Hindu Corn Goddesses and Tobacco Mummies: New World Plants and Old World Trade.

IMG_20170115_061833_processed-01.jpegThe second article in The Lost History of Ancient America is titled ‘Plants Connect the Old and New Worlds’. It’s penned by Dr. Carl L. Johannessen (2017), a retired professor of geography from the University of Oregon.

Johannessen’s article is the longest in the first section of the book and claims that there are 14 plants that were present in both the Old World and the New before 1492. It’s obvious that this article was meant to be a powerhouse of evidence for the book, yet the evidence provided is less than convincing.

The article itself suffers from the same shortcomings as the rest of the articles in the book. There are no citations to back up the claims made or to document research. Everything in the article revolves around the unverified assumption that transoceanic travelers did exist and that they did participate in trade with pre-Columbia Peoples. Johannessen even goes on to assign value to certain commodities, declaring some “moneymakers”, and creating transportation methods for other “attractive” commodities. He muses that Annona was probably used to combat scurvy on long cross ocean trips and that beans and peas would have been good food stuff for these travelers because they could be dried and are high in protein.

Johannessen spends a lot of the article weaving an intriguing story about how and why “tropical sailors” would have been coming to and from the New World. He even references “new evidence of dated discoveries” (Johannessen 2017) that support the reality of these sailors, yet fails to provide any information about what these are or even provide citations in the article documenting them.

Johannessen then acknowledges the “evidence and contributions” of the Norse in pre-Columbian times:

“The fact that there is acknowledged genetic, artistic, cultural, and biological evidence for regular and repeated contact between these Nordic peoples and populations of the northeastern region of North America simply strengthens the hypothesis we are proposing about the tropical sailors of Southeast Asia, India, Africa, and the Middle East. (Johannessen 2017)”

This statement is not supported by any evidence that I am aware of, nor does Johannessen provide any. I can guess that he’s referring to the actual Viking settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows, and mixing in fringe theories such as the Kensington Runestone, the Newport Tower, and other various ‘Viking’ claims.

Johannessen then makes an appeal to authority by shoehorning a quote by Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002) into his article. With this quote, he is trying to set the groundwork for his argument of transoceanic trade by implying that the probability of an identical plant species evolving in two sperate places on earth would be astronomical. Therefore the only explanation would be trade. He then makes the correct observation that when people travel to new places they always leave behind traces of their presence and often bring back evidence of their travels. In this case, Johannessen argues the evidence is plants. What argues against Johannessen’s claim is the exact observation he made earlier, there is no physical evidence that any of the cultures Johannessen mentions interacted in any way.

There are also no shipwrecks to support pre-Columbian trade routes or massive shipping expeditions. There are no settlements that demonstrate massive (or any) transoceanic trade among pre-Colombian people. There are no artifacts here in the New World that can be traced directly to trade in the Old World that date to pre-Columbian times. Simply, there is no real evidence to support Johannessen’s claims.

Johannessen then mentions John Sorenson, a professor emeritus of anthropology at Brigham Young University. Sorenson is known for his insistence that the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) view the Book of Mormon (BoM) as a scientific document. (They rejected that request.) He’s also written several books and articles trying to prove the BoM to be factual. In one such project, Sorenson tried to catalog all known sources of available literature supposedly providing evidence of pre-Columbian transoceanic diffusion. It’s from this project that Johannessen appears to pull the majority of his claims and evidence for trade, but I can really only extrapolate this as there are no citations given.

Johannessen claims that there are an upwards of 97 plant species that could be used to prove transoceanic trade, but he narrows it down to his top 14 (Johannessen 2017).

These plants are:

  1. Tobacco
  2. Coca
  3. Marijuana
  4. Datura
  5. Prickly Poppy
  6. Corn (Zea Mays)
  7. Amaranths
  8. Agave
  9. Annona
  10. Peanut
  11. Kidney beans
  12. Lima Beans
  13. Phasey Bean
  14. Spice Basil

I’m not going to go over every one of these right now. I will fill them in as I have the time. However, I do want to go over a few that are of particular interest.

Tobacco, Coca, and Marijuana.

Using Johannessen’s list, we begin with Tobacco, Coca, and Marijuana. Johannessen brings up the mummy of Ramesses II. Legend has is that there is evidence for tobacco in the remains of Ramesses. However, Buckland and Panagiotakopu (2001) suggest, with cited documentation, that this is actually evidence of body preservation techniques in the 19th cen.

