramusio saw it growing in Venice in 1554, and by 1560 the
Portuguese were growing it in the Congo (Coe. S. 1994: 15-16). Mauny
(1971), based on a A.D. 1605 report by Pieter de Marees, which he
considers to be the first true reference to maize in Africa, argues that
maize was brought by the Portuguese from the West Indies to Sao Tomé and
then transmitted to the coast, (where it was unknown) and to other parts
of Africa after A.D. 1550. In considering the rapidity with which the
cultivation of corn was diffused throughout Africa after its introduction
by the Portuguese, Miracle's (1966: 196) observation that "regardless of
how long maize may have been established in eastern Africa, it was little
observed before the end of the sixteenth century," is quite revealing."

COE, S. D. 1994. *America's First Cuisines*. Austin: University of Texas
Press. Jeffreys, M.E. W.1971. Maize and the Mande Myth. *Current
Anthropology* 12: 291 320. Li, H. L. 1961. A Case for pre-Columbian
Transatlantic Travel by Arab Ships. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies*
23: 114-126. Mangelsdorf, P. C. 1974. *Corn. Its Origin and Improvement*.
Cambridge: University Harvard Press. Mauny, R. 1971. Comment to M. D. W.
Jeffries Maize and the Mande Myth," *Current Anthropology* 12: 309-310.
Miracle, M. P. 1966. *Maize in Tropical Africa*. Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press. Riley, C. L., C. W. Pennington, and R. L. Rands, eds.
1971. *Man Across the Sea. Problems of Pre-Columbian Contacts*. Austin:
University of Texas Press.Willet, F. 1962. The Introduction of Maize into
West Africa: An Assessment of Recent Evidence. *Africa* 32: 1-13.

Bernard Ortiz de Montellano

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