Five and a half thousand years ago, in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, a remarkable civilization discovered the delight of chocolate. Contrary to popular belief, this ancient society predated the renowned cultures of Mesoamerica, such as the Mayas and the Aztecs.
French and Ecuadorian researchers from The IRD Institute and IMPC, led by Francisco Valdez, unearthed an archaeological complex that unveiled the intriguing world of the Mayo Chinchipe Marañon people. Within their ceremonial center, nestled at the confluence of two rivers, a vibrant tapestry of ceramics and cultural artifacts emerged. Surprisingly, cacao served not only as a sacred offering for the gods but also played a significant role in their daily lives.
These ingenious people consumed cacao in liquid form, brewed in soups, beverages, and perhaps even as a type of beer. But cacao’s influence extended beyond its culinary delights. It was embraced as a medicine, treasured for its anti-inflammatory properties and abundant nutritional value.
Over centuries, cacao traversed treacherous terrain, crossing the Andes and finding its way to Central America. Eventually, it reached Europe, where the Spanish conquerors transformed it into the chocolate we know today. However, the true marvel lies in the enigmatic Mayo Chinchipe Marañon culture—an agricultural society that flourished for two millennia, revolutionizing their corner of the Amazonian Highlands.
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Top image: Chocolate in Mesoamerica. Source: Maya Civilization / Public Domain.