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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A genetic study of papaya sex chromosomes reveals that the hermaphrodite version of the plant, which is of most use to growers, arose as a result of human selection, most likely by the ancient Maya some 4,000 years ago.

The study, reported in the journal Genome Research, homes in on a region of papaya’s male sex chromosome that, the study indicates, gave rise to the hermaphrodite plants. 

 “This research will one day lead to the development of a papaya that produces only hermaphrodite offspring, an advance that will enhance papaya root and canopy development while radically cutting papaya growers’ production costs and their use of fertilizers and water,” said University of Illinois plant biology professor Ray Ming, who led the research. Ming is a professor in the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at Illinois. 

Papaya plants are either male, female or hermaphrodite. The hermaphrodites produce the desirable fruit that is sold commercially. Growing hermaphrodites is costly and inefficient, however, because one-third of hermaphrodite fruit seeds and one-half of female fruit seeds generate female plants, which are useless to growers. Farmers cannot tell which seeds are hermaphrodites until the plant has flowered, so they plant multiple seeds together to maximize their chances of getting at least one hermaphrodite plant. Once they identify the desired plant, they cut the others down. 

The Y chromosome in papaya hermaphrodites, which is called Yh, arises from an altered form of the male Y chromosome. Researchers are keen to understand the genetic basis for this alteration, so they can develop “true-breeding” hermaphrodite papaya, which will produce only hermaphrodite offspring, Ming said. 

“Identification of an ancestral male population that the modified hermaphrodite Yh evolved from will allow us to track down the mutation that caused the male-to-hermaphrodite sex reversal,” he said. 

The researchers sequenced and compared the “male-specific” and “hermaphrodite-specific” regions of the Y and Yh sex chromosomes, respectively, in 24 wild male papaya and 12 cultivated hermaphrodite plants. They found less than half of one percent difference between the male and hermaphrodite sequences, suggesting that the evolutionary event that caused them to diverge occurred in the not-too-distant past. 

“The sex chromosomes in other organisms, such as mammals, are ancient and the genes involved in their initial evolution cannot be identified because many subsequent changes, including gene gains and losses, have occurred,” the authors wrote. Human sex chromosomes, for example, are an estimated 167 million years old, while papaya sex chromosomes date to about 7 million years ago. This makes the papaya a good model for understanding sex chromosome evolution in general, Ming said. 

Among the male papaya plants, the team identified three distinct wild populations: MSY1, MSY2 and MSY3. Their analysis revealed that the MSY3 population was most closely related to the hermaphrodite sex chromosome. All of the MSY3 plants in the study were from the northwest Pacific coast of Costa Rica. 

“Our analyses date the divergence (of male and hermaphrodite papaya) to around 4,000 years (ago), well after the domestication of crop plants in Mesoamerica more than 6,200 years ago, and coinciding with the rise of Maya civilization about 4,000 years ago,” the authors wrote. 

Given that no wild hermaphrodite papayas have been found in Central America, “this strongly suggests that the (hermaphrodite papaya) resulted from papaya domestication by the Maya or other indigenous groups,” the researchers wrote. 

The National Science Foundation supported this research. 

News.illinois

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Topic: Early origins

Photograph courtesy Takeshi Inomata
Archaeologists excavate through the A-24 platform to reach the foundations, dated to about 1,000 B.C.

Civilizations rise and fall, often in dramatic fashion. Their origins, though, are subtler and tend to be overlooked or poorly understood.

In the case of the Maya, a new paper in Science magazine sheds surprising light on that murky early period.

The classic period of the lowland Maya in Mesoamerica (A.D. 300 to 950) is a popular topic in archaeology, but little is known about the early preclassic era (before 1000 B.C.). Scientists are typically split between two theories on the subject: Either the Maya developed directly from an older “mother culture” known as the Olmec, or they sprang into existence independently.

Takeshi Inomata, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and a National Geographic research grantee, disagrees with both theories. In his work at the archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala, he has unearthed evidence for a more complex origin story.

Early Ritual Spaces

The Maya are usually associated with monumental architecture. Massive pyramids and immense plazas testify to a complex and fascinating culture. One can hardly hear the word “Maya” without imagining elaborately decorated kings and priests climbing the long, steep stairs of pyramids like those at Tikal.

But pyramids don’t just spring out of the jungle overnight, nor does a complex culture merely appear. Inomata and his team dug below the monumental architecture at Ceibal to see how such structures began.

