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This is another Article on crops and the Chaco Culture published in January with expanded information.

JLP

chaco-supernova-pictograph-730x438

Original Article:

by Blake de Pastino

western digs.org

For more than a century, researchers have been studying the intricacies of Chaco Canyon — the cluster of settlements and multi-story “great houses” in northwestern New Mexico that, at its peak around the year 1100, may have been home to hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Recently, researchers have been at odds over a simple, central question in the history of this monumental community:

How did the people of Chaco manage to grow food in such an arid environment?

According to new research, the answer is even simpler.

They didn’t.

Dr. Larry V. Benson, a former hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, has studied soil and other environmental records from the region, and concludes that Chaco Canyon was both too dry and too salty to grow corn or beans, two of the staple crops of the Ancestral Puebloans who lived there.

As a result, Benson proposes a new theory about how Chacoans fed themselves: They imported their food.

“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said of his new findings, in a press statement.

“And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people.

“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

Benson is the scientist behind many sometimes contentious anthropological findings around the West.

In 2013, he played a role in the discovery of petroglyphs in Nevada that were determined to be the oldest on the continent.

More recently, he concluded that the circular masonry feature at Mesa Verde National Park known as Mummy Lake wasn’t a reservoir, as many had thought, but a ceremonial structure.

Benson’s new research is a riposte to a study released in September that promised to “shake up” the field of Southwestern archaeology with its findings that Chaco Canyon’s soil was not too salty to farm, as Benson and others had previously asserted.

In fact, this research concluded, Chaco’s soil was rich in certain mineral salts, like calcium sulfate, that actually made it especially fertile for growing plants such as corn.

“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty: The Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” said Dr. Kenneth Tankersley, an anthropologist and geologist at the University of Cincinnati, in a press statement at the time.

But in his new paper, currently being published by the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Benson answers Tankersley’s study with new data and arguments of his own.

First, he draws on tree ring data.

Cross-sections of trees are considered natural records of annual rainfall, with thick and thin rings corresponding to wet and dry years.

Using data from tree-core samples spanning 1,100 years, Benson notes that Chaco only experienced sufficient rainfall for growing corn about 2 percent of the time.

Regardless of the soil’s salt content, Benson writes, “this implies that an exceptional wet period did not prevail during Chaco’s heyday.”

As for the benefits of sulfur on maize crops, Benson argues that, while sulfur is an important nutrient in agriculture, it’s mainly useful in treating metallic sulfates in acidic soil, a condition that Chaco Canyon doesn’t have.

“The principal usefulness of sulfur in maize agriculture is its ability to reduce aluminum toxicity that often accompanies soil acidity, a problem that does not occur in the high-pH soils of the Chaco Canyon region,” Benson writes.

Moreover, in his own analysis of soil samples taken from the valley bottom and the side canyons that feed into it, Benson finds that levels of salt were indeed very high — at some points, higher than those found in seawater.

Considering that Chaco’s soil chemistry likely hasn’t changed much over the past 800 years, Benson concludes that Chaco Canyon was simply never suitable for farming on a scale large enough to have fed its population.

“I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” he said of the cultural complex, in the press statement.

“There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”

In turn, Benson offers an alternative explanation for how the communities of Chaco got their food: It was imported from the Chuska Mountains, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.

The eastern slope of the Chuskas is known to have been home to a robust Ancestral Puebloan presence, he said, their numbers aided in part by the ample water provided by snowmelt.

Previous studies have estimated that as many as 17,000 people made their home on the Chuska Slope before the year 1100, and recent research has even found that those mountains were the source of the Chaco Canyon’s huge building timbers.

Given the other cultural connections between the two communities, Benson said, it’s plausible that the Chuskas served as what he called “Chaco’s breadbasket.”

