It wasn't as sweet as modern hot chocolate, but the Mayans were drinking cocoa 2,100 years before Columbus landed in the New World, or about 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, researchers say.
An analysis of 2,600-year-old pottery confirmed that ancient Mayans made cocoa drinks as early as 600 B.C. in an area of Central America that some anthropologists have nicknamed "the cradle of chocolate."
In a report Thursday in the journal Nature, Hershey Foods Corp. biochemist Jeff Hurst details tests of earthenware teapots excavated at a Mayan archaeological site at Colha in Belize.
The vessels may have been used to pour a cocoa mixture from one vessel to another to generate a froth that later Spanish explorers noted was the Mayans' favorite part of their cocoa drink. Researchers believe it was probably a bitter brew.
"I'd conjecture it would not be to our liking," Hurst said. "It was probably roasted and ground-up cocoa mixed with some kind of water and spices - definitely not what we're used to today."
Hurst and his research team used a mass spectrometer and liquid-gas chromatography equipment to detect traces of cocoa.
The results push back the confirmed date of cocoa residue in the Mayan region from A.D. 400, as determined in previous Hershey lab work on burial pots from Guatemala, said anthropologist Rosemary Joyce of the University of California at Berkeley.
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