Inomata assumed that the now iconic classic architecture probably stood on earlier sites used for similar purposes. His assumption turned out to be correct. He found smaller platforms built of earth beneath the pyramids of stone, signaling a formal ritual complex at Ceibal dating to around 1000 B.C.

The presence of ritual architecture early in the development of the Maya is an indication of a settled lifestyle with complex agriculture, religion, and a stratified society—all of which add up to a unified culture and the beginnings of a larger civilization.

Redefining the Olmec Connection

Experts have traditionally believed that when the Olmec were busy building their civilization at large sites such as La Venta, near the Gulf coast in modern Mexico, the people who would become the Maya were living in loosely associated nomadic groups in the jungles to the east and southeast. This theory holds that the Maya derived their entire society—including their architecture and social structure—directly from the Olmec.

But Inomata’s work has revealed that the Olmec is not an older civilization. In fact, Ceibal pre-dates La Venta by as long as two centuries. And although some Olmec cities are indeed older than both La Venta and Ceibal, they likely did not interact with the Maya.

“This does not mean that the Maya developed independently,” Inomata says. Instead, he believes, the influence flowed both ways. La Venta and Ceibal appear to have developed in tandem in a great cultural shift throughout the region. “It seems more likely that there was a broad history of interactions across these regions, and through these interactions, a new form of society developed.”

More Flexible Definitions

To further complicate matters, Inomata stresses that the evidence doesn’t show clear distinctions between the Olmec and Maya at the preclassic stage.

The two civilizations are easy to differentiate during the classic period, since the Maya had by then developed a distinct language and culture. But the period between 1000 and 700 B.C. is more transitional. With La Venta and Ceibal freely trading ideas, technologies, cultural elements, and perhaps even population, it’s difficult to call one Olmec and the other Maya.

“Determining labels for these early people is quite a tricky question—we’re not sure if residents of early Ceibal were wholly Mayan,” says Inomata. “We have decided to take a much more flexible approach, avoiding fixed labels in favor of looking at patterns of interaction and how more stable identities developed.”

An Agricultural Revolution

Inomata and his team will spend the next three years analyzing the findings from Ceibal. They will then begin to excavate outside the site’s center, hoping to gain an understanding of what day-to-day life was like in the preclassic period.

The peripheral areas, separated from the ritual plazas and temples, could hold more keys to the origins of the Maya. Inomata believes that the residential and agricultural areas are particularly important.

Around 1000 B.C. the previously nomadic groups that became the Maya began to build urban ritual areas. “Instead of starting with villages,” Inomata says, “they made a ceremonial center.” The idea for that may have come from the people who later created La Venta.

A radical shift in agriculture at that time may also have played an important role in the move to a more settled lifestyle. Corn, the principal crop of the Maya, “became much more productive,” says Inomata. “And then it made sense to cut down forests and increase agriculture.”

Inomata believes this agricultural revolution may have been rooted in genetic changes in the corn plant itself. But this, like so many other ideas about the rise and fall of the Maya civilization, still requires much more evidence to prove.

Original article:
nationalgeographic
By Nicholas Mott, April 25, 2013

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Topic: More on the Mayan Collapse

Illustration by Roy Andersen, National Geographic

In a wet period, Maya farms thrived, and an empire flowered, studies say.

Every civilization has its rise and fall. But no culture has fallen quite like the Maya Empire, seemingly swallowed by the jungle after centuries of urban, cultural, intellectual, and agricultural evolution.

What went wrong? The latest discoveries point not to a cataclysmic eruption, quake, or plague but rather to climate change. And faced with the fallout, one expert says, the Maya may have packed up and gone to the beach.

But first came the boom years, roughly A.D. 300 to 660. At the beginning of the so-called Classic Maya period, some 60 Maya cities—each home to between 60,000 and 70,000 people—sprang up across much of modern-day Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. (Explore an interactive map of key Maya sites.)

Surrounded by pyramids, plazas, ball courts, and government buildings, the urban Maya discussed philosophy, developed an accurate solar-year calendar, and relished a thick, bitter beverage made from cacao beans: the world’s first hot chocolate.

Farmers, too, were riding high, turning hillsides into terraced fields to feed the burgeoning population.

Then came the bust, a decline that lasted at least two centuries. By 1100 the residents of once thriving Maya cities seem to have just up and left. But where did they flee to, and why?

