Revealed: the 3,000-year-old mug of cocoa

Alok Jha
The Guardian, Tuesday November 13 2007

Article history · Contact us Contact us Few can dispute chocolate's global popularity. But the discovery of ancient pottery in Honduras has revealed there has been a penchant for the rich aroma of cocoa beans for far longer than previously thought. Archaeologists have dated fragments of pottery used to hold a chocolate-based drink to 1150BC, pushing back the earliest known use of chocolate 500 years. John Henderson, of Cornell University in New York, led a team that analysed pieces of pottery dug out of a site in what is now Puerto Escondido, Honduras. They found the residue of a chemical called theobromine, which only occurs in the cacao plant, on the pots. The cacao beverages consumed at Puerto Escondido were likely to have been produced by fermenting the sweet pulp surrounding the seeds to make an alcoholic drink much like the South American drink chicha. The scientists found 10 small serving vessels at Puerto Escondido. "These vessels were designed for pouring and drinking liquids; they are comparable to vessels in which cacao was served and consumed in later Mesoamerica," Henderson wrote in yesterday's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers concluded that the vessels reflected the early history of cacao-serving during ceremonies celebrating marriages, births, and other important occasions. "The frothed chocolate drink ... came to be central to social and ritual life throughout Mesoamerica, ultimately becoming the standard of economic value for the Aztec empire ... The results of this project trace a previously unsuspected time depth and complexity in the history of one of the major luxury commodities in the world today."

* This article appeared in the Guardian on Tuesday November 13 2007 on p5 of the UK news and analysis section. It was last updated at 23:52 on November 12 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/nov/13/archaeology.sciencenews

C& EN CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS
November 14, 2007 (also appeared in print Nov. 19, 2007, p. 11) Archaeology

Cacao Drinks Date To 1150 B.C.
Analysis of pottery residue shows chocolate plant used earlier than anthropologists realized

Chocolate, made from cacao beans, was once the currency of the Aztec empire and continues to be a luxury commodity. Anthropologists are still unsure, however, of when and how cacaobased beverages originated in the region now known as Central America. A group led by John S. Henderson, a professor of anthropology at Cornell University, has found the cacao component theobromine in pottery dating back to 1150 B.C., about 500 years earlier than previously documented (Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0708815104). The researchers collected pottery samples at excavation sites near the village of Puerto Escondido, Honduras. In prior studies, only visible residue remaining inside pottery was analyzed. In the latest work, the researchers extracted residues from the aluminosilicate matrix of pottery fragments by heating the pieces in water, methane/methanol, or chloroform/methanol. They analyzed the extracts using liquid chromatography and gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. Although theobromine was detected in the early pottery, missing were additives commonly reported in other ancient, though more recent, chocolate drinks, such as compounds from beeswax in honey or capsaicin from chili peppers. These results, along with the style of the pottery (shown), led the researchers to hypothesize that the early beverage was actually a fruit wine made from fermenting cacao pulp and that the practice of using cacao seeds for chocolate drinks developed later.
FIRST CACAO BEVERAGES Analysis of ancient pottery in Honduras suggests cacao was used in drinks about 500 years earlier than previously thought.

http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/85/i47/8547news3.html

C& EN CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS
November 14, 2007 (also appeared in print Nov. 19, 2007, p. 11) Archaeology

Cacao Drinks Date To 1150 B.C.
Analysis of pottery residue shows chocolate plant used earlier than anthropologists realized