A team of archaeologists from the United States and Mexico has detected chili pepper residues in over 2,000-year-old pottery samples unearthed at the site of Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico.
Flowering plants of the genus Capsicum are usually referred to as chili peppers. There are relatively few sites in Mesoamerica, Central America, and South America that contain remains of Capsicum, and therefore, we know little about how pre-Columbian people used chili peppers in those regions.
In a new study, reported in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, the archaeological team used chemical extractions to reveal the presence of chili residues in pottery vessels from Chiapa de Corzo. Some of these vessels were over 2,000 years old, dating from 400 BC to 300 CE.
The scientists found chili residue in multiple types of jars and vessels, which suggests that Mixe-Zoquean and Maya cultures may have been using chili peppers for many different culinary purposes.
For instance, Capsicum was found in a vessel called a sprouted jar, which is used for pouring a liquid into another container.
The archaeologists suggest that chili peppers may have been used to prepare spicy beverages or dining condiments.
“The significance of our study is that it is the first of its kind to detect ancient chili pepper residues from early Mixe-Zoquean pottery in Mexico,” said lead author Dr Terry Powis from Kennesaw State University.
“While our findings of Capsicum species in these Preclassic pots provides the earliest evidence of chili consumption in well-dated Mesoamerican archaeological contexts, we believe our scientific study opens the door for further collaborative research into how the pepper may have been used either from a culinary, pharmaceutical, or ritual perspective during the last few centuries before the time of Christ.”
Bibliographic information: Powis TG et al. 2013. Prehispanic Use of Chili Peppers in Chiapas, Mexico. PLoS ONE 8 (11): e79013; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0079013