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Topic: Ancient Native Americans

Note: I have set in bold the part of the article that makes mention of ancient foods.

 

 

The federal government should fix or drop new regulations that throttle scientific study of America’s heritage.

A rare set of nearly 10,000-year-old human bones found in 1976 on a seaside bluff in La Jolla, Calif., may soon be removed from the custody of the University of California, San Diego, and turned over to the local Kumeyaay Nation tribes. The Kumeyaay have long sought control over the bones, which they contend are the remains of their ancestors. In accordance with new federal regulations, the university has initiated the legal process to transfer the remains to the Kumeyaay in the absence of other claimants. The Kumeyaay have said they may rebury the bones. Being some of the oldest human skeletal remains in North America, the bones could help scientists piece together the peopling of the New World. The excellent preservation of the specimens hints that they might contain DNA suitable for analysis with techniques geneticists have recently developed- the results of which could yield crucial insights into where early Americans came from. Such studies may never come to pass.

Some might consider a loss of knowledge an acceptable trade-off to right the historic wrongs that the Kumeyaay and other Native peoples have suffered. Archaeologists and anthropologists of yore treated Native Americans disgracefully, looting their graves and using the remains to argue for the intellectual inferiority of Native Americans to peoples of Caucasian descent. But what makes this case disturbing is that the Kumeyaay claim is based on folklore. The physical evidence indicates that the La Jolla bones are not affiliated with any modern tribe, including the Kumeyaay, who moved into the area only within the past few thousand years. The new federal regulations are blind to this evidence. In effect, they privilege faith over fact.

The original intention of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), passed in 1990, was to facilitate the return of Native American bones and sacred objects to descendants and culturally affiliated groups. NAGPRA sought to balance the rights of Native Americans to reclaim ancestral remains with the right of society as a whole to learn about our collective past. By and large, the law was succeeding. In recent years scientists and representatives of Native peoples have been working together to everyone’ s gain.

 For example, archaeologist Alston Thoms of Texas A&M University has been consulting with Native Americans about their cooking techniques, to gain insights into the subsistence strategies of people who lived on the South Texas plains thousands of years ago. Members of the Tap Pilam Coahuiltecan Nation- who consider themselves the descendants of those ancient Texans- have, in turn, been learning about ancestral foods and incorporating them into their diet to counter the high rate of diabetes in their population.

Many Native Americans do not object to studies per se but to analyses that destroy remains. Respecting this concern, anthropologist Ventura Pérez of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who studies violence, has developed techniques for making high-quality replicas of cut marks on bone that leave the skeletal material intact and allow it to be repatriated, while creating a permanent record for future scholars.

To be sure, not all was well. Many tribes worried that museums were stalling on identifying remains to avoid having to return them. In May 2010 the U.S. Department of the Interior responded with regulations that allow tribes to claim even those remains whose affiliation cannot be established scientifically, as long as they were found on or near the tribes’  aboriginal lands. These rules nudge museums to get on with evaluating their collections, but they have too broad a brush. They upset the balance that NAGPRA had achieved and foster antagonism, not just between tribes and scientists but also among tribes with conflicting claims. The La Jolla case is just one example. Thousands of remains could be made inaccessible to researchers. In our view, the new regulations should be repealed or, at least, revised to distinguish different classes of unidentified remains.

The colonization of the New World was a watershed in the odyssey that carried Homo sapiens from its African birthplace to the entire globe. The stories of the trailblazers who accomplished that feat deserve to be told. Their remains are the shared patrimony of all Americans and, indeed, all peoples everywhere.

Original article:

archaeologydaily.com

April 19, 2012

 

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Topic: Let the games begin

 

Iron age burial site

Beer and bling in Iron Age Europe.

 

Original Article:

sciencedaily

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Topic:Ancient Beer?

This is an archaic writing tablet from Mesopotamia (approx. 3000 B.C.): The tablet which contains proto-cuneiform writing, belongs to the most ancient group of written records on earth. It contains calculations of basic ingredients required for the production of cereal products, for example, different types of beer. Credit: M. Nissen, 1990

Archaeological finds from cuneiform tablets and remnants of different vessels from over 4,000 years ago show that even around the dawn of civilisation, fermented cereal juice was highly enjoyed by Mesopotamia’s inhabitants. However, besides the two basic ingredients, barley and emmer (a species of wheat) the brew produced in the clay jars of the Sumerians is shrouded in mystery. Despite an abundance of finds and scribal traditions which point to an early love of fermented cereal beverages, reconstructing ancient brewing methods is very difficult, according to the historian of science and cuneiform writing scholar Peter Damerow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. A scholarly paper by Damerow, who passed away at the end of November 2011 in Berlin, carefully examines the beer brewing technologies of the Sumerians. However, the author also expresses great doubts as to whether the popular brew in ancient times was even beer.

