ancient corn in India
hmccullo at ecolan.sbs.ohio-state.edu
Thu Jul 10 10:44:49 EST 1997
I have now located the 1992 and 1993 notes by Kumar and Sachan
on the genetics of northeastern Himalyan (NEH) maize, demonstrating
that is more closely related to certain primitive Mexican and
Peruvian maizes than it is to the Caribbean maize introduced
by the Spaniards into Europe after Columbus. These NEH maizes
even have traits in common with teosinte, the wild Mexican ancestor
of maize, that are completely unknown in modern maizes.
K&S conclude on the basis of this genetic evidence that maize
was introduced into Asia long before Columbus.
This finding corroborates the contention of Johannessen and
Parker, discussed below, that hundreds of sculptures in pre-
Columbian Hindu Temples from Karnataka State, India, represent
ears of maize. Curiously, however, Sachan himself is one of
the leading critics of J&P. (Payak and Sachan, Economic
Botany, 1993, pp. 202-5, Payak and Sachan, Nature, 1988, pp.
The 1993 K&S paper, reproduced below, explains the significance
of the genetic finds. The 1992 paper, which I have in Word 5.1 format
that won't reproduce well here,
has the genetic details. It mentions without elaboration the "prehistoric
introduction [of maize] into the NEH region", but leaves the reader
Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter 1993, vol. 67, p. 98
pusa, bihar, india
Rajendra Agricultural University
Antiquity of maize in India
--M. Kumar and J. K. S. Sachan
Post-Columbian introduction of maize into India by the Portuguese in
the 16th century or later has been accepted by most of the maize
workers. However, the peculiar features of maize being grown in remote
northeastern Himalayan tracts adjoining Burma and Tibet have stimulated
an interesting discussion among maize workers on the possible
pre-Columbian introduction of maize in these hilly tracts of the
Himalayas. This curiosity has led to extensive work on various aspects
of the NEH maize. Some observations on ethno-botany (.Stonor and
Anderson, 1949; Marszewski, 1968, 1978), plant type (.Mukherjee et al.,
1971; Singh, 1977, 1989; Sachan and Sarkar, 1982), pachytene analysis
(.Gupta and Jain, 1971; Dash et al. 1986, Pande et al., 1988; Kumar and
Sachan, 1992), chromosome banding (.Mohan and Raut, 1980; Sachan et al.,
1982; Pande et al., 1983) and biochemical assays (.Pereira et al., 1983)
have been reported.
.Jeffreys (1965) has suggested that maize had been introduced by the
Arabs and not by the Portuguese, in the pre-Columbian era. The Indian
names for maize, like Makka jouri (Mecca sorghum), Makka jola (Mecca
sorghum), Makkai (grain of Mecca), Mukka Cholam (Mecca sorghum) etc.
provide evidence for such a hypothesis. Kuleshov (1928) reported that
varieties similar to those described from the Naga tribes are widespread
in Central Asia from Persia and Turkestan to Tibet and Siberia.
However, Ashraf (1990, personal communication) has discounted such a
diffusion of maize in India by the Arabs, and instead cited the mention
of maize as "Markataka" in ancient Sanskrit religious texts, 'Vishnu
Purana' and 'Apasthamba Saruta Sutra'. Etymology of this terminology
and subsequent derivation of the term "Mak" or "Maka" appears to be
convincing (.Ashraf, 1990). Further depiction of so-called maize "ears"
in Indian sculptures in Somnathpur and other Hoysala temples of 12-13
century A.D. as well as some other older Hindu and Buddhist temples has
been cited (.Johannessen and Parker, 1989) as evidence of pre-Columbian
diffusion of maize in India. However, depiction of maize "ears" in
Hoysala temples was refuted by Sachan and Payak (Nature, 1989).
.Stonor and Anderson's (1949) contention of uniqueness of maize grown
by various ethnic groups of erstwhile greater Assam is further supported
by the presence of four new knob forming positions at 1Lb, 2Lt, and 9Lb
in these NEH strains (.Kumar, MNL60, 1992) which are hitherto unknown in
maize of the West Hemisphere. It is interesting to note that these knob
positions, though absent in maize, are present in Mexican teosinte.
Similarly, some new knob positions in two Sikkim Primitive strains, SP1
and SP2, have been identified earlier also (.Gupta and Jain, 1971).
These knob positions, 7L, 8S, 8L and 10La, were not present in evolved
varieties. Hence, it can be concluded that there were two sets of maize
introductions in NEH (a) in prehistoric times through a sea/land route
much before the discovery of America by Columbus in 1492, and (b) in the
post-Columbian era by Christian missionaries, material which essentially
resembles Caribbean germplasm. Presence of both low and high knob
number groups of maize strains in the NEH region of India further
suggests two possible lineages (a) Nal-Tel-Chapalote complex, (b)
Confite Morocho and to some extent Palomero Toluqueno.
The pre-Columbian introduction must have taken place through
trans-Pacific routes. Otherwise, there would have been traces of this
kind of maize along the trade routes during the post-Columbian era. The
absence of such traces suggests that pre-Columbian introduction of maize
into the Himalayan region might have taken place through routes across
southeast Asia and the Pacific islands (.Sachan et al., 1978; Ashraf,
Deep involvement of maize in the customs, tradition and economy of
tribal people in the centre NEH further supports the prehistoric
introduction of maize in these areas (.Thapa, 1966). Also two written
records, namely Tien, non Pen tS'ao (Chinese) and Vamsavali (Nepalese)
support the view that maize was cultivated in the Arunanchal, Bhutan,
Sikkim and North Burma in the pre-Columbian time (.Marszewski, 1978).
