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No. 58: Jul-Aug 1988

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Maize In Ancient India

Conventional wisdom is clear on two accounts:

  1. Maize originated in the New World.

  2. There were no cultural, maizebearing contacts between the New and Old Worlds in the lengthy period between the (hypothetical) dash across the Bering Land Bridge circa the waning of the (hypothetical) Ice Ages and the (hypothetical) Viking incursions into North American waters.

But C.L. Johannessen is certain that the ancient Indians (that is those in India) were enjoying corn-on-the-cob at least as early as the Twelfth Century BC. He writes:

"Goddesses and gods in sculptuted soapstone friezes in Hoysala temples of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries BC near Mysore, India, hold in their hands representations of maize ears. There are more than 63 of these large ears at Somnanthpur, and maize is represented at three other temples I have visited.

"In the Hoysala tradition, worshippers must have used maize as a golden-coloured and many-seeded fertility symbol in their religious rites. That the ears are modelled on maize is shown by the ear length-todiameter ratio, the ear sizes in relation to parts of the human figures, and the wide variation of anatomical detail in the carvings that all belong to maize: the ears have either parallel, highly tapered or bulging sides, their tips are pointed, and their axes may be straight or warped, depending on the moisture at the time of picking and the way maize dries. ...No other plant or object has the extensive intricacy and variation of highly segregated maize that could serve as a model for the sculptures. No other fruits have the same number and shape of the closely packed kernels that are arranged in parallel rows in the sculptures."

(Johannessen, Carl L.; "Indian Maize in the Twelfth Century BC," Nature, 332:587, 1988. Ct. R. Noyes.)

From Science Frontiers #58, JUL-AUG 1988. 1988-2000 William R. Corliss