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Archaeological Residues and Recipes: Exploratory Testing for Evidence of Maize and Cacao Beverages in Postclassic Vessels from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico

  • Daniela Soleri (a1), Marcus Winter (a2), Steven R. Bozarth (a3) and W. Jeffrey Hurst (a4)

Abstract

As dates of earliest use of Theobroma cacao in ancient Mesoamerica are established, interest is shifting to how cacao was used. One approach is to consider combinations of ingredients—the recipes for ancient cacao use. Beverages made from cacao seeds and maize have a long history in Mesoamerica. We began testing the hypothesis that there is qualitative evidence of this beverage type in the Postclassic archaeological record in a region where such a beverage, tejate, is a culturally significant food today. We looked for evidence of tejate ingredients in residue samples from eight Postclassic and one contemporary vessel from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. Detection of morphologically specific maize phytoliths was accomplished by taxonomic analysis and comparison with a reference collection. Tejate ingredients Pouteria sapota and Quararibea funebris were also processed for phytolith detection. Testing for methylxanthines characteristic of Theobroma species used high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. Four vessels were positive for maize phytoliths; three were positive for theobromine; two were positive for both maize and cacao. No diagnostic phytoliths were identified for the other tejate ingredients. Our hypothesis was supported; still, many challenges are present in the search for a deeper understanding of ancient cacao usage in this region of Mesoamerica.

Estudios recientes han fechado el uso de Theobroma cacao en varias regiones de Mesoamérica y ahora el interés en el cacao ha cambiado hacia cómo fue utilizado. Un enfoque es considerar las combinaciones de ingredientes, las recetas para el uso antiguo del cacao. Las bebidas hechas de semillas de cacao y maíz tienen una larga historia en Mesoamérica. Nosotros sometimos a prueba la hipótesis de que existe evidencia cualitativa de este tipo de bebida en el registro arqueológico del Postclásico, en una región donde hoy en día el tejate es un alimento culturalmente importante. Buscamos evidencia de los ingredientes del tejate en muestras de residuos tomadas de ocho vasijas postclásicas y una vasija contemporánea, todas procedentes del Valle de Oaxaca, México. Se detectaron fitolitos de maíz morfológicamente específicos por medio de análisis taxonómico y comparación con una colección de referencia. Los ingredientes del tejate, Poutería sapota (semillas de mamey) y Quararibea funebris (flor de rosita de cacao) también fueron procesados para detectar fitolitos. Se utilizó cromatografía líquidaespectometría de masas de alto rendimiento para la prueba de presencia de metilxantinas características de las especies de Theobroma. Cuatro vasijas resultaron positivas para fitolitos de maíz, tres positivas para teobromina y dos positivas tanto para maíz como para cacao. No se identificaron fitolitos diagnósticos para los otros ingredientes del tejate. Los resultados apoyan nuestra hipótesis. Sin embargo, quedan numerosos retos en la búsqueda de un mejor entendimiento sobre el uso antiguo del cacao en esta región de Mesoamérica.

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Archaeological Residues and Recipes: Exploratory Testing for Evidence of Maize and Cacao Beverages in Postclassic Vessels from the Valley of Oaxaca, Mexico

  • Daniela Soleri (a1), Marcus Winter (a2), Steven R. Bozarth (a3) and W. Jeffrey Hurst (a4)

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