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1 North American Indian Corn Hugh C. Cutler and Leonard W. Blake Missouri Botanical Garden (Originally written for Handbook of North American Indians, Environment, Origins, and Population volume, 1976) Leonard Blake’s Comments, 2000 In 1976, Dr. Cutler was asked to write a paper on the subject of North American Indian corn for inclusion in the volume on environment, origins, and population for the Handbook of North American Indians, which was projected by the Smithsonian Institution of Washington, D.C. The paper was sent to Dr. Frederick S. Hulse, who was then editor for the projected volume. A number of years later, Dr. Cutler was notified that a publication date was approaching. An update was requested, in view of changes that had taken place. Dr. Cutler declined to do this, for in retirement, he had not attempted to keep up on recent developments. I have learned that a new author and a new editor have been chosen, but the projected volume for the Handbook has still not been published. Hugh Cutler had an extensive knowledge of the corn of South America and, especially, that of Mexico and the American Southwest. This paper was written over twenty years ago and comments on Hopewell and similar Middle Woodland corn have proved to be valueless in the light of publication of corrected carbon 14 dates on corn obtained by the accelerator (AMS) dating technique, which first came into use in 1984. Before 1984, a certain minimum sample size was required for carbon 14 dating. Small samples of corn were usually dated by association, that is, by dates on material that was associated with them in the same feature. Accelerator dating, which permits the use of very small samples, showed that objects in the same feature were not always of the same age. Information on Hopewell and other Middle Woodland material has been obtained from three sites. One was the Jasper Newman site in Illinois, dated by association at 80 ± 140 b.c., which had an accelerator carbon 14 date of 450 ± 500 b.p. (Conard et al. 1984). The other two sites were in Ohio. The McGraw site had a date on bones of a.d. 230 ± 80, and the Daines II Adena mound was dated at 280 ± 140 b.c. Accelerator dates on corn from each of these sites came to less than 400 years b.p. Some of the dates of corn’s origins have also proved not as early as formerly thought. The earliest known corn from the Tehuacán Valley in Mexico, which was supposed to date at about 5000 b.c. (Mangelsdorf 1974:167), is now dated at no older than 3600 b.c. (Long et al. 1989). The earliest corn from Bat Cave, originally thought to date before 2000 b.c., was reassessed at 1200–1500 b.c. (Wills 1995). In the paper, Cutler wrote the following statement: “Corn probably originated in west-central Mexico, a region where the largest populations of teosinte (Zea mexicana or Euchlaena mexicana) and many of the species of another closely related grass, Tripsacum, grow.” Some may consider this to be a reasonable opinion, but the fact remains that the corn from the Tehuacán Valley is still, at this time, the earliest documented by archaeological excavations. Nowhere in this report is there any mention of Beadle’s The Mystery of Maize (Beadle 1972), which, at the time, changed the viewpoint of many, but not all, corn experts on the origin of corn. The reason is that Cutler, like Mangelsdorf and some others, did not accept Beadle’s conclusions. Cutler wrote that a form of the Pima-Papago race of corn “spread eastward through Oklahoma and Arkansas and up the Mississippi River to reach northern Illinois by about a.d. 100, and southern Georgia perhaps even earlier.” This is a very broad and perhaps not an accurate statement. In the accompanying “Plants from Archaeological Sites East of the Rockies,” no northern Illinois site is shown with a date of a.d. 100. Some corn similar to Pima-Papago, which was called Tropical Flint (Anderson and Cutler 1942), has been found in Oklahoma, in Arkansas, at the Cahokia site, and at Mississippian sites on the upper Illinois River. Because of a lack of numerous, reliable early dates, just how and when it got there is not precisely known. Maize, or Indian corn (Zea mays), has long been the most valuable plant in North American agriculture. It is the dominant grain of the...


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