NL      FR      EN Museum     Kids     Reservations     Online Visit     History     Schools
DE      ES Cacao & Co     Recipes     Projects     Video
Opening Hours
    Entrance Fees
How to find us
Group visits
Press & Media




  Choco-Story on Facebook

History Glyph Chocolateros Codex Sacrifices Skeletons
Origin 1 Money Origin 2 Origin 3 Gesture Origin 4

The history of cocoa = 5.500 years ago

The history of cocoa = 5.500 years ago

The history of cocoa has once again taken a step back in time by 1500 years.
The Cirad in Montpellier published the results of its research in 2014. The centre studies the genetics of cocoa and the various families of Theobroma cacao.
A 5,500 year-old site called Santa Ana La Florida has been discovered in the south of Ecuador, near Palanda.  A large number of objects were found there and some of them contained food remains.
And in some of the remains theobromine (from the cocoa plant) was discovered.
Cocoa used to grow wild in the north-western region of the Amazon Basin.
It is therefore perfectly logical that the consumption of cocoa be discovered nearer to this part of the world than Mexico, where until now the most ancient traces of cocoa dating back 4,000 years, have been found.
The region covered the south of Ecuador where the Shuar Indians live and the very north of Peru where the Awajun Indians live.
These two tribes are better known to us under the name Jivaro.
Man’s consumption of cocoa can now be dated 3,500 years BC, that is more than 5,500 years ago!!

The origin of the use of cocoa

Until recently the earliest consumption of cocoa by man was believed to have taken place in Mexico.
In fact, since the chocolate museum Choco-Story was opened in Bruges in 2004, the dates have been continually pushed back in the past:

600 years BC, a pot was found at Colha in Belize
1250 years BC, the use of cocoa pulp was discovered in ceramics in the Honduras
1750 years before BC, the Mokayas Indians in the Soconusco region in the south of Mexico
1900 years before BC, the pre-Olmecs who lived in the region of Veracruz
3500 years BC, cocoa was consumed by the Shuar Indians in the south of Ecuador on the Palanda site.
So the history of cocoa has got older again, with a leap back in time of 1,500 years.
5,500 years ago the Shuar Indians, better known to us in Europe as the Jivaro Indians or head-hunters, lived in a vast area covering what is now southern Ecuador and northern Peru, where they evolved into a major stone-age civilization.

Their skills in making tools and objects out of stone were exceptional.

We saw vases, goblets and cups of a remarkable finesse carved in solid stone.
Some of the objects were so fine they were translucent.
Others were extremely complex for stone objects dating back more than 5,000 years ago.
The Jivaros consumed cocoa. Proof was found in a fragment of mortar, see photo below, in the form of a cocoa pod.
However we do not really know in what form they actually consumed the cocoa.
It is logical that cocoa was widely used in the countries surrounding the Amazon Basin as it grew wild there.
Nevertheless it was still necessary to find tangible evidence of this.
Now that has been accomplished, other archaeological discoveries will no doubt confirm the long route cocoa has followed from the Amazon Basin to Central America and Mexico where it reached its height in popularity.

The Jivaro Indians

Five tribes are grouped together under the denomination “Jivaro”:
in Ecuador: the Shuars, the Achuars and the Shiwiars
in Peru: the Aguarunas (or Awajuns) and the Huambisos.
In Europe the Jivaros have a reputation for being head-hunters. They used to boil down the heads to the size of an orange.
The shrinking of heads, known as “tsantsas”, was part of a ritual inspired by an act of vengeance; it was a way of taking justice.
Thus, in order to take revenge on someone, the person was beheaded and his head was shrunk whilst making sure his vengeful spirit remained securely imprisoned.
Shrinking the head and sewing the mouth shut made sure that the deceased’s spirit inside could not escape and take vengeance.
The reason for the frequent conflicts between the different groups or tribes was not to take ownership of land or riches, but rather to seize the enemies force and spirit and take vengeance for murders and exactions committed in the past, creating a never-ending vendetta.  The enemy was killed and the heads were brought back as trophies and transformed during a long and complex ritual aimed at imprisoning the victim’s soul thereby obtaining protection against vengeance from the other side. As killing the enemy would naturally create a soul seeking vengeance, it was absolutely vital to keep it prisoner in the victim’s head.  The head was cleaned and de-boned then dried inside with cinders on hot stones which caused it to shrink. Next it was filled with sand, sewn up and re-shaped.
Following that, the head was hung around the neck of its owner during a special ceremony in order to show the ancestors that vengeance had been carried out successfully.