“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” Benson said in the statement. [Read more about trade of exotic goods in Chaco: “Bones of Exotic Macaws Reveal Early Rise of Trade, Hierarchy in Chaco Canyon”]

The nature of Chaco’s agricultural environment, and how Ancestral Puebloans managed to thrive within it, remain open questions for now.

But Benson suggests that, in addition to Chaco’s natural chemistry, the relationship between these two communities in pre-contact New Mexico also deserves closer study.

“Perhaps it is time to reassess Chaco Canyon as a self-sustaining bread basket and turn to new studies of the prehistory of the Chuska Slope and its connection to Chaco Canyon,” he writes.

Tankersley and his colleagues have not yet been contacted for a response.

 

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Chaco Canyon

Chaco Canyon

 

Original article:

Colorado.edu

 

Ancient Chaco Canyon population likely relied on imported food

Ancient ruins are seen in part of Chaco Canyon.

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 CU Boulder study.

CU Boulder scientist Larry Benson said the new study shows that 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.

“The important thing about this study is that it demonstrates you can’t grow great quantities of corn in the Chaco valley floor,” Benson said. “And you couldn’t grow sufficient corn in the side canyon tributaries of Chaco that would have been necessary to feed several thousand people. Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

“Either there were very few people living in Chaco Canyon, or corn was imported there.”

A paper by Benson was published online in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Between the ninth and 12th centuries, Chaco Canyon (officially the Chaco Culture Natural Historic Park) located in the San Juan Basin in north-central New Mexico was the focus of an unprecedented construction effort, Benson said. At the height of its cultural heyday, 12 stone masonry “great houses” and other structures were built there, along with a network of ceremonial roads linking Chaco with other Pueblo sites in the Southwest.

As part of the study, Benson used a tree ring data set created by University of Arizona Professor Emeritus Jeff Dean that showed annual Chaco Canyon precipitation spanning 1,100 years. The tree rings indicate the minimum amount of annual precipitation necessary to grow corn was exceeded only 2.5 percent of the time during that time period.

Benson suggests that 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 before A.D. 1130, he said.

Winter snows in the Chuska Mountains would have produced a significant amount of spring snowmelt that was combined with surface water features like natural “wash systems,” Benson said. Water concentrated and conveyed by washes would have allowed for the diversion of surface water to irrigate large corn fields on the Chuska Slope, he said.

The Chaco Canyon inhabitants traded regularly with the Chuska Slope residents, Benson said, as evidenced by stone tool material (chert), pottery and wooden beams.

“There were timbers, pottery and chert coming from the Chuska region to Chaco Canyon, so why not surplus corn?” asks Benson, a former U.S. Geological Survey scientist.

Many archaeologists are still puzzled as to why Chaco Canyon was built in an area that has long winters, marginal rainfall and short growing seasons. “I don’t think anyone understands why it existed,” Benson said. “There was no time in the past when Chaco Canyon was a Garden of Eden.”

 

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CREDIT: KENNETH BARNETT TANKERSLEY

 

Despite long-held assumptions, UC researchers find the diversity of salts in water and soil beneficial — not harmful — for cultivating maize in ancient New Mexico.

 

Original Article:

eurekalert.org

A team of University of Cincinnati researchers had to go deep to uncover brand new knowledge that they say will “shake up” the archaeological field in the southwestern United States.

Various salt compounds found deep in the soil of New Mexico’s desert may be the key to understanding how crops were cultivated in ancient Chaco Canyon — despite the backdrop of what seems an otherwise arid and desolate landscape, according to a University of Cincinnati study.

Prior studies on the canyon’s environment suggest that water management techniques used by the Ancestral Puebloans during periods of drought eventually resulted in toxic levels of salinity (salt) in the water. This left scientists doubting any viability of the soil for growing corn, which they believe eventually led to the abandonment of the Chaco culture.

But recent research at the University of Cincinnati finds the contrary is true.

