Ancient North Americans drank chocolate

Chocolate residues left on ancient jars mark cacao’s earliest known presence north of what is now the U.S.-Mexico border.

The residues, found on pottery shards excavated from a large pueblo (called Pueblo Bonito) in Chaco Canyon in northwestern New Mexico, suggest the practice of drinking chocolate had traveled from what is now Mexico to the American Southwest by about 1,000 years ago.

Scientists have known about the early uses of chocolate in Mesoamerica, with evidence for rituals involving liquid drinks made from cacao beans dating back more than 1,000 years. (Mesoamerica extends from central Mexico to Honduras and Nicaragua.)

Now, researchers think a similar ritual may have taken place in villages in Chaco Canyon. Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico and Jeffrey Hurst of the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition found traces of theobromine, which is in the Theobroma cacao plant that bears beans from which chocolate is made, on the shards.

And Crown and Hurst suspect the shards came from cylinder jars, which measure an average of 10 inches tall (25 cm) and 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Only 200 such cylinder jars are known in the Southwest United States, almost all of which come from Pueblo Bonito…

In Mesoamerica, residents would make the drinks by grinding up roasted cacao beans and adding hot or cool water. Sometimes other ingredients, such as honey for sweetening, cornmeal and even chili peppers, were added. The researchers are not sure if any other ingredients were mixed in with the Chaco Canyon drinks.

Since the cacao plant is tropical and can’t be grown in New Mexico and other places in the United States, the researchers think the chocolate beans came from Mesoamerica, with the closest source being about 2,000 km away from the Chaco site…

Chaco Canyon rules. This is just one more reason to visit. You’ll find some of the loveliest dry-stone architecture I’ve ever seen.

8 thoughts on “Ancient North Americans drank chocolate

  1. Past is prologue says:

    New study finds ancient Chaco Canyon population likely relied on imported food The ancient inhabitants of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, the zenith of Pueblo culture in the Southwest a thousand years ago, likely had to import corn to feed the multitudes residing there, says a new University of Colorado Boulder study. Chaco Canyon – believed by some archeologists to have been populated by several thousand people around A.D. 1100 and to have held political sway over an area twice the size of Ohio – had soils that were too salty for the effective growth of corn and beans. …much of the corn consumed by the ancient people of Chaco may have come from the Chuska Slope, the eastern flank of the Chuska Mountains some 50 miles west of Chaco Canyon that also was the source of some 200,000 timbers used to shore up Chaco Canyon masonry structures. Between 11,000 and 17,000 Pueblo people are thought to have resided on the Chuska Slope prior to A.D. 1130.
    “The A.D. 1130–1180 drought is particularly important, because those five decades of extreme moisture deficiency on the Colorado Plateau caused some communities to depopulate, while others held their population, and a few even grew.” (The Northern Chaco Outliers Project – Excavation begins in 2017)

  2. 4Sale says:

    Re: ‘Protection of Chaco Canyon Landscape’ (Oil industry ‘spokesperson’ attacks a Native American legislator for wanting to ban fracking around Chaco Canyon). Re: Doug Turner see and “In 2010 Turner provided ‘strategic communications’ advice to the Office of the Prime Minister immediately following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.”

    • Drill Baby says:

      “The price of oil: Expanding development near Chaco raises health concerns”
      Since 2012, almost 400 new wells have sprouted among the homes, schools and grazing lands here. The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) expects 3,200 wells to be drilled on 75,000 acres in the Mancos shale-Gallup sandstone by 2037, according to a 2018 report by the agency.

    • Bilagáana says:

      “Opponents of fracking in the Chaco Canyon region won a key victory this week. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, secured key commitments from U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt following his visit to Chaco Canyon. The commitments from the Department of the Interior include placing a one-year moratorium on oil and gas leasing within a 10-mile buffer zone around Chaco Culture National Historical Park.”
      See also “Heinrich Sides With Trump in Voting to Confirm Swamp-Creature Nominee to Oversee Public Lands” (4/5/19)

      • Yá’át’ééh ní! says:

        November 1, 2019: A bill to establish a permanent 10-mile buffer around Chaco Canyon to protect it from oil and gas extraction activity passed the U.S. House on Wednesday with bipartisan support. The bill, sponsored by U.S. Reps. Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland and Xochitl Torres Small, would prohibit oil and gas activity on nearly 500 square miles of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held land surrounding the Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
        The bill passed 245-174, with all Democrats in the House voting in favor of the legislation, along with 17 Republicans.
        The legislation would withdraw BLM-held land within the 10-mile buffer around the Chaco Canyon park from future oil and gas development, but would not prevent the Navajo Nation or individuals with allotments in the buffer zone from pursuing energy development.
        U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill.
        “We must pass the full Chaco Cultural Heritage Area Protection Act in the Senate,” Udall said during a press call. “The momentum is on our side.”
        Udall added that the Department of Interior appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020 includes language “to safeguard the area surrounding the national park.” That bill passed the Senate Thursday, Udall said.
        “This provision will protect Chaco’s sacred and fragile landscape from further development without affecting existing operations, including those of Indian tribes and allottees within the zone,” he said.
        The bill also includes $1 million for the Interior Department and New Mexico’s pueblos to jointly conduct an ethnographic survey of the Greater Chaco region, to survey the cultural sites that exist outside the national park.
        “Only a fraction of the archaeological and culturally significant sites and artifacts in the Chaco area are protected in the national park,” he said.

        Fajada Butte, Chaco Canyon.

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