Scientific analysis of the residue on a spouted pottery ‘teapot’ has revealed that the Maya ate chocolate as far back as 600 BC. The Maya flourished in southern Mexico, the Yucatan, and the highlands of Belize between 500 BC and AD 1500, and this evidence pushing back the earliest known use of cacao by more than 1,000 years. This in turn implies that people were probably cultivating the cacao tree well before 2,500 years ago.
Archaeologists at the University of Texas at Austin, analysed 14 scraped residues from three teapots uncovered at the Mayan site Colha in Northern Belize. They were examined using ‘high performance liquid chromatography together with atmospheric-pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry’. This revealed the earliest chemical evidence for the ancient use of chocolate.
The Maya drink was thick and foamy:
the 16th century Spanish invaders told how the Maya stood up as they poured the chocolate drink from one vessel to another on the ground; the drop, plus the rich cacao butter, created a thick head of dark, thick, chocolate foam – the prized part of the drink.
So long as the teapots are not washed, they can be analysed for ancient residues. However, the teapot is rare among Mayan ceramics, and is usually associated with elite burials. Indeed, in Maya murals and ceramics, hieroglyphs depict chocolate being poured for rulers and gods. Despite this, by the time the
Spanish arrived in the 1500s AD, everyone – rich and poor alike, was seemingly drinking chocolate at every meal.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 1. Click here to subscribe