In fact, the researchers found that together with volcanic minerals already indigenous to the area, the calcium sulfate mixture actually increased the soil’s fertility for cultivating maize. This find, they say reveals further evidence for the development and maintenance of a thriving agricultural urban center.

“One thing we can say with a great degree of certainty — the Ancestral Puebloans did not abandon Chaco Canyon because of salt pollution,” says Kenneth Barnett Tankersley, UC associate professor of anthropology and geology. “Previous investigations of this area only looked at surface soil samples and found what they thought were toxic levels of salt, but the studies lacked an in-depth chemical analysis of the type of salt found in the water and soil and an anthropological look at how the culture lived.”

By investigating modern Puebloan culture as well as looking at the geological environment, the researchers used a holistic approach to investigate how the culture flourished. Analyzing 1,000-year-old sediment, water and salt compounds and examining the water management technology of early Chaco Canyon dwellers led the research to conclusions that Tankersley described as remarkable.

All salts are not created equal

“What we have found regarding water management, salt issues and salt contamination will shake up southwestern archaeology anywhere in the world for any era,” Tankersley contends. “Harsh salts such as chloride minerals can indeed be deleterious to plants such as maize, however, not all salts are chlorides, and not all salts are harmful to plants.”

The UC interdisciplinary team of faculty and graduate students from the departments of geology, anthropology and geography published the conclusions and details of the study this month in the Journal of Archaeological Science titled, “Evaluating soil salinity and water management in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.”

In contrast to earlier studies that suggested the salts were toxic, the researchers exhumed samples from deeper in the earth and found that salts in the canyon’s water and soil from 1,000 years ago were instead non-deleterious sulfate minerals.

Looking back, according to the researchers, Ancestral Puebloans flourished in this area from the ninth to 12th centuries in the arid, yet fertile land they referred to as an oasis. But during this time the Puebloans suffered severe droughts in the canyon on several occasions, leaving them searching for other ways to manage water.

Early bottled water

Described by Tankersley as an unprecedented structural endeavor by pre-Columbian Native Americans, Chaco Canyon is characterized by the construction of monumental great houses and ceremonial Kivas surrounded by mountain chains dotting the horizon.

He describes them as multistory, planned structures comprised of millions of pieces of dressed sandstone and thousands of roof beams — some functioning as residences and others as sacred and ceremonial centers.

“The settlement was surrounded by mountains, which would provide water in the spring after the snow melted,” says Tankersley. “During the rainy season when floodwaters hit, the Puebloans would capture runoff water from small canyons known as the Rincons and local arroyos (periodic streams) such as Chaco Wash and the Escavada Wash.

“This process helped the water gather essential minerals along the way providing a rich fertilizer and an efficient irrigation system.”

Moreover, the researchers found evidence for water from ponds and puddles collected in ceramic jars during periods of drought, which the Puebloans stacked and stored in thickly walled rooms inside the great houses.

Tankersley explains this as an efficient way to keep the water at a constant cool temperature for drinking during dry periods.

Not only were these early denizens ahead of their time for such sophisticated infrastructure in these early mesa lands, but Tankersley describes the Ancestral Puebloans as master artisans who loved color.

“Among our research we also found evidence for sulfates being used as a base for paint pigments,” says Tankersley. “We already know that sulfate mineral salts were among the most important and sacred raw materials of past and present Puebloan cultures. They even influenced the selection of Pueblo sites such as the Santa Domingo Pueblo, chosen because of its close proximity to a deposit of calcium sulfate referred to as gypsum.

“When ground up and mixed with water, gypsum created a whitewash to paint the inside and outside of their homes.”

After uncovering a range of decorated crafts, ceramics and refined stone artifacts, he says scientists have unearthed strong evidence for amalgams made of sulfate gypsum and other local minerals to create a variety of pigments to decorate objects and paint murals on walls.

Many of their painted designs were stylized birds, deer, snakes, goats and ceremonial designs in story-form pictographs — illustrations Tankersley describes as the earliest known form of writing.

