Posts Tagged ‘Mesoamerica’

Topic: Ancient Maya agricultural practices.

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

Original article:


Sep 2011

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Topic: Early tools

201110227432 | 9,000 Year Old Tools Found in Mexico.

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Topic: Sunflowers


It’s Official! Team Confirms Sunflower Domesticated in US, Not Mexico.

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Topic More on Beer

Orange-colored galls, such as these pictured in 2010, from the beech tree forests of Patagonia have been found to harbor the yeast that makes lager beer possible. Five hundred years ago, in the age of sail and when the trans-Atlantic trade was just beginning, the yeast somehow made its way from Patagonia to the caves and monastery cellars of Bavaria where the first lager beers were fermented.

If you like lager beer, you have Christopher Columbus to thank for it. The
long-standing mystery of where the yeast that makes cold-temperature lager beer
fermentation possible has been solved, in the beech forests of Patagonia
in Argentina.

Humans have been making beer for a very long time. The first actual
evidence we have is barley beer 6,000 years ago in Sumeria, which was probably
somewhat like a thin, fermented, drinkable gruel. In Europe, the same yeast
types used to make bread and wine were used to make ale-type beers,
a process that was well-established by the Middle Ages.

But in the 15th century, something remarkable happened in Bavaria. Beers stored in the cold, dank caves and cellars there,
often by monks, began to ferment. A new type of slow-growing, cold-tolerant
yeast had found its way into the area, making bottom-fermenting beer type
possible for the first time.

Lager has since become so widespread that it is now the most popular
technique for producing alcoholic beverages, with over $250 billion in global
sales in 2008.

The yeast that made all this possible was called Saccharomyces pastorianus, which was a fusion of a
well-known ale-yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae and some other, unknown,
cold-tolerant yeast.

However much scientists searched, they couldn’t find the other half of the
yeast fusion in the wild. They looked at the more than 1,000 yeast species known
and found no match. It didn’t appear to exist in anywhere in Europe.

But now an international team of researchers have discovered the home ground
of this magical yeast that has made so many sporting events so much more

It comes from the beech forests of Patagonia, the alpine region at the tip of
South America, they report in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences
. The yeast lives in galls
that infect the trees there and is a 99.5% match for the ‘missing link’ half of
the lager yeast.

They named the newfound yeast Saccharomyces eubayanus.

“Beech galls are very rich in simple sugars. It’s a sugar rich habitat that
yeast seem to love,” Chris Todd Hittinger, a University of Wisconsin-Madison genetics
professor and a co-author of the study, said in a release.

In fact, the yeast is so active in the galls that they spontaneously ferment.
“When over mature, they fall all together to the (forest) floor where they often
form a thick carpet that has an intense ethanol odor, most probably due to the
hard work of our new Saccharomyces eubayanus,” Diego Libkind of the Institute for Biodiversity
and Environment Research in Bariloche, Argentina, said.

Somehow, and no one knows exactly how, this New World yeast got to Europe
just as the Columbian exchange between Europe and the Americas was
beginning. Perhaps beech wood from Argentina was used to make something that
ended up in a monastery. However it happened, it made its way to where beer was
brewed. And the rest, beer lovers have cause to be grateful for, was

Or as the researchers put it rather more dryly:

The facile recovery of this species from Patagonia suggests that S.
may have been absent in Europe until it was imported from
overseas after the advent of trans-Atlantic trade.

Original article:

By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY



This illustration depicts the journey of lager yeast from Patagonia at the southern tip of South America to Europe 500 years ago.

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Topic : Ancient Peruvian agriculture practices


The coastal desert of Peru. (Wikimedia Commons)

What do the characters in The Grapes of Wrath, Icelandic shepherds in the Middle Ages and ancient Peruvians have in common? They all suffered from the effects of intensive agriculture on sensitive environments.

Throughout human history unsustainable agricultural practices have turned fragile ecosystems into wastelands and left people starving. During the Dust Bowl, American farmers learned the consequences of removing the deep rooted grasses from the Great Plains when the soil blew away in tremendous dust storms. Icelandic shepherds learned that the sheep rearing practices their ancestors used on the European mainland destroyed the thin soils of their island and left them with starving herds and little to eat.

The ancient inhabitants of what is now Peru also learned the unhappy consequences of farming in a delicate ecosystem. The Ica Valley, near the coast of southern Peru and the famous Nazca lines, is now a barren desert, but was once a fertile floodplain, anchored by the roots of the huarango tree.

People were able to raise a variety of crops there for several centuries. But intensive agriculture in pre-conquest times led to ecosystem collapse. The history of the land was recently reconstructed by bioarcheologist David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge by looking at plant remains left in ancient garbage heaps.

