Ancient corn in India

Hu McCulloch mcculloch.2 at
Thu Aug 21 16:40:06 EST 1997

The following new website provides links to photographs
by Carl Johannessen of pre-Columbian sculptures from 
Somnathpur and other temples in India that appear to 
include ears of maize:

Also included are references to the literature, links to 
pertinent websites, and the text of a 1993 article by 
M. Kumar and J.K.S. reporting independent, genetic 
evidence of pre-Columbian maize in the Indian subcontinent.

Readers may also be interested in Domingo Martinez's
site indexing recent internet discussion of this issue.
His index alone is 78 KB!  :

P. Satish posted the following pertinent message on 
bionet.plants that may have been overlooked by 
interested readers:

>From:         sathish at BIOKEMI.SU.SE ("Sathish, P.")
>Date:         1997/07/18
>Message-Id:   <33CF6C45.BA58F4BB at>
>Newsgroups:   bionet.plants
>[More Headers]


>For some reason my earlier post to this group on this topic did not get
>posted and so I am posting this again.  About 13 years ago, I happened
>to attend classes taught by Dr. Sarkar and Dr. Sachan.  They both are
>very meticulous researchers and probably the best in India when it comes
>to maize genetics and cytogenetics.  If Dr. Sachan is a critic of Dr.
>Johannessen, then maybe there is some reason behind it.

His papers, referenced on my web page above, make important 
criticisms.  However, it's curious that even though his new paper with 
Kumar corroborates the presence of maize in pre-Columbian India,
he remains (with Payak) one of the leading critics of the sculptural 

>I hail from S. India, where the temples are located.  My ancestors are
>from Udupi, about 400 km west to Somnathpur and were involved in some of
>the temple duties of Udupi and adjoining area.  To my knowledge they
>have not associated any religious value to maize, unlike some other
>grains and fruits.  Temple traditions in India are still maintained to
>most extent as it were a few centuries ago.  So, how come a grain crop
>that is accorded a place of prominence in one area at one time has all
>of a sudden lost its position?  

That's a mystery, admittedly.  My guess is that after several years of 
abundant crops, a blight or smut attacked the strains being grown
in Karnataka, causing its cultivation to be abandoned entirely.  
Maize is said to be so domesticated that it can't properly 
germinate on its own, and so would quickly die out in the wild.

>      An understanding of the local culture,
>traditions and rituals are probably needed before interpreting
>sculptures.  Besides, Somnathpur is atleast 2000 km away from the
>secondary centre of origin of maize.  

Kumar and Sachan believe certain Northeastern Himalyan maizes
are pre-Columbian.  This may be 2000 KM from Karnataka in So. India,
but is still a heck of a lot closer than Mexico!

>     Why is there no record in regions
>inbetween, i.e between the described secondary centre of origin and
>Somnathpur, about the daily use of maize?  Are there any wild maize
>plants found in Somnathpur these days?  I agree with Dr. Pelmont that
>one should not jump into conclusions, but analyze the alternatives as

>I have some suggestions, which  have no scientific reasoning.  Popped
>rice balls is an important religious item in Udupi.  Maybe the statues
>are holding one of this.  

According to Johannessen and Parker (see reference on my page),
the kernel pattern is characteristic of maize.  Also, some of the sculptures
appear to have husks, partly or fully covering the ear, and some even 
have "corn silk" tassels.   But everything is worth considering.  
are there some clearcut sculptures of puffed rice balls somewhere
for comparison?

>        Or could it be the fruit refered to as
>"Dheeghujay" (a fruit that resembles Jackfuit but is much smaller -
>sorry I do not know the botanical nomenclature) in the local language? 
>Maybe others will have different opinions worth considering as well.

Does anyone know an English or botanical name for this, or where to find
a good picture or description?    I don't think anyone has proposed 
this yet.  

>Sincerely yours,
>P. Sathish Ph. D.
>Post-Doctoral Researcher,
>Department of Biochemistry,
>Arrhenius Laboratories for Natural Sciences,
>Stockholm University,
>S 106 91 Stockholm,

>Phone: +46 8 16 2464
>Fax: +46 8 15 3679
>E-mail: sathish at

-- Hu McCulloch
   Econ Dept.
   Ohio State Univ.
   mcculloch.2 at

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