Rewrit­ing his­tory

Shepparton News - Country News - - EUROA SHOW 2018 -

Peo­ple have been en­joy­ing choco­late for far longer than pre­vi­ously known, ac­cord­ing to re­search de­tail­ing the do­mes­ti­ca­tion and use of ca­cao be­gin­ning 5300 years ago at an an­cient set­tle­ment in the high­lands of south-east Ecuador.

Sci­en­tists ex­am­ined ce­ramic arte­facts at the Santa Ana-La Florida ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site, a re­mark­ably pre­served vil­lage and cer­e­mo­nial cen­tre that was part of the Mayo-Chinchipe cul­ture of the An­des, and found abun­dant ev­i­dence of the use of ca­cao, from which choco­late is made.

The study in­di­cates ca­cao was do­mes­ti­cated roughly 1500 years ear­lier than pre­vi­ously known, and that it oc­curred in South Amer­ica rather than in Cen­tral Amer­ica, as pre­vi­ously thought.

A trop­i­cal ever­green tree called Theo­broma ca­cao bears large, oval pods con­tain­ing the bean-like ca­cao seeds that to­day are roasted and turned into co­coa and mul­ti­tudes of choco­late con­fec­tions, al­though choco­late at the time was con­sumed as a bev­er­age.

The sci­en­tists found ev­i­dence of ca­cao’s use at the site over a pe­riod start­ing 5300 years ago — more than 700 years be­fore build­ing of the Great Pyra­mid of Giza in an­cient Egypt — un­til 2100 years ago.

They found ca­cao starch grains in ce­ramic ves­sels and pot­tery shards. They also de­tected residue of a bit­ter com­pound found in the ca­cao tree but not its wild rel­a­tives, ev­i­dence that the tree was grown by peo­ple for food pur­poses, as well as DNA frag­ments from the ca­cao tree.

‘‘They clearly drank it as a bev­er­age, as shown by its pres­ence in stir­rup-spout pots and bowls,’’ said Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia an­thro­pol­o­gist and ar­chae­ol­o­gist Michael Blake, who helped lead the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Ecol­ogy & Evo­lu­tion.

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