Chocolate: a story that began long before the civilizations of Central America

Chocolate is one of the most popular and beloved sweets around the world. It is present in our daily lives, whether it is candy, cakes or hot chocolate. But few people think about its origins and history. Research by archaeologists has brought the beginning of the use of cocoa beans 1,500 years in the past, revealing new facets of chocolate’s history.

Initially it was believed that the emergence of chocolate was linked to the Maya and other ancient civilizations of Central America and Mesoamerica, which began to cultivate and use cocoa beans about 3900 years ago. However, new evidence suggests that the use of cocoa beans began even 1,500 years earlier. Researchers have found traces of cocoa in artifacts found in the jungles of the upper Amazon, in what is now Ecuador. These artifacts date back 5,500 years, making them the oldest evidence of cocoa bean use.

University of British Columbia professor Michael Blake and his co-authors excavated the Santa Ana archaeological site on the eastern slope of the Andes. Here they found stone stupas, ceramic bowls, jugs, and other artifacts in which traces of cocoa-group plant fibres were found. They also found remnants of theobromine, a substance found in cocoa beans. Fragments of old mitochondrial DNA from Theobroma chocolate tree and its wild relative Herrania were found in local ceramics. Radiocarbon dating allowed some of the artifacts to be more than 5,300 years old.

These finds indicate that chocolate was an important part of Stone Age Indian life. The vessels in which traces of cocoa beans were preserved were made and finished with the utmost care, indicating the high value of their contents. Cocoa was probably used during religious rituals and ceremonies because of its pronounced effect on the psyche.

Previously, there was only circumstantial evidence of cocoa use in Ecuador long before the Mesoamerican civilizations. New finds add direct evidence to this list. Shells and other artifacts found at Santa Ana point to an active trade between the Mayo-Chinchipe Indians. Perhaps this is how cocoa “migrated” northward and became one of the iconic elements of the highly developed cultures of Mesoamerica. And much later, when the Mayo-Chinchipe and Maya disappeared, chocolate conquered the world.

The history of chocolate goes back thousands of years, and every era and civilization has contributed to its development. Today, chocolate is not only a tasty sweet, but also a subject of scientific research. Scientists are studying its beneficial properties and impact on human health. It is important to remember that moderate consumption of chocolate can be beneficial to the body, as it contains antioxidants and other nutrients.

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