A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Possible Maya Cacao Tree Groves Discovered in Mexico
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
PROVO, UTAH—According to a statement released by Brigham Young University, a team of researchers from Mexico and the United States led by Richard Terry of Brigham Young University has identified the locations of nine ancient sacred groves of cacao trees in northern Yucatán through a process of soil analysis. Cacao beans were used to produce highly valued chocolate, and so such trees were kept under the control of the Maya elite, who used the beans as currency. Although the Yucatán peninsula has a drier climate, the researchers thought that sinkholes could have provided the trees with the humidity, calm, and shade required to grow the precious beans. They found evidence of theobromine and caffeine, which are biomarkers unique to cacao, in the soil of nine of the 11 sinkholes tested. Staircase ramps, carvings, altars, and offerings of jade and ceramics, including tiny ceramic cacao pods, were also recovered from several of the sinkholes. The researchers added that a 70-mile Maya trade route in the area passes by hundreds of sinkholes. The road may have been constructed by the elites who controlled cacao production, Terry explained. To read about cacao consumption in ancient Ecuador, go to "Ancient Amazonian Chocolatiers."
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