Kinship mobility

One of the most valuable resources the researchers had while combing through the desert was the friendships they built with the Puebloans and Navajo who still live in the immediate vicinity of the canyon, Tankersley said.

“The first president of our flagship organization, the Society for American Archaeology, was a Native American and since then somehow archaeologists got away from talking to indigenous people,” says Tankersley. “This brings back what we call ethnoarchaeology — comparing past human livelihoods with those of the modern direct descendants.

“When compared to what their ancestors did, the great thing about the Puebloans is that they have a high degree of cultural continuity.”

Further dialogue with the Native Americans helped shed light on how corn grown in different regions was found among the local samples the researchers investigated. Comparing the chemical isotope signatures in various corncobs to the same chemical signature in water from the areas outside Chaco Canyon, the researchers found specimens from sites as far as 300 km away.

“We explain this movement of maize into Chaco Canyon from significant distances away in terms of ‘kinship mobility,'” says Tankersley. “This is the distance goods and services, ceremonial or economic, moved between extended families.”

He further describes Ancestral Puebloans as a sharing culture — families gathering over great distances to share produce, exchange wares and participate in seasonal feasts and celebrations.

Understanding human behavior and culture is something the researchers value as much as analyzing the chemical and geological environment and Tankersley says that without this holistic approach much of research is left unsolved or misguided, in his opinion.

While the focus of this research was on Chaco Canyon, the researchers found the conclusions for water management systems and kinship mobility relevant to modern urban centers built in arid environments anywhere and anytime in the world.

Furthermore, the theory — that Ancestral Puebloan water management systems built in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, had led to catastrophic salt pollution and ultimately the abandonment of the area — can no longer be supported, the researchers contend.

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Researchers involved in this project: Kenneth B. Tankersley, UC Department of Anthropology and Geology; Vernon L. Scarborough, UC Department of Anthropology; Lewis A. Owen, UC Department of Geology; Warren D. Huff, UC Department of Geology; Nicholas P. Dunning, UC Department of Geography; Christopher Carr, UC Department of Geography; Jessica Thress, UC Department of Anthropology; Samantha G. Fladd, University of Arizona-Tucson, School of Anthropology; Katelyn J. Bishop, UCLA, Department of Anthropology; Stephen Plog, University of Virginia-Charlottesville, Department of Anthropology and Adam S. Watson, American Museum of Natural History, Department of North American Archaeology.

 

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A new study of prehistoric Southwestern ceramics, similar to this Ancestral Pubeloan mug from the Mesa Verde region, reveal widespread use of cacao and stomach-churning ‘black drink’. (Mesa Verde Black-on-white Mug ©2014 Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; BLM-Anasazi Heritage Center

A new study of prehistoric Southwestern ceramics, similar to this Ancestral Pubeloan mug from the Mesa Verde region, reveal widespread use of cacao and stomach-churning ‘black drink’. (Mesa Verde Black-on-white Mug ©2014 Crow Canyon Archaeological Center; BLM-Anasazi Heritage Center

Original article:

POSTED BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2015

western digs

Stimulating drinks made from exotic plants, like the cocoa tree and a type of southern holly, were consumed much more widely across the prehistoric Southwest than was thought, according to new research.

A recent study — the largest of its kind ever conducted — analyzed nearly 200 samples of pottery from Southwestern archaeological sites, ranging from Colorado to Chihuahua and spanning 650 years of human occupation.

This is the first evidence that the Ancestral Puebloans and other Southwestern cultures consumed the highly caffeinated Ilex drinks.

Until now, the use of ‘black drink’ had mainly been associated with distant cultures in the American Midwest and South, such as the Mississippian metropolis of Cahokia, where it was drunk as part of purging rituals, or for stimulating trance-like states.

Moreover, making both cocoa and ‘black drink’ required plants that grew in far-off climates, researchers say, indicating that the Southwest was part of an ancient ‘caffeine trade network’ that extended from the foothills of the Rockies to the heart of Mexico.

