In a new study, researchers have found that cacao, the plant where we get chocolate from, was being farmed far earlier than what people thought. The study shows that the plant was being used as a crop as far back 5,300 years ago. It was previously thought that chocolate had only been used 3,000-4,000 years ago as a crop and as food.
The study featured artifacts form a dig site that was found in South America that had pottery and other items that dated back as far as 5,300 years ago. One of the ceramic containers, one of the researchers found traces of a compound found in cacao. They also found DNA fragments that match those that are found on the cacao tree. It is very likely that the cacao was used in its bitter form, rather than the sweetened candy chocolate that we know today.
“This new study shows us that people in the upper reaches of the Amazon basin, extending up into the foothills of the Andes in southeastern Ecuador, were harvesting and consuming cacao that appears to be a close relative of the type of cacao later used in Mexico—and they were doing this 1,500 years earlier,” said Michael Blake, co-author of the study and professor with the University of British Columbia.
“They were also doing so using elaborate pottery that pre-dates the pottery found in Central America and Mexico. This suggests that the use of cacao, probably as a drink, was something that caught on and very likely spread northwards by farmers growing cacao in what is now Colombia and eventually Panama and other parts of Central America and southern Mexico.”