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Everyday Art

Mixing It Up
Maya<br><i>Chocolate pot</i>, 750<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Gift of Harold and Rada Fredrikson
zoom Maya
Chocolate pot, 750
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of Harold and Rada Fredrikson


When do you get to enjoy a chocolate treat? At parties or on special occasions? For dessert after a meal? In ancient Mesoamerica, people had chocolate at every meal, every day. The Maya, who lived in the region that is now southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, were one of the first cultures to discover how to make chocolate from the seeds of the cacao tree.

The Maya did not make the sweet, solid chocolate bars popular today. They mixed up a spicy chocolate drink. A combination of ground cacao seeds, water, and other ingredients like cornmeal, chili peppers, and honey, was poured back and forth between a pot and a cup until the concoction became thick and foamy.

All Mayan people, whether rich or poor, common or royal, drank this chocolate beverage as part of daily life. In addition, chocolate was often drunk during ritual ceremonies. Even Mayan gods were believed to like the liquid chocolate.

Special containers were made for mixing and storing chocolate. A simply decorated pot like this one would have belonged to a common Mayan household. Two grooves along the top edge reveal that it once had a twist-on lid. The four carved symbols are glyphs, the Mayan form of writing. Perhaps one of them tells how the pot was used.

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1. Glyphs carved into the clay form the simple decoration on this pot.
2. These are drawings of the four Mayan glyphs on the MIA’s chocolate pot.
3. The elaborate decoration on this Mayan vase includes a monkey holding a chocolate pot.
Maya, Vase, 450-700, ceramic and pigment, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The David Draper Dayton Fund


September 2008