Scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada found in the highlands of Ecuador ancient ceramic vessels with traces of cocoa, Theobroma cacao, whose age is 5300 years. According to the researchers, this is the earliest evidence of domesticated cultivation of cocoa beans in the Americas. The article was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.
It was believed that cacao was first domesticated in Mesoamerica approximately four thousand years ago, however, the results of genomic research have demonstrated a large genetic diversity of T. cacao in the Northern part of the Amazonian lowland. This indicates that this region was the centre of origin of cocoa.
In the course of archaeological excavations on the site of Santa Ana–La Florida in the South-East of Ecuador, scientists have found ceramic and stone artifacts that were used in domestic, ritual and funerary purposes. Analysis of charred deposits on the dishes showed the presence of starch grains T. cacao, and organic matter, including the alkaloid theobromine and DNA. The researchers found no traces of wild cacao, which confirms the presence of only the domesticated form.
According to the researchers, representatives of culture Mayo-Chinchipe living in the region have grown cocoa in the period between 5300 and 2100 BC. Thus, the domestication of plants occurred over 1.5 thousand years before it appeared in Mesoamerica. According to the data obtained in other studies, the native Americans of Ecuador also used wild varieties of T. cacao. Plants have served as food, they prepared the drinks, drugs and stimulants.
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