A pair of anthropologists think they may have found the "Cradle of Chocolate."
John S. Henderson of Cornell University and Rosemary A. Joyce of the University of California at Berkeley say they have gathered evidence that chocolate originated in what is now known as the Ulua River valley in northwestern Honduras.
The pair determined that shards of distinctive ceremonial pottery unearthed at the Puerto Escondido archaeological dig in the Ulua Valley date as far back as 1600 B.C. That makes the artifacts the oldest known examples of highly decorated small bowls still customarily used today in Mexico and throughout Central America to serve liquid chocolate, particularly at weddings.
"We think the function of much of the fancy pottery was in fact chocolate serving," says Henderson. "The shapes are the kinds of vessels in which chocolate was later served and consumed."
That, combined with the fact that the area has long been known as one of the first places where cocoa was cultivated, leads the researchers to believe that chocolate originated in the region, spread north to Mexico and other parts of Central America, and then around the world after the Spanish colonization.
"Historic records show that when the Spaniards arrived, the best chocolate in all of Mexico and Central America was growing in the Ulua valley," says Henderson.
The researchers now plan to have some of the ancient pottery analyzed for telltale traces of what could have been one of the first chocolate syrups.