Friday, January 25, 2013

Chocolate In Utah

The headline says "Earliest Evidence of Chocolate in North America," but do not be swayed, Gentle Reader.  It's not just evidence of chocolate in North America, it's evidence that the history of the American Southwest must be rewritten.

The article states:
Researchers report that half a dozen bowls excavated from the area contain traces of chocolate, the earliest known in North America. The finding implies that by the end of the 8th century C.E., cacao beans, which grow only in the tropics, were being imported to Utah from orchards thousands of kilometers away.
I've been reading my Lekson so it's no surprise that the cultures populating the Southwest at the time, from Arizona up to Utah into Colorado and all through New Mexico, may have actually been the Northern frontiers of what we call Mesoamerica, but the date is interesting.  A lot of things were happening in Mesoamerica at that time.  The classic Maya were on the wane, the Toltecs were on the rise, and way up north in the "Southwest" it was the beginnings of the Anasazi.

It's almost as if the arrival of cacao beans in Utah coincided with the birth of civilization in the area, and no...I do not think it had much to do with the beans themselves. It seems quite obvious that people from Mesoamerica brought the beans into Utah and, here's the important part, did not leave their ideas at home.

The article continues:
In Mesoamerica, cacao was mostly a food of the elite, who sipped a foamy chocolate drink, often spiked with spices, at banquets and other ceremonial occasions. But an 8th century village such as Site 13 probably would have been classless, so the chocolate would've been consumed by ordinary people.
I have to say, why must we cling to this bullshit "classless" stuff?  If cacao was a luxury good in its place of origin, then wouldn't it follow it was also a luxury good in the place it was exported, maybe even more so?  Is it too horrible to think that the people who lived at Site 13 weren't some isolated tribe lucky enough to have contact with Mexican (ie, Mesoamerican) traders, but were actually a political elite powerful enough or rich enough to afford a luxury like cacao?

Why must we continue to believe in the "noble savage" myth and refuse to give these people their due?

This makes sense:
The results, combined with the team's earlier findings, show that "either a lot of people moved north or there was intensive trade bringing this cacao up" from Mesoamerica to the American Southwest, Dorothy Washburn says. "There's this incredible and sustained contact between these two areas."
And that's just the thing.  Maybe we should stop thinking about Mesoamerica and the American Southwest as "two areas."  Geographically isolated from each other, sure, but quite clearly culturally connected.  For what it's worth, I'm going with "a lot of people moved north."  It would explain not only the presence of corn and cacao, but also the development of later political structures like those at Chaco Canyon and Cahokia. 

The bottom line, I guess, is this: 
Most researchers think the cultural development of the Southwest was largely independent of Mesoamerican influences, he says, but a chocolate-drenched Southwest implies that Mesoamerica's influence on Southwestern architecture and rituals might have been greater than expected.  (my emphasis)
You think?

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