From Science Magazine:
They were humble farmers who grew corn and dwelt in subterranean pit
houses. But the people who lived 1200 years ago in a Utah village known
as Site 13,
near Canyonlands National Park in Utah, seem to have had at least
one indulgence: chocolate. Researchers report that half a dozen bowls
excavated from the
area contain traces of chocolate, the earliest known in North
America. The finding implies that by the end of the 8th century C.E.,
cacao beans, which grow
only in the tropics, were being imported to Utah from orchards
thousands of kilometers away.
The discovery could force archaeologists to rethink the widely held
view that the early people of the northern Southwest, who would go on to
masonry "great houses" at New Mexico's Chaco Canyon and create fine
pottery, had little interaction with their neighbors in Mesoamerica.
are intrigued by the new claim, but also skeptical.
The new research is "exciting, no doubt. … Archaeologists have been
looking for Mesoamerican connections to the Southwest for 100 years,"
says Robert Hard
of the University of Texas, San Antonio, who specializes in the
archaeology of the Southwest and was not involved in the new study. But,
he says, "I'm not
convinced this is chocolate."
The findings stem from collaboration between Dorothy Washburn, an
archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania's University Museum of
Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, and her husband William
Washburn, a chemist at Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton, New
Jersey. In an earlier study, they detected evidence of cacao in
pottery from 11th century burial sites in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon and
in vessels from
other Southwestern sites. As a follow-up, the scientists tested
bowls excavated in the 1930s from Site 13, which dates to roughly 770
The researchers swirled water in the bowls, then analyzed the
compounds in the rinse water with a high-resolution liquid
an instrument that separates the components of a mixture and then
determines the mass of each.
They found traces of theobromine and caffeine, both found in cacao, in nearly every Site 13 bowl they tested.
They also found the telltale molecules in vessels from other villages
close to Site 13 and from two Colorado villages. Site 13's cacao is the
North America, eclipsing the Chaco chocolate by some 300 years.
Humanity's cacao habit dates back to at least 1900 B.C.E to 1500 B.C.E.,
Mokaya people were already enjoying a chocolate drink.
In Mesoamerica, cacao was mostly a food of the elite, who sipped a
foamy chocolate drink, often spiked with spices, at banquets and other
occasions. But an 8th century village such as Site 13 probably would
have been classless, so the chocolate would've been consumed by
Hat Tip: Nic Ford