Long thought to be a beverage reserved for the ruling class and priests, archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History say chocolate could have been used for more as far back as 2,500 years ago by the Maya.
Traces of chocolate were found on fragments of plates at the Paso del Macho site in Yucatan in 2001. For beverages, the cacao beans were crushed and mixed with liquid.
“This is the first time it has been found on a plate used for serving food,” institute archaeologist Tomas Gallareta Negron said in a release. “It is unlikely that it was ground there (on the plate), because for that they probably used metates (grinding stones).”
Researchers are saying this find could indicate links to traditional dishes eaten today such as mole, a chocolate-based sauce made with chili peppers and served with meat.
“I think their inference that cacao was being used in a sauce is likely correct, though I can imagine other possibilities,” John S. Henderson, a Cornell University professor of Anthropology and an expert on ancient chocolate, told The Telegraph, citing possibilities like adding it to a beverage or using it as a condiment or a garnish.
Though the plate fragments date to about 500 B.C., they aren’t the oldest evidence of chocolate usage found in Mexico. The Telegraph reports beverage vessels that are 1,000 years older have been found from the Olmec culture to the west of the Yucatan and other sites in Chiapas, to the south.