Abstract: The Early History of Chocolate


Chocolate is a widely appreciated luxury today, the center of multi-national trade. Most people know that chocolate originated in Central America. What is less well known is the recent explosion of knowledge about the early history of Theobroma cacao, the plant from which chocolate is made. This talk explores recent research, including my own work in Honduras, that has pushed the origins of human use of cacao back before 1100 BC. It considers what we now know was a wide range of ways of using cacao, including the possibility that the earliest use of cacao was for a fermented, alcoholic beverage. Touching on modern advances in archaeological chemistry, new understandings of the social life of food, and contemporary concerns about the roles women played in past societies, this journey through the history of chocolate is a window into the ways archaeology has developed in the last 20 years.

Suggested Bibliography/Websites
2007 (Rosemary A. Joyce and John S. Henderson) From feasting to cuisine: Implications of archaeological research in an early Honduran village. American Anthropologist 109 (4):642-653.

2007 (John S. Henderson, Rosemary A. Joyce, Gretchen R. Hall, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Patrick E. McGovern) Chemical and archaeological evidence for the earliest cacao beverages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 18937-18940.

2006 (Cameron McNeill, editor) Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao. University Press of Florida

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