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

Hu McCulloch (
Sat, 25 Jan 1997 20:18:20 GMT

JR Bauer writes, RE the Johannessen and Parker article
in Economic Botany (1989, 164-80) about pre-Columbian
maize in Hoysala sculptures in Karnataka, India:

>If they had corn in India, why didn't they continue to grow it?

According to J&P critics Payak and Sachan (EB 1993 202-5),
when the All India Coordinated Maize Improvement Project
tried to introduce the double top cross maize hybrid GANGA-5
into Karnataka in the late 1960's, it was found to be highly
susceptible to Sorghum Downy Mildew (Peronosclerospora

My hunch is that maize prospered for several decades, or
even a couple of centuries, during the Hoysala period in the
12th and 13th C AD, whence the sculptures, but then this
mildew, or some similar blight or smut was introduced from
outside, and wiped out the maize strains that were in cultivation
in Karnataka.

I am told that maize will not fertilize itself unless it is manually
planted in close stands (because of its unusually heavy pollen),
and that therefore it cannot survive beyond one generation in the
wild. So if cultivation stopped because of a blight, it would have
become quickly extinct. Some hardier, but less abundant strains
may have survived in northern India/Tibet, but that's another story.

P&S say, following Prof. Prabhu Shanker of the Dept. of Ancient
History and Archaeology, U. of Mysore, that the Hoysala sculptures
are not maize, but "Muktaphala - a fruit made of pearls - very commonly
in many icons." I am told that Muktaphala literally means pearl-fruit.
If one were to make up a name for maize, pearl-fruit would be
as good as any. So why can't Muktaphala just be the ancient
name for maize, once a real crop and then later, after it was
abandoned, a legendary "fruit" that continued to appear, in decreasingly
accurate detail, in icons? The Hoysala sculptures are quite
accurate depictions of maize ears, and could only have been made
from actual specimens, as J&P point out. Elsewhere, "Muktaphala"
may well have become stylized to the point of unrecognizability.

Please note that I have added soc.culture.indian to this thread.

-- Hu McCulloch
Econ Dept
Ohio State U