Note:

I noticed an error in the paragraph below: malt is not an ingredient it is a process. The text should say malted barly( or emmer) not emmer, barly, and malt!

Although many of the more than 4,000 years old cuneiform texts contain records of deliveries of emmer, barley and malt to , as well as documentation of the activities, there is hardly any information on the details of the production processes, and no recipes to follow. According to Damerow, the administrative texts were most likely written for an audience that was already familiar with the details of brewing. They were not intended for informing the modern-day reader about the processes.

Moreover, the methods used for recording this information differ between locations and time periods. Also, the records and calculations are not based on any consistent number system. Instead, the Sumerian bureaucrats used different number systems depending on the nature of the objects to be counted or measured to count or measure.

This has cast doubt on the popular theory that Mesopotamian brewers used to crumble flat bread made from barley or emmer into their mash. The so-called “bappir” (Sumerian for “beer bread”) is never counted as bread in the administrative texts, but in measuring units, like coarsely ground barley. Damerow also points out that the high degree of standardisation, which meant that the quantities of raw materials allocated to the brewers by the central administration remained exactly the same over long periods, sometimes even decades, makes it difficult to base any recipes on them.

According to Damerow, even the “Hymn of Ninkasi”, one of the most significant sources on the ancient art of brewing, does not provide any reliable information about the constituents and steps of the brewing process. This lyric text from the Old Babylonian period around 1800 B.C. is a mythological poem or song that glorifies the brewing of beer. Despite the elaborate versification, Damerow states that the procedure of brewing is not conclusively described. It merely offers an incomplete record of the individual steps. For instance, there is no clue as to how the germination of the grain was interrupted at the right time. It can only be speculated that the barley was layered and that the germination was stopped by heating and drying the grain as soon as the root embryo had the right size.

Furthermore, the content of the hymn does not quite fit the results of the Tall Bazi Experiment. This was a brewing experiment carried out by archaeologists from the Ludwig Maximilian Universität in Munich together with brewing experts from the Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan at the Technische Universität München, with the intention of reconstructing the ancient brewing processes. Using cold mashing, the archaeologists managed to produce a brew of and emmer and adjust the alcohol level by changing the percentage of water; however, in Damerow’s opinion, this result must also be treated with scepticism.

Nothing suggests that a production process that worked under the special conditions of Tall Bazi must have worked in the same way at other places in Mesopotamia, since the local conditions varied greatly. In fact, the experiment only demonstrates how modern methods can be used to produce a beer under the same conditions that were prevalent in Tall Bazi.

These uncertainties lead to a question, which the author considers “much more fundamental”: to which extent is it at all possible to compare ancient products with modern ones? “Given our limited knowledge about the Sumerian brewing processes, we cannot say for sure whether their end product even contained alcohol”, writes Damerow. There is no way of ascertaining whether the brew was not more similar to the bread drink kvass from Eastern Europe than to German Pilsner, Altbier or wheat beer.

Nevertheless, Damerow considers the approach of the scientists in the Tall Bazi Experiment to be a good way of finding the answers to questions about the early history of the art of brewing. “Such interdisciplinary research efforts might well lead to better interpretations of the ‘Hymn of Ninkasi’ than those currently accepted among specialists working on cuneiform literature”, writes Damerow.

Original Article:

physorg.com

Jan 17, 2012

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Topic Ancient Egyptian tombs

This is a very interesting article I thought you might like. No food finds yet but we can always hope there might with future excavations.

 

 

Discoveries at Mendes and Theban Tombs Opening More Windows on Ancient Egypt | Popular Archaeology – exploring the past.

 

Original Article:

popular-archaeology

Wed, Nov 09, 2011

 

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Topic: Ancient Maya agricultural practices.

Scientists Uncover Clues to How the Classic Maya Sustained Their Dense Populations | Popular Archaeology – exploring the past.

Original article:

populararchaeology

Sep 2011

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Topic: Diet of early man

New technologies challenge old ideas about early hominid diets.

Original article:

oct 13, 2011

eurekalert.org

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It almost escaped my notice ( which is what happens,I suppose when you get busy), but as of September 1,2011, I have been doing this blog on Ancient Foods for TWO years! Hard to believe- and I’ve only just gotten started.Thanks to all of those who read my posts on a regular basis, and thanks to those of you who have only just discovered me. Maybe one day I’ll get fresh pressed-who knows? Watch out for my new blog ( still in the works), which will feature my own recipes, as well as reporting on wineries,wine tastings and more around my home In the Pacific Northwest!
My new blog title is Northwest Culinary Adventures. I will let you know as soon as it is up.
Joanna

20110909-050352.jpg

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Topic:  Trapped in Amber

fossilized insect remains preserved in amber for over 23 million years,

Researchers in Peru said Tuesday they have discovered the remains of ancient insects and sunflower seeds trapped inside amber dating from the Miocene epoch, some 23 million years ago.

