Placing Chocolate on the map
Does Chocolate prove an ancient connection of PreColombian South American and Central American societies ?
Of all continents on the planet the connections of societies separated by the Darien gap between modern day Central America and South America has always been a contentious one. Many claim a complete disconnect between the two cultures. Chocolate in fact brings some evidence of preColombian contact between the two Cultural regions.
The wide variety of chocolate treats enjoyed all over the map of the world testify to the worlds love of chocolate. Historians are united in their agreement that chocolate made its way to Europe from Mexico and the conquest of the Aztec empire. What is less often considered is how did the Aztecs and their ancestors come to acquire the Cacao beans in the first place.
Jumping back in time it is useful to look at where the Cacao tree originates from. It is widely held that Cacao trees originate from the Amazon region. This has lead to claims by the people of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil to being the original region of Chocolate. A map of the Amazon basin reveals the large region that incorporates tracts of these 4 countries and is the accepted area for the origin of the Cacao plant.
At the time of writing the claim from Ecuador is backed up by the fact that the earliest known evidence of Cacao use is from the Santa Ana region bordering Peru. Whilst we do not know what name the people of this culture called themselves they are referred to as the Mayo-Chinchipe culture (not to be mistaken for the Mayan culture of CentralAmerica). The use of cocoa in the region has been dated to over 5000 years ago well over a thousand years before Central American use.
The combination of first domestic use along with evidence that the plant are indigenous to the Amazon basin makes the case for import to Central America of an almost certainty. This strengthens the argument for contact between the two cultures to a high degree. Central American use came later and quickly grew in popularity along with items such as chilis native to South America.
A look at a map of the Americas reveals that whilst travel between the two areas is difficult it is at least possible to move between the two regions. Exactly how Cacao got to Central America is a mystery, but it is impossible to deny that it did happen.
Our world of Chocolate map shows the growing region of Cacao trees and it is well documented how it has spread to other continents. Today a huge percentage of all Chocolate production comes from Africa in the same Bean belt around the tropics. This was only possible after beans were exported from Central America.
So far we know of no explanation of how Chocolate was encountered by Europeans in Central America without any precontact between Central and South America. Unless the aliens did it ! Even then they would be bad aliens for not delivering it to the rest of the planet.
All the art work in this article taken from our World of Chocolate map.