Nephi writes that he brought seeds of every kind for their journey to the New World.  A big ol’ agricultural package in fact.

His good planning paid off.  They planted and prospered, he tells us.

Alma says that some of their units of gold and silver are equal to  measures of barley and other grains.   This could be a conventional equivalence.  But in Mosiah the chronicle records that barley and other grains were grown and taxed.  After that we only hear about grains which could be maize.

What the Book of Mormon says is that the Nephites brought an Old World agricultural package to the New World and grew it successfully for several hundred years.

But when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the New World agricultural package did not include a lot or even a little of the Old World agricultural package.  The staples were Indian corn and beans to the north and potatoes to the south.  Crop diffusion takes times.   How long depends on how much better the new crop is, how much different growing it is from the current ways of life, and how long the people already growing it are around.  The vikings in Canada spread nothing at all.  But they weren’t there very long.  The Nephites were around for hundreds of years in large numbers.  Their package should have spread.

How to save the appearances?

History is spotty, perhaps there was more of the Old World agricultural package around than we know.  But in isolated spots for some reason.  Perhaps because Indian corn was already established and did quite well enough.

Or maybe the Old World agricultural package wasn’t very well adapted to the New World so it never took or died out.  We could see continued references to barley and other Old World agriculture terms as just relabeling.  Maybe ‘barley’ was Indian corn by that point.  Or maybe we could imagine an Old World agricultural package that worked OK, slightly inferior to the New World agricultural package, which the Nephites hung on to for reasons of cultural pride, but which pretty much went away around the time of the reign of the judges when the Nephites started mixing with other peoples and had more contact with their larger area.

We should also recall that Nephi was a legendary founding hero to the Nephites.  Without him they had no identity.  He was their myth.  It would therefore be a very uncomfortable fact indeed if he recorded that he brought animals and crops to the New World, but then nothing came of it.  Everything dies or wouldn’t grow, that would seem to be a judgment on Nephi.  I would be shocked, therefore, if the Nephites didn’t generally believe that Indian corn was an Old World product introduced by Nephi.  It wouldn’t even take deliberate lying.  As generations passed, the intuitive reasoning would be like this: Nephi writes that he brought flocks and seeds and that they planted and prospered, we plant seeds of X and have flocks of Y, therefore these are what Nephi brought.

Why would Nephi be inspired to bring all the seeds if it wasn’t going to be a Nephite version of the Columbian exchange?  I have a couple of theories.  First, the extra food may have proved handy at some point.  Second, having some kind of mysterious agricultural package and novel-tasting foods may have invested Nephi and his people with numinous awe and helped them establish themselves in the New World as rulers, as they seem to have done, even if their agricultural package didn’t work as well as Indian corn.  Third, the Lord may have arranged for them to arrive in some kind of microclimate where their seeds and agricultural methods would work enough, so they could get established and form their foothold and have time to adjust to local agriculture.

I have been focused on the seeds.  Some of these explanations would also work for the animals, some not.  I am generally more skeptical that any animals at all  made it to the New World.  First, because animals diffuse much more rapidly and easily than crops do.  They even spread on their own. Wild pigs were hundreds of miles in advance of the frontier of European settlement in North America.  Second, because keeping animals alive on long oceanic voyages is much more difficult than keeping seeds.

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