Solution to 11th-Century Mystery: Hot Chocolate

Hershey's helps anthropologist solve mystery of old vessels
By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 4, 2009 10:00 AM CST

(Newser) – Patricia Crown, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico, spent years puzzling over the round clay jars decorated with intricate zigzagging shapes, dating from the 11th century, found in Pueblo ruins in Chaco Canyon. But a scientific study led her to a surprising conclusion: they weren't drums or holders of sacred objects, but vessels used to drink chocolate. As the New York Times reports, her discovery offers the earliest example of chocolate use north of the Mexican border.

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Crown submitted fragments of the jars to a lab at Hershey's, which found traces of cacao using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The presence of chocolate in the modern United States testifies to a robust trading network throughout the Americas, especially for luxury goods like cacao beans—whose expense justified the fine earthenware. "It’s as if you were having a dinner party and serving champagne," said one museum curator.
(Read more anthropology stories.)

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