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Ancient people in South America may have developed a taste for hot chocolate 1,500 years before the Mexicans began growing the plant, a new study suggests.
It had been thought cacao was grown by people for food in central America around 1,900 BC.
New - Evidence - Tree - People - Amazon
New archaeological evidence suggests the tree was harvested by people living in the upper Amazon basin and foothills of the Andes around 3,400 BC, however.
Pottery found alongside the remnants of cacao suggest that they consumed the bean as beverage, experts say.
Love - Chocolate - Spread - North - Researchers
From there the love of chocolate spread north, researchers from the University of British Columbia claim.
Researchers studied ceramic artefacts from Santa Ana-La Florida, in Ecuador, the earliest known site of Mayo-Chinchipe culture, which was occupied from at least 5,450 years ago, to make the findings.
Evidence - Cacao - Use - Years - Idea
Previous archaeological evidence of cacao's use dating back 3,900 years planted the idea that the cacao tree was first domesticated in Central America.
New genetic evidence shows that the highest diversity of the cacao tree and related species is actually found in equatorial South America, where cacao is important to contemporary indigenous groups.
Researchers - Clues - Pieces - Site - Traces
Researchers looked for clues in ceramic pieces unearthed at the archaeological site and found traces of cacao, which suggested it was used far earlier than thought.
'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 study co-author Professor Michael Blake, from the university's department of anthropology.
'They - Pottery - Pottery - Central - America
'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...
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