Beresford-Jones and a team of archeologists studied plant remains associated with settlement sites spanning roughly 750 B.C. to 1000 A.D. They observed the change as the valley inhabitants went from eating mostly gathered foods, to a period of intense agriculture, then back again to surviving on what they could eke out of nature’s diminished bounty.

“The farmers inadvertently crossed an ecological threshold and the changes became irreversible,” says Dr. David Beresford-Jones of the University of Cambridge.

Farming the Ica Valley was possible because of the huarango tree woodland, which literally held the floodplain together. The roots of the tree physically anchored the soils and protected the ground from erosion. The trees also maintained fertility by fixing nitrogen from the air and keeping moisture in the soil.

But as more land was cleared for crop production, so much of the woodland was cleared that the huarango’s benefits were lost. The land was then exposed to floods from El Niño events and strong winds parched the land when it wasn’t flooded.
Clearing the land of trees in order to grow crops had inadvertently and ironically made it impossible to grow crops.

Earlier residents of the valley had survived largely on land snails, along with sea urchins and mussels gathered from the Pacific coast, an eight-hour walk to the west. The researchers found no evidence of domesticated crops in the refuse heaps, called middens, left by these early inhabitants.

Things started to change around 100 B.C. Remains from crops, including pumpkins, maize, and manioc tubers, began appearing in the garbage heaps. Within a few hundred years there was more intensive agriculture. People added beans, peanuts, and chili peppers to their menus.

The feast didn’t last long though. After about 500 years of agriculture, the domesticated crops disappeared. People once again survived on only snails and seafood with some wild plants.

In less than two thousand years, the people went full circle and ended up eating what their ancestors had, but without the huarango forests. To this day, the land is barren, with only the ghostly outlines of irrigation canals to suggest that the land once supported an agrarian society.

Further evidence of the change is found in the disappearance of the use of a blue dye from the indigofera shrub. The shrub grows only in the shelter of huarango trees along waterways. The peoples of the Ica Valley frequently sported clothes dyed a rich blue between 100 and 400 A.D. But as agriculture increased, the use of the dye decreased, suggesting the indigofera’s habitat was also disappearing. Seeds from the shrub also became rare in the archeological record.

The indigofera eventually disappeared from the lower Ica Valley, but other plants became more common. Grasses that thrive in open areas became more common as the trees were cut down. Weeds that sprout in soil disturbed by agriculture also became more common.

The study of land use in the Ica Valley was recently published in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.

The peoples of the Ica Valley are not the only Peruvians to  suffer from the effects of deforestation. The hills around Lima, Peru were once
covered in huarango trees as well. The trees captured the fog from the ocean and  fed local aquifers. But after the Spanish conquest, the trees were cut and the  hills went dry.


Coast of Peru



Original article:



IMAGE 1: The coastal desert of Peru. (Wikimedia Commons)

IMAGE 2: Photo STS109-730-80
from the STS-109 crew on March 9, 2002, showing layers of coastal Peruvian fog
and stratus being progressively scoured away by brisk south to southeast winds.
Remnants of the cloud deck banked against the larger, obstructing headlands like
Peninsula Paracas and Isla Sangayan, giving the prominent “white comma” effect.
Southerlies also produced ripples of internal gravity waves in the clouds
offshore where warm, dry air aloft interacts with a thinning layer of cool,
moist air near the sea surface on the outer edge of the remaining cloud bank.
South of Peninsula Baracas, the small headlands channeled the clouds into
streaks—local horizontal vortices caused by the headlands provided enough lift
to give points of origin of the clouds in some bays. Besides the shelter of the
peninsula, the Bahia de Pisco appears to be cloud-free due to a dry, offshore
flow down the valley of the Rio Ica. Caption provided by NASA Earth
; image provided by the Earth
Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory
at Johnson Space Center.

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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.


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:


By Julie St Jean 24/02/2011 16:46:00




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Topic:Aztec God of rain


Monotith of the Aztec God of Rain



Archaeologists in Mexico made a dramatic discovery in the state of Morelos when they uncovered an 8th century monolith featuring an Aztec God weighing 60 tonnes.

With agricultural images engraved on its side, the massive stone is believed to have been used by the Aztecs to call on the god of rain.

“These signs on the rock are fundamentally associated with agriculture and water. We think it’s highly probable that it (the monolith) was used during rituals to ask for rain and it was placed in a position facing Popocatepetl,” said archaeologist Raul Gonzalez.

With the ritual stone also bearing the image of the Aztec god Tlaloc, experts are connecting the massive monolith to the nearby archaeological site of Xochicalco.

We have numbered them (hieroglyphics) all and those we have been able to decipher include a corn figure and one of Tlaloc,” added Gonzalez. “We also have others which are anthropomorphous and others which are amorphous, which are four-legged animals. We don’t know the exact definition or what they represent but they are there.”

