University of New Mexico anthropology professor Patricia L. Crown gave a free lecture on the history of cacao in Chaco Canyon at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology on Sept. 28. Cacao is the bean from which cocoa products like chocolate are made.
Crown spent decades researching chocolate consumption in Chaco Canyon.
Studies show that cacao was domesticated around 5,000 years ago in South America, later spreading to other areas. One of the first people to drink chocolate beverages were the Mayans, who would make cylinders to hold them.
During the lecture, some of these cylinders were showcased in photographs. Paintings of women using pitchers to pour chocolate into drinking cylinders also suggested that women prepared these chocolate drinks.
Crown spoke about how Mayans and Aztecs thought that consuming extreme amounts of chocolate was healthy. Sometimes Mayans added brown corn, honey and flowers to change the flavor of their chocolate drinks.
Mayans also used chocolate to create relationships with other tribes.
In Chaco Canyon between 75 A.D. and 1100 A.D., people consumed chocolate in cylinders like the Mayans. The people living there made redware cylinder jars in sets of two to four.
Crown talked about how she, along with many other archaeologists, found around 250,000 artifacts in Chaco Canyon. Researchers used a Dremel brand tool to grind off the outer parts of the ceramics to analyze residue on the ceramics, which cannot be seen on the ceramics.
The researchers looked for caffeine and theobromine to determine if the ceramics had cacao remnants. To tell if the ceramics had cacao, the researchers looked for high levels of theobromine and low levels of caffeine.
The Chaco Canyon wares were specifically shaped so that people knew you were drinking cacao. Over the course of time, the cylinders changed to mugs.
Crown mentioned that many of the cylinders that were found for drinking cacao in Chaco Canyon were burned to symbolize the death of the cylinder. This happened as the people of Chaco Canyon shifted to drinking out of mugs. No one knows exactly why there was such a drastic change in vessels, but it could be because of ritualistic reasons.
The cacao wares in Chaco Canyon were found together, suggesting that they belonged to groups and not individuals.
The lecture ended on the note that cacao was used for ritualistic reasons, currency, bonding and cuisine.
After the lecture, there was a fundraising event with Crown. It was $40 to attend the reception, and the proceeds were in support of education and the curation of archaeological collections.
Crown has worked in Chaco Canyon since 2005 and has identified the first pre-Hispanic cacao north of the Mexican border. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 due to her research.
The lecture was sponsored by Kelly’s Legacy Vineyards, The Chocolate Cartel, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology and the UNM Department of Anthropology.
Caitlin Scott is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Caitlin69123118