The discovery of cacao residues in ceramics from Chaco Canyon raises questions about how and when populations in the American Southwest acquired chocolate, how it was obtained from the tropical areas where cacao grows, and how populations in the American Southwest incorporated cacao into their lives. Ongoing research into the temporal and spatial distribution of cacao in the Southwest is highlighted, along with what this means for interaction with Mesoamerican populations.
While scholars have long known that southwestern populations exchanged goods with populations in Mesoamerica, our knowledge of the extent and nature of this exchange is changing as new information about cacao consumption in the American Southwest comes to light. As new information about cacao use comes to light, archaeologists are reinterpreting connections with Mesoamerica and the types of ritual activities conducted in the American Southwest.
The Spanish took control of cacao production, exchange and use soon after their arrival in Mesoamerica, and cacao consumption is not noted among the early chronicles of southwestern explorers. Yet, Spanish settlers, soldiers and priests soon reintroduced cacao into the Southwest, and it became an important commodity for interaction between the Spanish and Native American groups. Archaeological evidence and historical documents confirm the continuing allure of cacao within the scope of southwestern history.