The rare find was made in the remote mountainous jungle region near Peru’s northern border with Ecuador, paleontologist Klaus Honninger told AFP.

“These new discoveries are very important, because the insects and sunflower seeds confirm the type of climate that existed during the Miocene period,” Honninger said in a telephone interview from the northern city of Chiclayo.

The paleontologists discovered “hundreds of pieces of amber up to 12 centimeters (five inches) large containing several types of insects,” Honninger said.

The insects trapped in the amber — fossilized tree resin — are extremely well preserved and include ancient beetles, barklice, flies and spiders.

Honninger, director of the Chiclayo-based Meyer-Honninger Paleontology Museum, said that the experts discovered “an unknown species of arachnid” with a head like a dog and legs four times longer than the body.

The discovery was made in April in the Santiago River area of northern Peru.

Extreme climate change from the Miocene epoch (23 to five million years ago) was likely the reason the insects became extinct, Honninger said.

The same team of researchers announced in January it had discovered a fossilized squid from the Cretaceous era (145 to 65 million years ago) some 3,700 meters (12,100 feet) above sea level in the Maranon River Valley, also in far northern Peru.

Original Article:

yahoonews

August 2011

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Topic: Egyptian Bread

These articles by Hilary Wilson published in Ancient Egypt Magazine, (like the one on pomegranates) were intended for children but has information interesting to all.

Bread was the most important  part of the ancient Egyptian diet. With no rice, maize or potatoes, all  introduced into the country thousands of years later, the early Egyptians  depended on wheat and barley to provide the carbohydrates they needed for a  healthy, energetic lifestyle. Excavations around the Fayum revealed storage pits  where the harvested grain was kept. Later, grain was stored in beehive-shaped
silos, or special granaries with bunkers or bins for different types of corn. In  the home, wheat and barley were kept in pottery or stone jars, safe from rats  and mice. The remains of kitchens and household equipment show that the  processes involved in turning grain into bread were time-consuming everyday  activities in most homes.

A woman grinding grain. This is a reconstruction of the ancient method and can be seen at Dr. Ragab’s Pharaonic Village in Cairo. Photo: RP.

As there were no supermarkets where you could buy a sliced loaf, or even the ingredients to bake your own  bread, the making of bread started with the grinding of the grain into flour. To  make this easier, sometimes the grain was parched, which means it was rinsed in  water to remove some of the surface dust and dirt, and to soften the outer layer, before being spread on a mat  to dry. The parched corn was put in a mortar, a large bowl, usually made of  stone and set into the floor, where it was pounded with a heavy wooden pole to  start breaking up the hard grains. The cracked wheat was then put onto a quern,  a sloping stone with a bowl or trough at the lower end for collecting the flour.

The miller, usually a woman, knelt at the  higher end and crushed the grain into flour by rubbing another stone over it, up
and down the quern. This must have been a back-breaking job, even when the quern  was raised by being set into a brick-built ‘kitchen unit’. It was also such a  necessary part of domestic life that many models of women grinding grain have  been found. One, in the Leiden Museum in the Netherlands, is a mechanical toy,  operated by pulling a string to make the jointed figure move the rubbing stone  backwards and forwards over the quern.

The flour produced in this way was definitely  wholewheat. It contained lots of partly-crushed grain, some whole grains and a  large amount of contamination in the form of sand and grit from the quern. Some  of the sand may have been added deliberately to speed up the grinding process.  The finest sieves the Egyptians could make were not good enough to remove all  this débris, and even the flour of the highest quality, used for what they called ‘white’ bread, was never the smooth, fine stuff that we recognise. As the  Egyptians ate large quantities of bread, every day, it is hardly surprising that  they wore away their teeth in chewing it.

The commonest type of bread was made with  just flour and water. The mixture was kneaded and made into flat pancakes of  dough, which were cooked on a shelf over the fire or by being slapped onto the  wall of a clay oven. This is similar to naan bread being cooked in a tandoor except that the Egyptians used the outside  wall of the oven. The result was something like a pitta bread. People all over the world have been
making bread like this, with whatever flour they have available, for thousands  of years – chapattis  in India, tortillas in Mexico.

Barley and wheat were not only used to make  bread. A small metal cauldron from the tomb of Kha and Meryt, (Egyptian Museum,
Turin), seems to contain a type of porridge. But the second most important  product of grain in ancient Egypt was beer. I will return to this subject in  another Per  Mesut. Bread and beer were  usually made in the same area and the fermentation of the beer provided yeast
for making many more types of bread. This yeast was in the form of a liquid barm  and, when mixed with the flour and water, it produced bubbles of gas that caused  the bread to rise. This is called leavening.