“There are no known plants in the Southwest or Northwestern Mexico that have caffeine,” said Dr. Patricia Crown, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico who led the study.

The results revealed that more than 20 percent of the ceramics contained traces of either cocoa or a potent concoction known as ‘black drink,’ made from yaupon holly, known to scientists as Ilex vomitoria.
“So these caffeinated drinks required acquiring — through exchange or direct acquisition — materials from a distance: Mesoamerica, for either plant, or perhaps the Gulf Coast for the holly.”

Crown was one of the researchers who, in 2009, first discovered traces of cocoa — or cacao — in pottery excavated from New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.

It was a striking reminder of the great economic reach of the Ancestral Puebloans, whose sites had already turned up other Mesoamerican items, like copper bells and remains of scarlet macaws.

Following that find, Crown and colleague W. Jeffrey Hurst, senior scientist with the Hershey Company, wanted to learn how widespread the use of cocoa was throughout the pre-contact Southwest.

“We were interested in determining the spatial and temporal extent of cacao use in the Southwest and Mexican Northwest,” she said.

“We began by looking at other contemporaneous sites in Chaco, then sites outside Chaco but related to it, then sites with evidence for exchange in Mesoamerican goods in other areas, and then sites that filled in geographic areas or time periods but didn’t necessarily have other evidence for Mesoamerican exchange.”

In all, the new study analyzed 177 pottery sherds from 18 different sites, ranging in age from the year 750 to 1400. They included monuments like Chaco’s Chetro Ketl, the ancient Hohokam settlement in Arizona known as Snaketown, and more recently studied sites like Windy Knob in southwestern Colorado.

Using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, the researchers then analyzed the sherds for traces of chemicals known as methylxanthines — stimulants that include caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, which are found in cacao and Ilex vomitoria, though in different proportions.

The results, Crown said, were surprising.

“When we started getting results … we realized that not all of them were clearly cacao,” she said.

“Many [of the results] had high caffeine [levels], which is not characteristic of cacao, and some had none of the other methylxanthines — theobromine and theophylline — that characterize cacao.

“So we had to determine what else those samples could be if they weren’t cacao.”

After comparing those residues with ones found in pottery fragments from around Cahokia, where Ilex-based beverages were known to have been used, Crown and Hurst determined that the unusual chemical signatures were likely those of ‘black drink.’

“We fully expected to see evidence for cacao — or not — in the samples,” Crown added.

“We were surprised to find results that suggested that some samples had caffeinated drinks that were not cacao.”

In addition to showing that holly-based drinks were likely used in the pre-Hispanic Southwest, this new analysis reveals just how widespread the consumption of caffeine was in the region.

Of the 177 pottery samples — 40 of them, or 22 percent — turned up traces of either cacao or Ilex, even in the sherds from communities that were not known to have Mesoamerican artifacts, or other signs of influence from far-flung cultures.

This, Crown noted, indicates that the Ancestral Puebloans, the Hohokam, and other Southwestern groups not only traded with the peoples of Mesoamerica and the Gulf Coast, they had prolonged and sustained contact with them.

“Once made into drinks, these plants were consumed,” she said. “So, unlike some other exchanged items, if they were an important part of life in the Southwest, or Northwestern Mexico, there had to be an ongoing supply, even if they were consumed only sporadically.

“This created social and economic relationships with distant populations,” she added.

“Individuals who served these drinks might have created more local relationships and obligations with the people who drank them in feasts or rituals or political contexts.

“So part of the takeaway is that special drinks of these sorts tell us something about relationships with distant areas, and also within local groups.”

Crown and Hurst report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

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20130128-113326.jpg

Topic: Chocolate

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 build enormous masonry “great houses” at New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon and create fine pottery, had little interaction with their neighbors in Mesoamerica. Other scientists 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 C.E.

