Researchers Locate Central Cacao Groves in the Yucatan

March 12, 2022

Brigham Young University and Mexican archaeologists have found evidence of Maya sites chosen for the best cacoa tree plantings. They conducted soil analyses of 11 sinkholes in the Yucatan and found theobromine and caffeine biomarkers for cocoa production, ceremonial rituals construction in staircase ramps, stone carvings, altars, offerings of jade and ceramics in several sinkholes.

The team worked on a soil extraction method drying soil samples, putting the dry soil through a sieve covered in hot water, centrifuged them through extraction discs and analyzing the samples with mass spectrometry, comparing the results to seven control samples with no cacao biomarkers.

A 70 mile Maya highway was constructed for long distance cacao trade which impacted all of Mesoamerica. In one sinkhole near Coba, they found the arm and bracelet of a figurine attached to a incense jarred ceramics modeled as cocoa pods. This sinkhole find is dated at 1000-1400 CE. Elites controlled these sinkholes since cacao beans were used as currency across Mesoamerica.

Researchers for the project also came from University of California, Riverside, the University of Miami, State University of New York, Kent State University, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, and the Cultural Heritage and Archaeology in the Maya Area institution.

The research is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports

Science Daily has the report here

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