Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cacao in the Southwestern U.S.

The Journal of Archaeological Science has published online an article reporting the discovery of cacao residues in a significant number of ceramic vessels from Ancestral Puebloan and Hohokam sites in the southwestern United States.

Washburn, D.K., Washburn, W.N., Shipkova, P.A. The prehistoric drug trade: widespread consumption of cacao in Ancestral Pueblo and Hohokam communities in the American Southwest, Journal of Archaeological Science (2011), doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.02.029.

The lead author, Dorothy Washburn, is best known for applying the techniques of symmetry analysis, from crystallography, to the formal analysis of designs on archaeological artifacts.

Many of the the vessels studied come from eleventh century deposits at Pueblo Bonito and Pueblo del Arroyo in Chaco Canyon, while the remainder come from the fourteenth century deposits at Los Muertos. Although this is not the first time that cacao residues, primary theobromine, have been identified in Ancestral Puebloan pots, the sample tested in this study was much larger (75 vessels) and from a wider variety of contexts (i.e., both elite and non-elite). The results were astonishing: 50 of the 75 vessels tested (67%) revealed evidence of cacao. Thus, it appears that trade in cacao, which must have come from Mesoamerica, was much more widespread than previously believed.

Great stuff!

Where else should we be looking for cacao?

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