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

Paul J. Gans (
28 Jan 1997 00:40:15 GMT

Hu McCulloch ( wrote:
: 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?
: >Juli
: 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
: spori).
: 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.

On the other hand, Muktaphala might just be a fruit made of
pearls, common in many icons and have nothing to do with maize
at all.

The difficulties with the trans-pacific maize theory are obvious.
If it was, in fact, introduced and used with sufficient frequency
to be *abundant* in temple carvings, there should be ample evidence
of it in the archaeological record.

Furthermore, if such a popular food, popular enough to be memorialized
in temple carvings, was to have disappered in such a disaster, one
*might* think that some written record of it would exist. After
all, the Indians were quite literate...

----- Paul J. Gans []

PS: Some of the above has to be read in a slightly sarcastic
tone of voice...