People all around the world enjoy chocolate these days, but in the eighth century anthropologists expected that the only people who would have access to the sweet would be the Mesoamerican people in the tropics, where the plant is grown. However, archaeologists believe that they have found the earliest known traces of chocolate as far north as Utah - 1,200 years ago. The findings would mean that many people moved north or there was a lot more trade than was believed during the time period. Not surprisingly, many anthropologists are skeptical.
Husband-wife researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Bristol-Myers Squibb tested the remains of bowls that had been excavated in the 1930s from Site 13 in Utah. ScienceNow reports that, after swirling water in the bowls, they tested the compounds found in the water using a chromatograph-mass spectrometer, which separately weighs the mass of each compound found in a substance. In nearly every bowl excavated from Site 13, they found theobromine and caffeine, both of which are present in cacao, the plant that makes up chocolate. The finding would mean that Site 13 holds the earliest known evidence of chocolate consumption in North America.
In Mesoamerica, chocolate was only consumed in feasts by the elite. However, the small society in Utah would have been classless, so chocolate would have been consumed by everyone. Researchers imagine that chocolate would have been consumed for its nutritional value or on hunting trips.
But not everyone is convinced by the findings. Arizona State University, Tempe's Ben Nelson argues that, if chocolate was as common as the evidence suggests, there would have been visual references or stories to the substance that archaeologists have not yet found. Archaeologist Michael Blake also notes that chocolate would have still been relatively rare, so it would not be consumed at home or on the road.
"I may serve caviar and fine champagne at my daughter's wedding feast, but I'm not likely to pack it in my lunch bag when I go on a camping trip," Blake, from the University of British Columbia, said to reporters.
Humans have been consuming chocolate since at least 1900 B.C.E., which is when the Mexican Mokoya people began consuming a chocolate beverage.
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.