maize in Europe and India: a twisted tale

Yuri Kuchinsky (
28 Dec 1996 21:59:26 GMT

[follow-ups directed to: sci.archaeology,sci.anthropology,]

Ladies and gentlemen,

The story of maize is becoming ever more curious to me, the more I
investigate this matter. Yes, I was aware for some time of maize
being mentioned as an indicator of trans-oceanic contacts in early
antiquity. But I didn't really investigate it in depth, as I was
under the impression that the evidence for its antiquity in the Old
World was mostly based on linguistic grounds. And by experience, I
know that any theory based on linguistic evidence can be twisted and
minimized in a hundred different ways... (Fortunately, currently we
have much more than the linguistic evidence -- we have the photos!)

Well, now I looked closely at the old research again. I will be
basing this posting on the article PRE-COLUMBIAN MAIZE IN ASIA, by
M. D. W. Jeffreys, in MAN ACROSS THE SEA, U. of Texas Press, 1971,
quite a respectable source. What this material indicates is that the
evidence for the antiquity of maize in the Old World is based on
both genetic, as well as linguistic and historical research. This
evidence appears to be very strong. (This article doesn't mention a
word about the carvings of corn-cobs in ancient Indian temples, the
subject that Carl Johannessen investigated recently.)

The article shows conclusively that maize was present in Asia, AS
WELL AS _in Europe_ before Columbus. Now, the latter should
certainly give us pause. Indeed, if the Europeans seem to be so
confused about whether or not maize was known in Europe before
Columbus, what hope is there for the Europeans to determine if maize
was present in ancient China?! Or in India!? Think again about
this... (Of course I refer here only to the arguments based on the
linguistic and the historical evidence. Archaeology should have been
able to provide definitive "hard proof" on this, but such has not
been provided yet, apparently.)

In any case, the evidence for pre-Columbian _European_ corn is what
impresses me most in this article now. Indeed, what we seem to have
discovered here is a whole process of a _construction_ of a big
"modern myth" of "Columbus Bringing Back the Corn to Europe and the
World"! How's this for amazing?

The story, as Jeffrey gives it, is that maize really came to Europe
from Asia before Columbus. So, here are the key quotes:

Among the early botanists who were convinced of the Asiatic
origin of maize were Ruellius, Fuchs, Bock, Tragus, and
Dodoens. Some of these men were contemporaries of Columbus. To
this list Mangelsdorf and Oliver (1951: 264) add Sismondi,
Michana, Gregory, Loncier, Amoreux, Regnier, Viterbo, Doncier,
Taberna-montanus, Bonafous, St. John de Turre, Daru, de
Herbelot, and Klippart. Bertagnolli is another. (op. cit.

Well, what a list! (I just _had to_ type in all those names...)
Jeffreys (on p. 397) even quotes from the diaries of Leonardo da
Vinci to indicate that corn was a staple in Italy at that time, in
1495-97. Further on he says,

Until 1570 all commentators on maize were agreed that it
reached Europe via Asia. On this unanimity of opinion Finan
(1950: 156) remarked: "For the first thirty years in which
maize is discussed in the herbals, there is no mention that it
had been brought in from America. [!!!] ... During this period
the general opinion among the herbalists was that maize came
to Europe from the Orient. It was not until 1570, with the
herbal of Matthiolus (1570, p. 305) who had seen the text in
Oviedo's GENERAL AND NATURAL HISTORY, that an American origin
for maize is suggested." (p. 399)

In his article Jeffreys also gives plenty of linguistic evidence for
the antiquity of maize in Europe and Asia Minor. I will not get into
these arguments here.

So, here we go. What do we have here so far? Something strange for
sure... If we accept Jeffrey's evidence, it means that a _powerful
false myth_ was created in Europe about maize and its introduction
to the Old World post-Columbus. And if so, then some sort of an
explanation should be suggested for this, surely... How would have
this sort of a thing happened? After thinking long and hard, I would
say it's nothing less than the old _Eurocentrism_ that would lie at
the core of this. How so? Simple. The proud Europeans, the
"discoverers of America" could simply not face the reality of the
fact that someone else in the Old World, i.e. the Asians, had
"discovered" maize before them!

Not only that. The proud Europeans could not probably face the fact
that the Asians could have had any links with America -- without the
proud and mighty Europeans coming around to Asia first and _then_
linking Asia with America! So this is how it looks to me... Strange
and amazing this "story of maize"...

[continued in the next posting]

Best regards,

=O= Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto =O=
--- a webpage like any other... ---

We should always be disposed to believe that that which
appears white is really black, if the hierarchy of the
Church so decides === St. Ignatius of Loyola