Leavened dough was formed into loaves of many  different shapes. Some were cooked directly on the flat shelf of the domed  baking oven, like a modern cob or bloomer loaf. Others were made in clay moulds,  the ancient equivalent of baking tins, which could be stacked inside the oven
rather like the pottery in a kiln. Bakeries attached to the biggest temples had  rows of ovens, each producing hundreds of loaves at a time. Lists of offerings  to the gods include loaves by the thousand. Often the moulds had to be broken to  get the bread out, but larger moulds could be reused. At Giza, the bakery  providing bread for the pyramid builders produced huge loaves in  flowerpot-shaped moulds the size of a garden planter. These were big enough to  feed ten men for several days, though the bread was probably not very  appetising. It would have been burnt on the outside, stodgy in the middle, very  heavy and hard to digest, but it was food and the workmen would have been glad  of it.

A painted scene of an offering table from the Tomb of Roy at Thebes.

In temple and palace kitchens, cooks made a  wide range of baked goods. The Egyptian language included about forty words for  different breads, cakes and pastries. Some of these may refer to shape; round,  rectangular, oval, triangular and pear-shaped loaves are shown in tomb
offerings. Other names may indicate the method of cooking or added ingredients.  Dough was sweetened with dried fruit or honey, flavoured with herbs and spices,  or enriched with oil or milk. Fancy shapes were made for special occasions, like  the corn sheaf loaf made for the Christian Harvest Festival. Loaves and pastries  were handed out as gifts at religious celebrations. As part of their pay, people  who worked for the government, including soldiers, might receive tokens, which  they exchanged for ready-made loaves. One workman at Deir el-Medina left a
receipt for his purchase of sweet pastries from a temple bakery. Unfortunately,  no Egyptian cookery books have survived, so we can only guess at the recipes. I  will give you some suggestions about Egyptian-style cooking in the next  Per Mesut, so start grinding
that grain now!

Original article:

ancientegyptmagazine

ancient egypt magazine on line has articles from past issues if you are interested.

By Hilary Wilson

June 2007

Hilary Wilson is the author of Egyptian Food and Drink, part of the Shire Egyptology series. published in 1988.

 

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Topic: More on Chocolate

 

 

Molinillo- Chocolate frothing tool

 

 

 

Chocolate finds its way onto even the most simplistic dessert menus today to satisfy the sweetest sweet-tooth.  In ancient Mesoamerica, chocolate was deemed a specialty food, achieving a sacred status.

 

The Maya and the Aztecs believed that cacao was discovered by the gods in a mountain and was to be given to the people following their creation. The Maya held a yearly festival to honor the cacao god Ek Chuah, which included several offerings and rituals to him. Although sustaining the high possibility that is was not a native Mesoamerican crop, the cacao tree was one of the ancient Maya and Aztec’s most prized.

 

The warm, liquid form of the chocolate consumed was very different from today’s hot cocoa, being laden with chili powder and other spices making it a hot and sultry treat popular with royalty while lay people occasionally enjoyed its healing qualities. The Spanish who moved into Mesoamerica were unfamiliar with the ‘savage’ flavors of the spicy chocolate and determined that it would not be popular as it stood and was not to sent back home without proper adjustments like the elimination of many spices and the addition of sweetening ingredients. While archaeological evidence for cacao use by the Aztecs and Maya is rather limited, pictorial and iconographic evidence is quite substantial. The goal of this poster is to demonstrate the many ways in which the cacao tree was especially important ritually, medically and spiritually to the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica..

For nearly 3500 years the world has indulged in chocolate; chocolate bars, candy kisses, hot cocoa, chocolate ice-cream and numerous other forms.  The idea of a chocolate treat is far from a modern one. The use of chocolate began in the New World with the ancient Olmec civilization (1500 BC-500 BC) in Mesoamerican and continued on through the time of the Maya and Aztecs before making its trek across to the Old World in the 16th century.  The formulation and serving techniques of the chocolate were somewhat different than today. Mainly consumed as an unheated liquid by the Aztecs and generally heated by the Maya, chocolate was the drink of choice for the elites and with the addition of hot chilies, maize, spices, peanut butter, vanilla and other flavor and texture enhancers, made the chocolate beverage a spicy and sultry drink enjoyed only by those who are able to afford it or by those who are specifically chosen to enjoy its benefits.  Over the years, cacao, its components and chocolate in one form or another, have been used in more ways that just for a pleasure drink.  It is known to have healing and preventative properties and has been documented in both ancient and modern medical journals.

