Re: maize in ancient India: transpacific links (cont.)

Peter van Rossum (
Sat, 11 Jan 1997 21:44:31 GMT

In article <5aj6ke$> (Yuri Kuchinsky) writes:
>Pre-columbian maize pollen _has been found_ in India.

This is not nearly as secure as you suggest. Johannessen and Parker
(1989:175) list three cases where people may have recovered Precolumbian
maize pollen from India

Case 1 - they remark that the dating of the cores containing the pollen
recovered by Singh (1963) is uncertain. Also keep in mind the comments of
Jeffrey Baker that the identification of maize pollen is not necessarily
a simple task. Therefore this case is certain neither for date nor for
Case 2 - In a nearby site of Tosh Maidan, maize pollen was identified in
two other cores. A review of the article (Singh 1963) indicates that not
only did they identified maize pollen from a level dating to 2790 +/-160 B.P.,
they also identified maize pollen stretching all the way back to 10,000 B.P.
This is truly astounding since the earliest evidence we have of maize in
the New World may date to about 7000 B.P. (some argue that it is even more
recent). So if Singh and co. are correct then they have domesticated maize
in India about 3000 years before it was originally domesticated in the New
World. I guess we can tack on a time machine to the already impressive list
of achievements of ancient Indian society.
Case 3 - Vishnu-Mittre and Gupta (1966) initially believed they had recovered
Precolumbian maize pollen and maize impressions from ceramics but by 1986
Vishnu-Mittre told Johannessen & Parker that he was no longer confident of
the identification. Given that even the original researcher is not confident
in the initial report, why should anyone else be?

So due to the problems of dating the cores, the difficulty of identifying maize
pollen and even the possibility of stratigraphic admixture it is easy to see
that each case of "maize remains" listed in Johannessen & Parker is equivocal.
Given this it would certainly be very premature to conclude that Precolumbian
maize remains had definitely been found in India.

Peter van Rossum

Singh, Gurdip
1963 "Post-glacial Vegetational History of the Kashmir Valley," The
Palaeobotanist 12(1):73-108.

Singh, Gurdip & D.P. Agrawal
1976 "Radiocarbon Evidence for Deglaciation in North-Western Himalaya, India,"
Nature, 260:232.

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