Geography and Anthropology
The genus Capsicum is New World in origin and represents a complex of a wide variety of both wild and domesticated taxa. Peppers or fruits of Capsicum species rarely have been identified in the paleoethnobotanical record in either Meso- or South America. We report here confirmation of Capsicum sp. residues from pottery samples excavated at Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico dated from Middle to Late Preclassic periods (400 BCE to 300 CE). Residues from 13 different pottery types were collected and extracted using standard techniques. Presence of Capsicum was confirmed by ultra-performance liquid chromatography (UPLC)/MS-MS Analysis. Five pottery types exhibited chemical peaks for Capsicum when compared to the standard (dihydrocapsaicin). No peaks were observed in the remaining eight samples. Results of the chemical extractions provide conclusive evidence for Capsicum use at Chiapas de Corzo during a 700 year period (400 BCE–300 CE). Presence of Capsicum in different types of culinary-associated pottery raises questions how chili pepper could have been used during this early time period. As Pre-Columbian cacao products sometimes were flavored using Capsicum, the same pottery sample set was tested for evidence of cacao using a theobromine marker: these results were negative. As each vessel that tested positive for Capsicum had a culinary use we suggest here the possibility that chili residues from the Chiapas de Corzo pottery samples reflect either paste or beverage preparations for religious, festival, or every day culinary use. Alternatively, some vessels that tested positive merely could have been used to store peppers. Most interesting from an archaeological context was the presence of Capsicum residue obtained from a spouted jar, a pottery type previously thought only to be used for pouring liquids.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Powis TG, Gallaga Murrieta E, Lesure R, Lopez Bravo R, Grivetti L, et al. (2013) Prehispanic Use of Chili Peppers in Chiapas, Mexico. PLoS ONE 8(11): e79013. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079013