The researchers swirled water in the bowls, then analyzed the compounds in the rinse water with a high-resolution liquid chromatograph-mass spectrometer, 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 oldest in 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., when Mexico’s 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 ceremonial occasions. But an 8th century village such as Site 13 probably would have been classless, so the chocolate would’ve been consumed by ordinary people.

Villagers might have drunk it primarily for its nutritional value, rather than for ritual reasons, the researchers say in a paper in press at the Journal of Archaeological Science. Or, as Aztec warriors did, villagers could have taken cakes of maize and cacao on trips, reconstituting the cakes with water to make an early version of instant hot chocolate.

The results, combined with the team’s earlier findings, show that “either a lot of people moved north or there was intensive trade bringing this cacao up” from Mesoamerica to the American Southwest, Dorothy Washburn says. “There’s this incredible and sustained contact between these two areas.”

Until now, the only known imports from Mesoamerica into the northern Southwest were limited quantities of parrots, copper bells, and a few other items, says Washington State University, Pullman, archaeologist William Lipe, a specialist on the Southwest. Most researchers think the cultural development of the Southwest was largely independent of Mesoamerican influences, he says, but a chocolate-drenched Southwest implies that Mesoamerica’s influence on Southwestern architecture and rituals might have been greater than expected.

Other researchers, though tantalized, are also cautious, precisely because the new study and the authors’ previous research have found so much chocolate. If cacao were so common, there would be stories or visual references or historical references to it, writes Ben Nelson, of Arizona State University, Tempe, who studies the ancient cultures of northern Mexico and the American Southwest, in an e-mail.

Archaeologist Michael Blake, who studies agriculture in the Americas, casts doubt on the paper’s suggestion that Site 13 residents may have consumed chocolate as a source of nutrition, either at home or on the road. By the time cacao got to the American Southwest, it would’ve been “scarce, prized, and extremely valuable,” writes Blake, of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada, in an e-mail. “I may serve caviar and fine champagne at my daughter’s wedding feast, but I’m not likely to pack it in my lunch bag when I go on a camping trip.”

Dorothy Washburn responds that evidence of cacao’s importance may well be found in other artifacts from the time, once such objects are reexamined in light of the new findings, and that practices relating to cacao may have died out if people stopped eating it. She also says that their findings don’t rule out that the Site 13 villagers ate cacao mostly as a ritual food.

At the very least, William Washburn says, the results suggest that “these people had acquired a taste for chocolate and knew how to prepare it”—making them not so different from modern-day chocolate lovers 1200 years later.

Original article:
news.sciencemag.org
By Tracy Watson

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Topic: Chocolate

More information on chocolate in the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico.

Scientists recently found traces of chocolate residue on ancient jars in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The discovery marks the earliest known presence of cacao north of Mexico. “It is the first known cacao north of the Mexican border in the United States, and as far as I know the only known cacao in the United States before contact,” Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico told LiveScience, referring to the time before Native Americans interacted with European settlers.

The pottery shards were discovered in Pueblo Bonito and suggest that the practice of drinking chocolate had traveled from Mexico to the American Southwest at least 1,000 years ago. Scientists had long known of the ancient practice of drinking chocolate in Mesoamerica, which spans from current day Central Mexico down to Nicaragua. But now they think the tradition may have traveled farther north than they previously believed. 

The cacao plant is tropical and needs moist warm environments to grow. The climate of New Mexico is not very conducive to tropical vegetation. Researchers say that the closest possible source of cacao beans for the inhabitants of Pueblo Bonito was about 1,240 miles away.

When the shards were originally discovered, their odd shape, approximately 10 inches tall and 4 inches wide, indicated that they were used for a very specific practice. “If it was the form specifically used for drinking cacao, that would explain why it’s such a specialized form,” said Crown.

Original article:

Latina.com

By Mariela Rosario

2/4/2009

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