Radioimmunoassay showed that nicotine was generally distributed through the body, and it is probable that this reflects the application of tobacco water as an insecticide during conservation in the 19th century. This explanation is also probable for the group’s other findings from Central Europe (Parsche et al. 1993) and China (Balabanova et al. 1995), although the lack of care shown by many archaeologists and conservators even in the recent past makes contamination by cigarette smoke always a possibility. (Buckland and Panagiotakopu 2001)”

There is also the presence of an insect,  Lasioderma serricorne, or the tobacco beetle, that was supposedly found in association with wrappings that came from Ramesses’ mummy. Buckland and Panagiotakopu (2001) point out that L. Serricorne is native to the Old World and there is a fossil record in the Mediterranean to back this up.

“The third beetle from Rameses’ mummy, Lasioderma serricorne, has led to most speculation, inevitably, because of its vernacular names, all of which seem to refer to tobacco (Steffan 1985). Described by Fabricius (1798) from dried American plants (‘in Americae plantis siccatis’), it was assumed that the species was associated with Nicotiana tabacum, yet despite widespread earlier cultivation of tobacco, the species was first recorded in the United States in 1886 (Reed & Vinzand 1942), and has several congeners, largely feeding on thistles in the Old World (Steffan 1985); Hill (1994) regarded the species as of tropical origin. There are Mediterranean fossil records, which would support this interpretation. As well as Alfieri’s (1931) examples from the tomb of Tutankhamun, Panagiotakopulu (2000) reports the species from Bronze Age Akrotiri on Santorini in the Aegean, and has more recently [in press) found it in the midden deposits associated with the Workmen’s Village at Amarna in Egypt (Buckland and Panagiotakopu 2001).”

Buckland and Panagiotakopu also point out that this pest prevention is the most likely cause of the presence of Cocoa and THC, pointing out that Egyptian culture was more than aware of the narcotic properties of plants:

“The Egyptians were fully aware of the narcotic qualities of certain plants (cf. Emboden 1989), and Andrew Sherratt (pers. comm.) has drawn attention to the symbolism of alternating poppy, mandrake and lotus on the throne of Tutankhamun as an example, but it is surprising that the abundant archaeological, pictorial and documentary record from Egypt does not provide any evidence not only for the use of hashish, but also for the use of hemp fibres, derived from Cannabis spp., for ropes and fabrics (Germer 1985; Vogelsang-Eastwood 2000: 269). (Buckland and Panagiotakopu 2001)”

Wrapping up their paper Buckland and Panagiotakopu (2001) leave us with a warning about testing evidence out of context:

“Scientific techniques without context do not produce valid answers, and there is a real need for researching individual artefact biographies before each method is applied. Lack of information produces unacceptable stories, which often enter the literature as fact. Artefacts and their history have to be viewed as an entity, and the application of scientific techniques cannot be effectively carried out in fragments; each intervention has to be seen as a dialogue with the artefact  itself.” (Buckland and Panagiotakopu 2001)”


This one had me at a loss for a moment. It wasn’t that I believed Johannessen’s claim that there are images of corn cobs on Hindu temples. It was that I couldn’t readily discover what these cob like images were. However, it didn’t take too much research into the divine images on the shrines to finally find out what this plant is.

Johannessen says in his article that unnamed archaeologists have found evidence of corn stalks and seeds, along with peanuts and annona in an unspecified cave. As there is no citation for this discovery, we can set it aside. However, he does get a bit more specific when talking about the Hindu Temples. He mentions temples in Karnataka Pradesh, India that date to the fifth and eighth centuries. Though he provided no actual images in the article to compare his claims too, some unprovenanced images can be found on the internet (see below).

I was able to locate a few images on the internet that do seem to depict voluptuous women posing with what can be thought to be ears of corn. That said, the objects the women (and apparently some men) are holding can be identified in the context of the native plants in the area. The Muktaphala, or Whipcord Cobra Lilly, produces a vibrantly red cob of berries and are native to India, being known for their narcotic properties.

arisaema_tortuosum2_at corn3

Payak and Sachan (1993) explain how carvings, like the above images, found in Kesav Temple at Somnathpur near the city of Mysore, Karnataka State, India, couldn’t be corn. They point out that there is no connecting linguistic, religious, sculptural, archaeological, agricultural, or botanical evidence for this (Payak and Sachan 1993):

