Thinking and Drinking Chocolate: The Origins, Distribution, and Significance of Cacao in Mesoamerica Moreiras, Diana K.
This paper examines cacao’s (Theobroma cacao L.) physical and chemical composition, ecology, distribution and habitat and summarizes the recent archaeological research on cacao, mapping its distribution as shown by various lines of archaeological evidence. Existing hypotheses for cacao’s spread are discussed and illustrated using a GIS mapping of detailed topographic maps of South and Central America. By focusing on the potential paths which cacao could have been transported and grown (at elevations ranging from sea-level to 1000 m) it is possible to eliminate many previously proposed routes, and pinpoint the most likely locations for the cacao’s earliest and subsequent dispersals. The paper also examines the ritual and cultural significance of cacao in Mesoamerica mainly based on the analysis of hieroglyphs and iconography as well as ethnohistorical, ethnographic, and other historical accounts. There is a commonality between the use of cacao in the archaeological and ethnohistorical record and in the iconographic analyses of vessels, temple wall murals, and other artifacts found throughout Mesoamerica. All of these lines of evidence point to the use of cacao for ritual and social purposes and its significance in religious and mythological symbolism. Directions for future work on cacao’s origins and spread are proposed, especially with respect to archaeological sites in Central and South America—regions which currently lack direct evidence for cacao’s historical uses, origins and spread.
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