History of the Cacao Tree and its Cultivation:

The cacao (Theobroma cacao) tree is a member of Sterculiaceae family of evergreens. Today, we find the wild trees at various elevations (200-400m) in the Amazon Rainforest as well as the Orinco River basins.  The tree produces fruits approximately the size and shape of an American football. Each pod contains an average of 40 seeds (commonly referred to as ‘beans’), which are what is used to make cocoa powder, cocoa butter and chocolate (Rissolo per. comm. 2005).

The cultivation of a cacao tree and its seeds is a rather involved and time-consuming process.  In the wild, the trees can grow to a height of over 60 feet; however in a plantation setting it is typical to see them only at a maximum of 20 feet to ease the harvesting labour.  The planted trees take four or five years to flower. Once pollinated, each flower begins to produce a pod with will grow to be about one pound in weight and contain about 40 seeds surrounded by a naturally sweet white pulp. The pods are unable to open on their own accord and must so be done with human (or animal) intervention. The pods will ripen throughout the year and there are normally two main harvests. The pods are opened by hand and the pulp and are seeds extracted  According to Coe and Coe (1996) the four steps needed to produce the cacao ‘nibs’ (shelled and de-germed beans) are: fermentation, drying, roasting and winnowing. These steps are still followed in today’s modern chocolate making cultures, regardless of the technologies available to them. The four stages are summarized below.

Fermentation is a confusing word choice as the cacao is not fermented into an alcohol, although it could be.  As performed by the ancient people of Mesoamerica, the beans (seeds) are fermented for anywhere from three to six days, depending on the type of bean. During this time, chemical processes are occurring; the pulp liquefies, and drains away as the temperature increases and the seeds begin to germinate but are soon killed by the high temperature and acidity which is the desired effect as the chocolate will fail to taste like chocolate if this does not occur (Coe and Coe 1996, 24).  Once fermentation is complete, the beans are dried on flat mats left out in the sun for one to two weeks. Roasting the beans for approximately 70-115 minutes at temperatures of around 215 degrees F is vital for the drawing out of the chocolate flavour. The beans are roasted at a slightly higher temperature in order to produce cocoa powder. The final step is the removal of the outer shell of the bean (winnowing). Once winnowing has occurred, the beans can be ground into a paste, commonly known as ‘cacao liquor’, which is non-alcoholic (Coe and Coe 1996, 25). The process is time consuming and minimal chocolate is retrieved from each pod, but the value is so great and the time used in order to prepare the chocolate adds to the sacredness of the end product.

Cacao butter is made up of the fat inside the nib. It is extracted during the drying process and the fat was and still is used not only as an addition to quality chocolate, but as an ingredient in many cosmetics and skin-care products. The word cacao most likely originated with the Olmecs who resided in the lowland region of Mexico on the eastern gulf coast (Dillinger et al. 2000 and Coe & Coe 1996). The tree obtained its modern name from the eighteenth century Swedish biologist, Carolus Linnaeus. While developing a system for classifying living organisms, he assigned the botanical name Theobroma cacao to the chocolate tree. Theobroma, in Latin, means “food of the gods,” while cacao refers to the native word for the plant (Coe and Coe 1996, 17).

In the most basic of terms, cacao is a culturally edible material which grows on trees in Central and South America. To the ancient lay people of Mesoamerica, it was so much more than a food item. Cacao seeds were actually so valued as to be used for currency, while the subsequent beverages were used as offerings to the gods and as the champagne-of-the-time.  A 1545 Nahuatl (Mayan language) document provides a list of the prices of food items; a turkey hen is worth 100 cacao beans, a hare or forest rabbit or is worth 100 cacao beans, a large tomato is one bean and one turkey egg is worth three beans, among other food items (Coe and Coe 1996, 98-99).

There is doubt as to whether or not the cacao tree is native to Mesoamerica.  Specific climatic conditions are required for the needy cacao tree to grow.  Surprisingly, the trees have been reported to have grown and thrived in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula where the climate would normally be far too harsh.  The area has a long, hot and dry season yielding a mere 50mm of rainfall a year.  Cacao trees require year round humidity and plenty of rainfall (2000mm) into well-drained soil in order to grow and propagate (Gomez-Pompa et al. 1990, 247-249).  Being a shade-loving species, the cacao is usually found growing under the canopy of taller, tropical trees and basking in the nutrient-rich soil made up of the abundant organic materials falling from the protective canopy-trees.   It is exceedingly difficult to recognize what the original properties of the wild populations of cacao trees prior to the Spanish contact were.  South America has been considered to be the center of origin for cacao, but the question of when the transfer of the tree to Mesoamerica occurred still sparks controversy upon Mayanists as well as other archaeologists and historians (Gomez-Pompa et al. 1990, 249).  However, there is absolutely no proof of South American usage of cacao prior to modern times and, according to Gomez-Pompa et al. (1990), it is unrealistic to assume that someone traveling from South America to Mexico could have (or would have) successfully brought the cacao seeds, while keeping them viable for the two-week trek, to be planted and cultivated in Mexico.  The seeds germinate quickly and will surely die if not kept moist and cool in the hot air that blankets the South American and Mesoamerican areas. It is therefore somewhat safe to assume that the trees do, in fact, grow naturally in the Mesoamerican area, but how?   Unfortunately, at present, it unknown for certain whether or not these cacao groves occurred naturally or with human assistance. The answer may well lie in cenotes, (underground caves), or collapsed above-ground caves.  These types of environments are similar to sinkholes and house a damp microenvironment virtually perfect for cacao growth.  Groundwater in the cenotes is generally the food for the trees, which are by and large untouched by rainwater for half the year.  Unfortunately, whether cacao trees naturally form and prosper or were originally brought into the area and planted in these sinkholes and cenotes, is still under investigation.