“The stone inscriptions associated with the temple list items or commodities used in worship, maize is not included. We find no evidence for maize figuring in any kind of religious ritual or worship. The word for maize used currently in the Kannada language is “Musukin Jola” which refers to a kind of millet resembling sorghum (“jola”). (Payak and Sachan 1993)”

“We hold that these temple sculptures do not represent maize or its ear but an imaginary fruit bearing pearls known in Sanskrit as “Muktaphala.” (Payak and Sachan 1993)”

It is far more likely that the cob like images in the hands of gods and goddesses on Hindu temples represent something familiar to the culture that was carving it. As there are no ancient references to corn in Hindu mythology, traditional food-stuffs, or anywhere really, it is highly unlikely that these cobs are corn. Rather, it is much more likely that this is the fruit of the  Whipcord Cobra Lilly, also known as Muktaphala. A familiar, traditional, and native plant to India.


Though I didn’t go over all 14 plants mentioned, it’s clear to see a developing pattern in the presentation of this evidence. Mainly that, Johannessen falls back on familiar habits that the fringe often exhibits.

  • There are no citations or documentation of sources for any of the plants.
  • Johannessen tell us what ‘is’ and provides no specific evidence to back it up. At best we are given vague accounts of someone, often given a generic academic title, who might have found something, somewhere, that is evidence of his claim. Who these people are and where they found these things is often left out.
  • Johannessen’s transoceanic sailors must have been a very busy lot as well. They not only needed to be expert sailors, by master botanists, traders, and farmers as well.
  • Where are the sunk ships? Every culture that has ever done trade on the water has lost ships, so where are these? Where is the other evidence of trade? What were they paying for these plant stuffs with?

Most of the evidence that Johannessen attempts to supply is far from irrefutable. Its mear presentation makes it questionable, and the easy that inconsistencies can be found in his data points to issues with its validity. His evidence is neither clear nor rock solid and falls far from the mark of proving transoceanic travel and trade.

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Buckland, P.C. and E. Panagiotakopu
2001    Rameses II and the Tobacco Beetle. Antiquity Vol 75 (2001): 549-56 http://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/homes/rgroves/panagiotakopulupub4.pdf Retrieved 1/14/17

Edlin, Duncan
N.d    The Stoned Age? A look at the Evidence for Cocaine in Mummies. The Hall of Ma’at. http://www.hallofmaat.com/modules.php?name=Articles&file=article&sid=45

Johannessen, Carl L.
2017    Plants Connect the Old and New Worlds’. The Lost History of Ancient America. Edited Volume Frank Joseph. The Career Press. Wayne, NJ.

National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)
N.D    Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon. National Museum of Natural History. Smithsonian Institution Washington D.C. http://www.lds-mormon.com/smithson.shtml Retrieved 1/14/17

Panagiotakopu, E.
2003    Insect Remains from the Collections in the Egyptian Museum of Turin. Archaeometry Vol 45, 2 (2003) 355–362 http://www.eeo.ed.ac.uk/globalchange/group5b/QuatEnt/Panagiotakopulu2003Arc.pdf Retrieved 1/14/17

Payak, Mukesh and J. K. S. Sachan
1993   Maize ears not sculpted in 13th century Somnathpur temple in India. Economic Botany 47(2). April 1993. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257220756_Maize_ears_not_sculpted_in_13th_century_Somnathpur_temple_in_India Retrieved 1/14/17

Sorenson, John L.
1995     A New Evaluation of the Smithsonian Institution “Statement regarding the Book of Mormon”, (28 March 1995), Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute. http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/transcripts/?id=40 Retrieved 1/14/17

Wells, S.A.
N.d.    American Drugs in Egyptian Mummies. http://www.faculty.ucr.edu/~legneref/ethnic/mummy.htm Retrieved 1/14/17

Categories: Columbus was Second-ish: Who Discovered America Anyway, The Lost History of Ancient America, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Hindu Corn Goddesses and Tobacco Mummies: New World Plants and Old World Trade.

  1. busterggi

    Why of course there are carved ears of corn in India. Its’ a valuable crop that was grown all over Europe & Asia after it was brought over from the Americas in ancient times – except that didn’t happen for some reason.

    Prolly too busy growing potatoes instead, there are carvings of them throughout ancient Europe & Asia but they’ve all been misidentified as naturally shaped boulders by MS archeologists.


  2. tlef

    Very interesting and informative. Thanks for researching this.


  3. Pingback: Transoceanic Flora and Fauna, Not Just Swallows with Coconuts. | Archaeology Fantasies

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