MOAB — Archaeologists have discovered the earliest known evidence chocolate in North America near Canyonlands National Park.
A half dozen bowls excavated from Site 13, an ancient village on the Alkali Ridge, contain traces of chocolate. The 1,200-year-old remains may mean that by the end of the eighth century, cacao beans were being imported to present-day Utah from the tropics.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Bristol-Meyers Squibb had previously found evidence of cacao at 11th-century burial sites in Mexico and parts of the Southwest. They followed up those findings by testing bowls excavated from Site 13 in the 1930s.
The team swirled water into bowls and analyzed compounds in the rinse water. They found evidence of theobromine and caffeine, both found in cacao, in almost every bowl they tested.
The findings show that chocolate was present in North America at least 300 years earlier than previously thought, according to the researchers. In a paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the researchers explain that while chocolate consumption in Mesoamerica was largely an activity of the elite, in a classless society such as Site 13, chocolate was more likely consumed for its nutritional value.
The University of Pennsylvania's Dorothy Washburn told Science Mag the findings show "either a lot of people moved north or there was intensive trade bringing this cacao up" to North America. "There's this incredible and sustained contact between these two areas," she said.
Washburn said other artifacts from the time period will have to be re-examined with this discovery in mind in order to determine the importance of cacao in early North American life.