Scientists recently found traces of chocolate residue on ancient jars in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. The discovery marks the earliest known presence of cacao north of Mexico. "It is the first known cacao north of the Mexican border in the United States, and as far as I know the only known cacao in the United States before contact," Patricia Crown of the University of New Mexico told LiveScience, referring to the time before Native Americans interacted with European settlers.
The pottery shards were discovered in Pueblo Bonito and suggest that the practice of drinking chocolate had traveled from Mexico to the American Southwest at least 1,000 years ago. Scientists had long known of the ancient practice of drinking chocolate in Mesoamerica, which spans from current day Central Mexico down to Nicaragua. But now they think the tradition may have traveled farther north than they previously believed.
The cacao plant is tropical and needs moist warm environments to grow. The climate of New Mexico is not very conducive to tropical vegetation. Researchers say that the closest possible source of cacao beans for the inhabitants of Pueblo Bonito was about 1,240 miles away.
When the shards were originally discovered, their odd shape, approximately 10 inches tall and 4 inches wide, indicated that they were used for a very specific practice. "If it was the form specifically used for drinking cacao, that would explain why it's such a specialized form," said Crown.