In the 19th century, when explorers began discovering the overgrown ruins of “lost cities,” theorists imagined an immense volcanic eruption or earthquake or superstorm—or maybe an empire-wide pandemic. (Related: “Maya Mystery Solved by ‘Important’ Volcanic Discovery?”)

But today scientists generally agree that the Maya collapse has many roots, all intertwined—overpopulation, warfare, famine, drought. At the moment, the hottest field of inquiry centers on climate change, perhaps of the Maya’s own doing.

Flowering With the Rain

The latest Maya climate-change study, published Friday in the journal Science, analyzes a Belizean cavern’s stalagmites—those lumpy, rocky spires on cave floors—to link climate swings to both the rise and fall of the empire.

Formed by water and minerals dripping from above, stalagmites grow quicker in rainier years, giving scientists a reliable record of historical precipitation trends. One sample used in the new study, for example, documents fluctuations as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Among the trends revealed by the Belizean stalagmites: “The early Classic Maya period was unusually wet, wetter than the previous thousand years,” according to study leader Douglas Kennett, an environmental anthropologist at Pennsylvania State University. “During this time, the population proliferated,” aided by a surge in agriculture.

During the wettest decades, from 440 to 660, cities sprouted. All the hallmarks of Maya civilization—sophisticated political systems, monumental architecture, complex religion—came into full flower during this era.

Climate Shift Sparks Conflict

But the 200-year-long wet spell turned out to be an anomaly. When the climate pendulum swung back, hard times followed.

“Mayan systems were founded on those [high] rainfall patterns,” Kennett said. “They could not support themselves when patterns changed.”

The following centuries, from about 660 to 1000, were characterized by repeated and, at times extreme, drought. Agriculture declined and—not coincidentally—social conflict rose, Kennet says.

The Maya religious and political system was based on the belief that rulers were in direct communication with the gods. When these divine connections failed to produce rainfall and good harvests, tensions likely developed.

Within the scant 25 years between 750 and 775, for example, 39 embattled rulers commissioned the same number of stone monuments—evidence of “rivalry, war, and strategic alliances,” according to Kennett’s study.

But times would get even harder.

The stalagmite record suggests that between 1020 and 1100 the region suffered its longest dry spell of the last 2,000 years. With it, the study suggests, came Maya crop failure, famine, mass migration, and death.

By the time Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, inland Maya populations had decreased by 90 percent, and urban centers had been largely abandoned. Farms had become overgrown and cities reclaimed by forest.

A Cautionary Tale?

The collapse, though, wasn’t exactly all natural. To some extent, the Maya may have designed their own decline.

“There were tens of millions of people in the area, and they were building cities and farms at the expense of the forest,” climate scientist Benjamin I. Cook said.

Widespread deforestation reduced the flow of moisture from the ground to the atmosphere, interrupting the natural rain cycle and in turn reducing precipitation, says Cook, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

According to computer simulations Cook ran for a study published in Geophysical Research Letters this past August, the localized drying decreased atmospheric moisture by 5 to 15 percent annually. Even a 10 percent decrease is considered an environmental catastrophe, he says.

Add this to the broader drying trend and the situation becomes dire—a cautionary tale for modern society, according to Cook. Today, as more and more forestland is turned into farms and cities, and as global temperatures continue to rise, we may risk the same fate that befell the Maya, he says.

But, according to Arizona State University professor of environment and society B.L. Turner, “that’s the kind of oversimplification we’re trying to get away from. The Mayan situation is not applicable today—our society is just so radically different now.”

Lure of the Beach

In a study published in August by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Turner attempts to correct some common misconceptions, beginning with the idea that Maya civilization vanished after the conquistadores arrived.

“It didn’t cease to exist; there are still today Mayan people in the area. The culture, the traditions have been maintained,” he said. But the cities, historically, have not—and that’s odd.

Throughout global history, he said, “rarely can you find a large sustained population that just left and never came back,” Turner said. The closest analogue he can think of is the sudden, and final, abandonment of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex in the 15th century.

Turner’s study concludes that the natural environment recovered rather quickly after the dry centuries. Why, then, didn’t the Maya reclaim their glorious cities?

Turner points to the coasts. Fleeing starving, warring inland cities, many Maya made a beeline for the shore. Trade also shifted, from overland paths to coastal routes, he suggests.

With life relatively comfortable on the coast, the inland Maya cities may have simply been forgotten, Turner says. No catastrophic earthquake, no plague, no curse, but rather a gradual migration to the beach, where life was a bit mellower.

That is, until the Spanish arrived.