Iconographic and Archaeological Evidence:

Chocolate became popular as a drink among the Aztec upper classes, who could afford it. The custom was to serve chocolate after a feast, in a special cup (xicalli) made out of a calabash gourd. Royalty and upper elites ritualistically used elaborately painted pottery from which to drink the frothy concoction (Rissolo per. comm. 2005).

An impressive Mayan example of this is from a royal tomb in north-eastern Guatemala. It contained seven cylindrical containers, including a pot with a stirrup handle and screw-on lid. The notable piece was painted with hieroglyphs reading, “a drinking vessel for witik cacao, for kox cacao,” the still un-deciphered Mayan words which likely denote chocolate flavours (Coe and Coe 1996, 49 and Hall 1990). Laboratory analysis of its inner surface by came back positive for chocolate. All seven containers likely held varieties of the cacao beverage. There are thousands of these cylindrical vessels in collections, and the vast majority say right on them, ‘This is a vessel for chocolate,’ (Coe and Coe 1996).

Spouted vessels are a rare elite drinking vessel of the Preclassic Maya. Colha, in northern Belize, has yielded several of these types of drinking vessels. Dry-residue analysis using liquid-chromatography show chocolate use as early as 600BC. These vessels were only manufactured in the Preclassic period (900BC-AD250) (Hurst et al. 2002, 289).

Residue analyses on several vessels from ancient Maya burial sites indicate offerings of chocolate to the deceased (Dillinger 2000, Hurst et al. 1989 and Hall et al. 1990).  In fact, a majority of the pottery assemblages from Maya sites of the Postclassic (prior to the Spanish conquest) era contained vessels used to hold chocolate for the dead to utilize during his/her afterlife. Analysis if the residues of four Maya tomb vessels at the site of Rio Azul in Guatemala have shown that the vessel once contained theobrommine and/or caffeine which are both contents of cacao (Hall et al. 1990, 139).  Hall and his researchers surveyed the literature provided by the laboratories of the Hershey Foods Corporation Technical Center and determined that cacao is the only Mesoamerican food source which contained both theobrommine and caffeine.  Therefore it has been deemed safe to conclude that any vessel which tests positive for these ingredients likely contained cacao in one form or another.  Another 15 vessels which had a sort of locking mechanism, deemed by Hall (1990) to be a ‘child-proofing’ system, seemed to have once contained foods and liquids on which the deceased would subsist in the afterworld.  As Hall (1990) states, many of the vessels had obvious inner rings of residue, some of which were slightly slanted, as if the pot was not entirely flat on the bottom. This indicates the presence of a liquid having been stored.  The glyphic writing on the outside of the vessels clearly display the Maya word for cacao along with additional un-deciphered glyphs, possibly eluding to the recipe of the contents, the maker of, or other general information about the contents which were once housed in the vessel (Hall, 1990, 139).

As suggested by the residue analysis, as well as iconographic evidence, the elites began frothing the chocolate to create a thick, foamy head using a Spanish invention called a molinillo. Prior to Spanish contact, the method mostly used to froth the liquid was pouring from extended heights into another vessel on the floor (Coe and Coe 1996).

Archaeological evidence from Mesoamerica, points to chocolate use beginning with the ancient Olmecs and carrying on through the time of the Maya and Aztecs.  Evidence is sparse but comes from various parts of Mesoamerica. Whole cacao beans were recovered from Uaxactun, Guatemala, while in Belize, wood from ancient cacao trees has been uncovered along with ceramic vessels which tested positive for chocolate residues (Rissolo per. comm. 2005).

An example of a piece of iconographic evidence of the importance of cacao is a jadeite plaque uncovered inside a cenote in the town of Chichen Itza. The carved jade shows a man holding onto the trunk of a cacao tree covered with protruding cacao pods. The carving also contains the phonetic glyph for the word cacao pronounced ka-ka-w(a), or kakaw (Gomez-Pompa et al. 1990).  An incense burner from the Late Classic period (AD 600-900) depicting a god surrounded by many cacao pods was uncovered in the Rio Bec region of Campeche (Gomez-Pompa et al. 1990 and Rissolo per. comm. 2005).