Reforma newspaper reports that construction workers building a shopping centre in the area first encountered the priceless artefact and notified authorities.

Further investigations by Mexico’s Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) unearthed the massive monolith near a highway connecting to the nearby city Cuautla. The scientists hope the 60-tonne monolith will have its final resting place at the UNESCO-listed Xochicalco zone.

The Aztecs, a warlike and deeply religious people who built monumental works, ruled an empire stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean – encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico.

Their often bloody reign ended when they were subjugated in 1521 by the Spanish, led by Hernan Cortes.

Original article:


July 11, 2011

For those who follow my blogs-since I was on vacation I am postponing my post of the Mead bottling until next week-Just a little behind!

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Topic Inca agriculture:

A llama grazes near the Machu Picchu site in the Andes. Research shows these animals' dropping were critical for the Inca.

  • The cultivation of critical maize crops and the use of organic fertilizer
    2,700 years ago laid the foundation for the Inca to settle and flourish many
    centuries later.
  • Research shows that llama droppings helped make these crops possible at the
  • high altitudes of the Andes.

Lots of llama droppings helped the ancient Inca build the largest empire ever
to exist in the Americas, according to a new study.

Human populations took off and developed into complex societies in the Andes
by switching from hunter-gathering to agriculture centered on maize, according
to the research published in the June issue of the journal Antiquity.
llama poop helped fertilize that crucial crop.

“This leap occurred 2,700 years ago and was made possible by a huge
availability of animal excrement. Organic fertilizers enabled corn to be
cultivated at very high altitudes, allowing the Inca to settle and flourish,”
Alex Chepstow-Lusty, a palaeoecologist from the French Institute for Andean
Studies in Lima, Peru, told Discovery News.

The Inca ruled the largest empire on Earth — stretching from the present-day
southern border of Colombia to central Chile — by the time their last emperor,
Atahualpa, was executed by Spanish conquistadors in 1533.

Because the Inca language has no written form — it has long been considered
the only major Bronze Age civilization without a written language — and due to
the destruction of their heritage by the Spanish, the details of their meteoric
rise have remained a mystery.

Chepstow-Lusty found reliable witnesses to reconstruct the “extraordinary
plant-breeding event” which might be at the basis of the Inca Empire. These were
pollen and mites buried in layers of mud on the floor of Lake Marcacocha in the
Cuzco region of the Peruvian Andes, where Machu Picchu sits.

Similar to the rings in the trunk of a tree, each layer of sediment
represents a fixed period of time. Taking a 6.3-meter (20.6 foot)-long sediment
core from the lake bottom, Chepstow-Lusty investigated and radiocarbon-dated
organic material from six layers, basically analyzing a 4,200-year-old sediment

The researcher found that maize pollen appears for the first time in the lake
muds around 700 B.C., showing that the cereal could be cultivated at high
altitudes of at least 3,350 meters (10,990 feet) above sea level.

Until then, Andean people were eating potatoes and quinoa, a grain-like plant
similar to spinach which is very protein-rich.

According to Graham Thiele, an Andean agriculture specialist at the
International Potato Center in Lima, maize indeed made a difference. More
energy-dense than potato, it could be stored for much longer and was easier to

“This really matters where there are no flat roads and wheeled vehicles and
everything has to be carried on the back of a man or llama,” Thiele told
Discovery News.

“In addition, maize is more suitable for accumulation in elite controlled
stores, and would have supported rent extraction by the emergent Wari and Inca
elites. So maize trumps potato on transportability, storage and suitability for
paying tribute,” he said.

The lake sediment core also revealed that the highest abundance of oribatid
mites, which eat animal dung, corresponded with the first appearance of

This would show that, although corn was introduced to South America about
5,000 years ago, it reached the inhospitable Andes only with the help of llama
herds. Located next to an ancient trade route between the jungle and the
mountains, Marcaccocha was an ideal stop for llamas transporting goods.

“They used the pasture next to lake where they defecated communally. This was
food for the mites, but also provided fertilizer which was easily collected and
necessary for the maize to grow,” Chepstow-Lusty said.

A brief
period of warming
between two major droughts also helped in growing maize at
high altitudes.

“The Marcacocha record shows that a series of droughts associated with
temperature increases, corresponding with major societal changes, occurred
approximately every 500 years after 700 B.C.,” Chepstow-Lusty said.

From 1100 A.D., the warming was sustained for at least five centuries,
allowing the growth of the biggest Empire in the western hemisphere and lasting
beyond the arrival of the Spanish in 1532 A.D.


Original Article:


Rossella Lorenzi
Mon May 23, 2011

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Topic: Ancient Myan agraculture

Why ancient Mayan communities were ‘living on the edge’ of what is now a massive wetland.

Original article:


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UC pioneers research on environmental practices of ancient Maya.

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