Original article:
By Nicholas Mott
national geographic

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Topic: Mayan Water System

I wonder just how this system impacted their agriculture although the article does not mention it. I will be looking for more on this subject in the future.

Water management and climate change in ancient Maya city#.T3envb45FTQ.email.

Original article

sciencedaily

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Cincinnati, via Newswise. The original article was written by Dawn Fuller.

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Español: Kabah, Yucatán México. El llamado Cod...

Image via Wikipedia

Topic: Myan Kitchen

Mexico City – Archaeologists on Thursday were still  digesting this week’s announcement of the discovery of a royal  kitchen from the time of the Mayas in the Kabah archaeological area,  in the south-eastern Mexican state of Yucatan.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH),  which announced the finding late Wednesday, said a large number of  pots, stone artifacts and other materials were found in the area,  along with evidence of fires.

The kitchen is believed to have been 40 metres long and 14 metres  wide, and researchers date it at 750-950 AD, when the pre-Hispanic  town of Kabah was in its prime. There is however evidence of a human  presence in the area as early as 300 BC, the INAH said.

The Codz-Poop (or Palace of Masks);

 

 

The kitchen is believed to have been part of a palace.

‘We think large quantities of food were cooked in palaces, which  is why utensils were larger, there were more of them and they had  varied shapes for different uses,’ said archaeologist Lourdes  Toscano.

Toscano said researchers were struck by the absence of animal  bones at the site, which led them to believe that waste was taken  elsewhere. Archaeologists plan to study the traces of organic matter  they did find, however, to find out what food was eaten by the  community.

Original article:

monstersandcritics.com

Nov 17, 2011

 

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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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Topic: Image of Olmec Corn God

Maya Jester God/Olmec Corn God

Over the weekend, we reported the discovery of the possible oldest Maya royal burial, from around 350 BC. The discovery turns on images of the Maya Jester god found on an incense burner in the tomb, a symbol of royalty.

Archaeologist John Tomasic of the University of Kansas, provided USA TODAY with some images of the incense burner and other finds from the site, near archaeological digs at Holmul, headed by Francisco Estrada-Belli.

The Jester god is an interesting figure in Mesoamerican scholarship, taking his name from adornment with a headdress sporting a triple-leafed headpiece, the stems spread like a jester’s cap. The trefoil design actually mimics an ear of corn, and the deity is thought to be an Olmec corn god later taken up by the Maya as a patron of royal power.

Drawing of Maya Jester God

Original Article:

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
April 4, 2011

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Topic: Maya Food in Daily Life

Maya mural of daily life

A series of unusual Maya wall murals, complete with hieroglyphic captions, are providing archaeologists with a priceless look at day-to-day life in the empire circa A.D. 620 to 700.

Previously known Maya murals all depict the ruling elite, victories in battle, or religious themes. (Explore a map of Maya ruins.)

But exterior walls on a “painted pyramid” buried for centuries in the Mexican jungle (pictured, a corner of the pyramid undergoing excavations) have shown Maya scholars something completely different.

The murals—discovered in 2004 at the Maya site of Calakmul—depict ordinary people enjoying much more casual pursuits, according to a new, detailed description of the wall art.

“There’s really nothing like this in any of the [known] murals. These are totally unexpected,” said Maya expert Michael D. Coe, curator emeritus at Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History and editor of the new paper.

“This is everyday life with people who are not upper-crust Maya but rather people engaged in everyday activities.”

Maya Food and Fashion

The colorful artwork shows the clothing and jewelry worn by various social classes in Calakmul, one of the largest cities of the Classic Maya period, which lasted from A.D. 300 to 900.

During this era, Calakmul was likely the capital of the Kan (Snake) Kingdom, which held great sway over the Maya world.

The murals also depict common foodstuffs as well as people involved in food preparation and distribution, including a “salt person” and a “tobacco person,” as they are labeled in the hieroglyphs.

Other scenes depict corn products that were essential to the Maya diet: A woman distributes a platter of tamales to a crowd in one panel, while a man and woman in another scene serve maize gruel.

What’s more, the Calakmul murals’ exterior location surprised experts, since other murals were found secreted away inside pyramids.

“In other words, they were public,” Coe said of the Calakmul paintings. “They were to be seen by everybody.” Luckily for Maya scholars, the painted pyramid’s long burial helped preserve the unusual artwork.

Original article:

November 12, 2009

Brian Handwerk

National Gergraphic News

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