The only surviving written evidence from the Classic era Maya, are the extravagantly decorated vessels which joined the elite in their tombs. There is little else known about the peasants who actually grew and cultivated the trees, or how the May ate or drank their chocolate (Coe and Coe 1996, 45-46).

Ritual Use:

The use of chocolate had many ritualistic, spiritual and political meanings for the ancient peoples of Mesoamerica.  According to similar creation stories of both the Aztec and the Maya, the gods discovered the cacao in a mountain named the Mountain of Sustenance (named by the Maya), along with other delectable foods. The Maya version tells the story of the Plumed Serpent (a god), who gave the people, recently made from maize by the divine grandmother goddess, Xmucane, the cacao on which to feast (Dillinger et al. 2000).  The gods also provided maize, fruits and other desired foods.

When it comes to ritual use of chocolate, usually, only the male, elite and royals consumed cacao in a liquid form (Rissolo per. comm 2005), making the sweet treat one of high status individuals. Perceived as being an intoxicating food, the chocolate drink was a forbidden food for both women and children in a ritual setting (Dillinger et al. 2000, 2057s).

Priests would often prepare chocolate as a drink for religious ceremonies or offer cacao seeds to the gods. The Maya held a yearly festival to honor the cacao god Ek Chuah, which included several offerings and rituals to him; chocolate beverages, blood, dancing and other gifts such as the sacrifice of cacao-colored dogs and feathers, incense and cacao seeds (Rissolo per. comm.. 2005). According to Aztec history, a similar yearly festival in the capital city of Tenochtitlan took place with the sacrifice of a warrior captured from an enemy group during battle. For forty days he was dressed up in the colorful feathers and jewels of the god Quetzalcoatl and ordered to dance for the appeasement of the god of war and the sun; Huitzilopochtli, all the while being treated like a god, but being caged at night. If he appeared agitated or nervous due to his impending doom, the captive would be fed a relaxing drink. He consumed a thick reddish liquid which would enable him to put his fears of eminent death aside and continue to entertain the god.  The drink was an intoxicating chocolate blend with the color of blood. His dancing and movements seemed to welcome the death to come, as if he was offering himself willingly. Soon after which, his heart was carved out of his body to be offered to the god that would ensure the rising of the morrows sun (Coe and Coe 1996, 102 and Rissolo per. comm. 2005).

The offering of blood also occasionally consisted of priests lancing their own earlobes or kings lancing their penises with obsidian blades drizzling their own blood to cover cacao and offering it to the gods whom they were honoring (Rissolo per. comm. 2005).  There are many, strong ethnographic sources (Thompson 1956) which demonstrate the importance of these two liquids; blood and chocolate among the Aztecs and the late Post-Classic Maya. They were both considered sacred and were thus regularly offered during ritual practices.

Baptisms of newborn babies and marriages required the ritual use of chocolate as well. The pre-Spanish Maya baptismal ritual consisted of cacao seeds ground up with flowers and pure water was used to anoint the heads, feet, hands and faces of the children, whole chocolate mixed with corn gruel was offered in special clay pottery to be used during wedding ceremonies (Rissolo per comm. 2005).  There were several types of drinks prepared for different occasions as well. Depending on the person for whom the drink was prepared, different ingredients were added or not added. Given the abundance of different types of chilies in the region, the drink could have been anywhere from mild to scalding and given the grinding techniques of various other additives, the drink may be thick, lumpy, or watery. Many recipes for chocolate drinks have made their way around the world. For example, Sahagun’s (who will be discussed in the next section) native informants give him a ‘menu’ of chocolate drinks which are suitable to be served to the ruler (Coe and Coe 1996, 89). Also, medicinally, drinks were prepared to have desired effects on the human body, which leads us into the medicinal use of the cacao and chocolate.

Medicinal Use:

Not only was chocolate used for ritual purposes but it was avidly used for medicinal reasons as well. Healing and preventative medicines as well as a tool for administering foul-tasting medicines were the two primary medicinal uses for the chocolate.  Ancient Aztec sources can trace the use of the chocolate as a medical tool.  Sources include the Badianus Manuscript, the Princton Codex and the Florentine Codex.  The Florentine Codex (1590 AD) contained an enormous list of medical uses for chocolate.  It was prepared by priest Bernardino de Sahagun from Spain who lived and worked in the ‘New Spain’ for 60 years, collecting vital medicinal information regarding the use of chocolate for the body both internally and externally (Dillinger et al. 2000).  Chocolate lessens agitation (Quelus 1730, 51), reduces angina and asthma (Villanueva y Francesconi, 1890, 231 and Hughes 1672, 153-154), reduces cancer (Villanueva y Francesconi, 1890, 239) and has a calming affect (Brillat-Savarin 1825, 100).  It reduces emaciation (Hernandez 1577, 305), improves energy (Stubbe 1662, 3), relieves hoarseness (Quelus 1730, 76), reduces fever (Hernandez 1577, 305) and quenches thirst (Quelus 1730, 46). It is also known to clean the teeth (Dillinger et al 2000, 2061s); of course modern-day dentists may disagree.  The increase in sexual appetite, fertility and abetted longevity were other benefits of the chocolate. It is stated that Montezuma, prior to visiting his grand harem, would consume up to 50 goblets of a hot chocolate drink to ensure a suitable visit to each member in the group (Aguilera 1985, 119 and Dillinger et al. 2000, 2062s). Another benefit is that of consuming cacao-tree bark. It assists in reducing abdominal pain (Morton, 1981, 556-557).   Externally, cacao was helpful in soothing burns, bronchitis and in disinfecting cuts.  One can facilitate childbirth by eating the fruit pulp of the cacao pod.  Even the leaves of the cacao tree act as antiseptics for external wounds (Morton, 1981, 556-557).   Aztec soldiers marching off to battle were often given chocolate beverages to fortify and sustain them during battle (chocolate.org, Rissolo per comm. 2008).  There are nearly 300 medicinal uses on de Sahagun’s list for the versatile cacao tree; however, he also added a warning label of sorts;

“[Green cacao] makes one drunk, takes effect on one, makes one dizzy, confuses one, makes one sick, deranges one.  When an ordinary amount is drunk, it gladdens one, refreshes one, consoles one, invigorates one. Thus it is said: ‘I take cacao. I wet my lips. I refresh myself’ (Sahagun 1590, 119-120)”.

The Spanish Influence:

The arrival of Christopher Columbus and his officers brought an ignorance of the importance of cacao to the new world.  Upon his return to Spain, Columbus toted a mere handful of cacao seeds. Only after Hernan Cortes came upon the chocolate, did its popularity in the Old World increase (Coe and Coe 1996). The bitter, spicy taste of the drink did little to satisfy Columbus and his men. They were unaware of the importance of the drink and could not bear to even choke it down.  Upon its arrival in Spain, it was re- flavored with cane sugar (previously unavailable in Mesoamerica), allspice and honey to a sweet, smooth beverage. Whilst in Spain, it too, was an elite-only drink but eventually ‘chocolate saloons’ began to open, making it available to all people (Rissolo per. comm. 2005).

The Spanish, who prepared the chocolate drink for their own pleasure, did so quite differently from the ancient Mesoamericans and without the knowledge of the rest of Europe. The addition of hot and spicy additives was not palatable to the Spanish consumer and therefore substituted them with sweet additions such as cane sugar, cinnamon, honey and other flavor enhancers. In his History of the New World (1575), Girolamo Benzoni negatively states: “It seemed more like a drink for pigs than a drink for humanity………But then, as there was a shortage of wine, so as not to be always drinking water, I did like the others. The taste is somewhat bitter, it satisfies and refreshes the body, but does not inebriate, and it is the best and most expensive merchandise, according to the Indians of that country (Benzoni 1575)”

The chocolate was reserved for the higher classes as well and the Spanish government went to great lengths to ensure only the wealthy could indulge.  They increased taxes on cacao product greatly to ensure only the elite could afford its benefits. Spain and Portugal kept it hidden from the rest of the world and at first only used it for medicinal purposes but the allure soon caught on.  The allure was in fact so high that arguments as to whether or not chocolate could be considered a food or a beverage arose. To some, it satisfied and nourished the body like a solid food and therefore it must not be consumed during times of fasting.  Eventually, much of the population, including the popes, agreed that it was not a solid food and therefore did not break the fast.  By the late 17th century, chocolate became available to most of Europe and accessible to the general populations.  Its popularity only increased and chocolate manufacturing companies like Hershey’s, Fry’s and Cadbury’s began opening around the globe to satisfy the people’s need for chocolate.

Conclusion:

The love for chocolate has not dwindled since its discovery. It is still a favorite among many cultures, societies, elites, royals and everyday people.  The technologies, flavors, additives and reasons for consuming it have changed to allow for an increase and ease in production.  Once a sacred liquid from ancient Mesoamerica; chocolate has found its way onto the dinner tables of the entire world.  One need only look at the heart-shaped box of chocolates received on Valentine’s Day or the chocolate Easter egg found during a yearly egg-hunt to understand its importance in society today.

Original article:

archnews.co.uk

By Julie St Jean 24/02/2011 16:46:00

 

 

 
 

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