Big news for chocolate lovers: Archaeologists have discovered that people have been enjoying the confection in North America for as long as 1,200 years, at least 300 years earlier than was previously thought.
Earliest evidence suggests people in southern Mexico, in the Chiapas region, consumed cacao as far back as 1900 B.C. Fast-forward to the Classic Mayan period, 250-900 A.D., and the bean was multi-purposed. People were raising the beans and turning them into spicy, frothy drinks for royalty and religious rituals, as well as using seeds for currency, according to The Atlantic
A special part of Mesoamerican society, scientists didn't think the plant traveled into North America for a long time. A new study, however, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, seeks to debunk that. Traces of theobromine and caffeine (two compounds of cacao) were found in bowls from an eighth-century archaeological site in Alkali Ridge, Utah, suggesting that the chocolate moved from Central America sooner than previously thought.
Alkai Ridge, a registered historical monument
, is in southeastern Utah and contains remains of the earliest forms of Puebloan architecture. The site houses a number of high-quality ceramics from 750 AD to 1300 AD, according to Utah's official website. The bowls where the traces of theobromine and caffeine were found were excavated from Site 13, an ancient village in Alkai Ridge, which is near Canyonlands National Park.
Scientists found the traces by swirling water in the bowls, which were excavated in the 1930s, and found theobromine and caffeine in every bowl they tested, according to local news website KSL.com.
Unlike the way cacao was reserved for the elite in Central America, scientists posit that because the North American ancient society had no class hierarchy, everyone enjoyed the confection.
The University of Pennsylvania's Dorothy Washburn told Science Magazine the findings show "either a lot of people moved north or there was intensive trade bringing this cacao up" to North America. "There's this incredible and sustained contact between these two areas," she said.
Not all scientists are on board with the findings, though.
Ben Nelson, of Arizona State University, who studies the ancient cultures of northern Mexico and the American Southwest, told Science Magazine that if cacao was common at the time, there would be visual and historical references to it.
Washburn said the scientific investigation is ongoing, and experts have a long road ahead of them to discovering cacao's role in early North American life.
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