A University of New Mexico archaeologist and a chemist with the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition have found traces of chocolate in clay vessels dumped in a Chaco Canyon trash heap more than 800 years ago.
It is the first evidence ever found of prehistoric chocolate use north of the Mexican border and provides new evidence of prehistoric trade patterns across the Americas. The discovery is being published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Evidence of cacao use in the Prehispanic American Southwest
Patricia L. Crown a),1) and W. Jeffrey Hurst b)
a) Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, MSC01 1040, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1086; and
b)The Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition, P.O. Box 805, Hershey, PA 17033
Communicated by Bruce D. Smith, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, December 16, 2008 (received for review December 4, 2008)
Chemical analyses of organic residues in fragments of ceramic vessels from Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, reveal theobromine, a biomarker for cacao. With an estimated 800 rooms, Pueblo Bonito is the largest archaeological site in Chaco Canyon and was the center of a large number of interconnected towns and villages spread over northwestern New Mexico. The cacao residues come from pieces of vessels that are likely cylinder jars, special containers occurring almost solely at Pueblo Bonito and deposited in caches at the site. This first known use of cacao drinks north of the Mexican border indicates exchange with cacao cultivators in Mesoamerica in a time frame of about A.D. 1000"1125. The association of cylinder jars and cacao beverages suggests that the Chacoan ritual involving the drinking of cacao was tied to Mesoamerican rituals incorporating cylindrical vases and cacao. The importance of Pueblo Bonito within the Chacoan world likely lies in part with the integration of Mesoamerican ritual, including critical culinary ingredients.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
area of Native American ruins in northwestern New Mexico, U.S. It is situated some 45 miles (70 km) south of Bloomfield and about 55 miles (90 km) northeast of Gallup. The park was established in 1907 as Chaco Canyon National Monument and was redesignated and renamed in 1980; it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The park occupies an area of 53 square miles (137 square km), which consists of a canyon dissected by the Chaco and Gallo washes. The name probably derives from the Spanish word chaca, which may be a translation of a Navajo word for canyon. The site was an administrative, economic, and ceremonial centre of the Ancestral Pueblo (Anasazi) people from ad 850 to 1250. The Ancestral Pueblos were ancestors of the modern Pueblo Indians.
The buildings are known for their sophisticated architecture and are connected by a series of straight, wide roadways that radiate outward like spokes on a wheel. They were also once connected to dozens of other settlements in the region by some 400 miles (650 km) of engineered roads. Turquoise jewelry, obsidian blades, and macaw feathers from Mesoamerica suggest that Chaco lay along an important trade route extending far southward. The park contains 13 major ruins and more than 400 smaller archaeological sites. Pueblo Bonito (built mainly in the 10th century), the largest and most completely excavated site, contained about 800 rooms and 39 kivas (round, subterranean ceremonial chambers). The excavations indicate that the inhabitants excelled in pottery, jewelry, architecture, and masonry. Artifacts are displayed at the visitor centre.
A 9-mile (15-km) paved road allows access to five major sites with self-guiding hiking trails; backcountry hiking trails are also available. The park’s desert climate supports coyotes, bobcats, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, kangaroo rats, antelope ground squirrels, and lizards. The park is culturally linked with nearby Aztec Ruins National Monument (north) and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado (northwest). The large Navajo Indian Reservation of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah is just west of the site, and other nearby national monuments include Canyon de Chelly, El Malpais, and El Morro.