Maize genetics ten centuries before Mendel, as suggested by Indian art
--Galinat, WC

Plate 1. Mendelian Ratios. Here reproduced from a pot of the Peruvian Mochica culture, which flourished in the Chicama Valley during the early part of the Christian Era, are four maize plants along a single ground line (from Lehmann and Doering, The Art of Old Peru, Ethnological Inst. of the Ethnographical Museum, Berlin, 1924.) They are drawn in a realistic manner of Rembrandt as if intended to represent real inherited differences rather than a suggestive design of Picasso. The ratios of the different plant types are consistent with the possibility that these first Americans were familiar with the principles of Mendelian inheritance some ten centuries before Mendel. There are two independent 3:1 type F2 ratios. From left to right, there are three erect plants to one semi-lazy, and then from right to left there are three of the two-eared plants to one of the one-eared type (which is much larger than the ears from two-eared plants). There is also a 1:1 backcross ratio for adventitious brace root development: 2 single node : 2 double node.

Plate 2. A bonding relationship between the American Indians and maize is apparent. This dedication could be the incentive that resulted in pre-Mendelian maize genetics. The closeness of the Indian-maize relationship is expressed in the Picasso-type sandpainting designs made by the Navajo people and others from the American Southwest (Newcomb and Richard, Sandpaintings of the Navajo Shoot Chant, J. J. Augustine Pub., New York, 1946). Their identification with maize and wisdom about its pollination is revealed in the form of ìMaize Peopleî in the sandpaintings. The people have roots instead of legs and their arms replace an upper pair of leaves. They carry a ripe ear with silks in their right hand and in the left, a small circular object on a long line representing a pollen grain on a silk. The wisdom of this comes from the regal human-like head directing that pollen must move from the tassel to the silks of the ear in order to allow seed development. Portrayed on either side of the maize person are two different plant habits and all three designs have different leaf types. Some of these differences in plant and leaf design are due to the insensitivity of the sandpainting technique. With their hands occupied holding colored sand, placement of a trickle of dry pigments down on the desert floor in a pattern came from the large joints of the elbow and shoulder, resulting in broad curvatures and abrupt sharp changes in direction such as the stylized work of Picasso. They could not make realistic photographic-type illustrations of real biological differences by delicate finger control over line placement, as by the best artists of pre-photographic days.

At first the sand paintings were made from memorized designs for temporary use in chant ceremonies. Each time they had to be made anew by trickling dry pigments down onto the desert floor. Eventually the designs became preserved in photographs and sketches made from actual sandpaintings.


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