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Look father south and west, to Pueblo Bonito in northwestern New Mexico's Chaco Canyon. The so-called Chaco Culture of pueblo dwellers thrived in the region between 860 and 1128 A.D. And new evidence suggests that some of them took a shine to cacao, at least for ceremonial purposes.
Anthropologist Patricia Crown, from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and a colleague from, yes, the Hershey Center for Health and Nutrition in Hershey, Pa., analyzed pot shards from the pueblo and found traces of theobromine, a compound that signals the presence of cacao. The results appear in this week's "early edition" of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Tracing the history of foods in the New World has become something of a cottage industry among archaeologists and anthropologists working the Mesoamerican "beat." Maize and chiles are two high-profile examples that come to mind. And researchers do so for good reason. Foods open a window on the history of cultivation, social structure, and religious practices, among other aspects of ancient living.
Cacao is no exception. In November 2007, for instance, a team led by Cornell University's John Henderson reported finding evidence at Puerto Escondido in Honduras for cacao beverages prior to 1,000 B.C. - some 500 years earlier than previous estimates. So far, that's the oldest known haven for chocoholics anywhere.