[Posted by permission of Ed Coe, Editor, MGCNL. MGCNL is so informal
it does not list references. Coe says most of these can be found by
going to www.agron.missouri.edu, go to WWW query / Focused Query/
Reference, and searching there. Eventually these back issues of MGCNL
will be online at www.agron.missouri.edu]
The K&S contention that this introduction "must" have been trans-Pacific
seems rather strong. There is no particular reason Indian ships rounding
the Cape of Good Hope would introduce new crops, even if they stopped
In order to season the "chowder" so to speak, I am adding sci.agriculture and
bionet.plants. For the benefit of these readers, the following is added for
>On Monday, on sci.archaeology, I wrote:
>>Carl Johannessen has put 3 color photos of apparent
>>maize ears in 13-th century temples from Karnataka State,
>>India, on his web site:
>>He's just getting the hang of the web, and the site is
>>under major construction, so please bear with tpyos,
>>etc. He plans to add more photos in the future.
>>The color photos add a dimension not found in the B&W's
>>published in his article with Anne Parker in _Economic Botany_,
>>"Maize Ears Sculptured in 12th and 13th Century AD India
>>as Indicators of Pre-Columbian Diffusion", 1989, 164-80.
>>Yuri K. has posted several of these on his site, qv:
>>[corrected - thanks, Yuri], and second page linked there.
>I have since discovered that Johannessen's programmer
>introduced a small distortion in the aspect ratio of the
>photographs. The worst case is Photo #3, whose original is
>568 pixels wide and 983 pixels high. Yet this is presented
>as 500 x 800, with the result that the maize ear appears
>squatter than it already is. Also, Photo #2 appears a little
>thinner than it really is. To view the photos without this
>distortion, simply click on them, then change the extension
>.html in the URL to .JPG (caps required). Eg, simply change
>.../maize1.html to .../maize1.JPG The resulting image may
>then be printed out, with spectacular results using an
>inexpensive Inkjet or similar color printer, filing almost a
>whole page. I called this to Carl's attention, but it may be
>a while until he gets around to correcting it.
>In order to elicit input from people who are knowledgeable about
>exotic Indian fruits that may look similar to maize, I have added
>soc.culture.indian and soc.culture.karnataka. I have at the same time
>dropped sci.archaeology.mesoamerican, which is pretty much
>irrelevant except as the ultimate source of teocinte, the wild
>Mexican ancestor of maize, and changed the subject line a
>Background on this discussion may be found on Domingo
>Martinez' web site, which has a 78 K _index_ (!) of recent
>pertinent internet posts:
>>So far as I can tell, CJ's first photo is of
>>the same sculpture as Figure 3 in J&P, but
>>from a slightly different angle. This may also
>>be the same sculpture as in Payak & Sachan,
>>Nature, 27 Oct. 1988, Figure 2, but inverted.
>>(inadvertently flipped negatives is unfortunately a common
>>occurrence in published articles.)
>>CJ's second photo may be the same as Fig. 2 in J&P,
>>again from a different angle. This sculpture is
>>somewhat unusual, in that the "corncob" is being held
>>by a six-armed male diety, rather than, as is more common,
>>by a 2-armed human female attendant.
>>C&J's third photo appears to be the same photo as #10,
>>and the same sculpture as appears in CJ's note in Nature,
>>April 14, 1988. The "corncob" here is more mango-shaped
>>than many of the others (or maybe I'm think of papayas --
>>it's like an oversized egg), but has very un-mango-like
>>kernels, arranged in very maize-like parallel vertical rows
>>in the top half, combined, in also very maize-like fashion, with
>>a scrambled or tessellated pattern in the bottom half.
>>So what do these look like to the average Man on the Net
>>and/or the average Woman on the Web? Pomegranates? Hand
>>Some question was raised here a while back as to the
>>antiquity of the sculptures. CJ notes on his page that
>>"These sculptures are built into temples as load bearing walls
>>with mortis[e] and tenon joints at top and bottom of
>>each sculpted block." Furthermore, written records
>>document the date of construction of the temples, and even
>>the names of some of the sculptors.
>>Greg Keyes recently mentioned pertinent communications by
>>J&P critic Sachan (at least apparently the same Sachan)
>>in the Maize Genetics Cooperation Newsletter, 1992 and
>>also 1993. Apparently Sachan believes, on the basis of
>>genetic data, but without reference to the sculptures,
>>that maize must have been established in Asia
>>well before 1492. This is very pertinent, since if true it
>>would corroborate the iconographic evidence J&P elicit.
>>Many critics of J&P take the position that since there is
>>no independent evidence of pre-Columbian maize, the
>>scuptures can't be maize, no matter what they look like.
>>Sachan (Nature 1988) does not in fact accept that the
>>sculptures are maize, but that's really a separate issue.
>>This MGC Newsletter must be pretty obscure, since Ohio
>>State, with a big Ag School and even extensive cornfields,
>>doesn't get it, nor does any big library in Ohio. I've taken
>>up Greg's kind offer to track the exact reference down and
>>perhaps even get a photocopy of it.
>>-- Hu McCulloch
>> Econ Dept.
>> Ohio State U
>> mcculloch.2 at osu.edu
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