Ancient Mesoamerica

NAHUA LOAN WORDS FROM THE EARLY CLASSIC PERIOD: Words for cacao preparation on a Río Azul ceramic vessel

Martha J.  Macri  a1 c1
a1 Department of Native American Studies, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616, USA

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The discovery of words in a Nahua language on a Maya ceramic vessel provides evidence of Nahua influence in the Maya region as early as A.D. 480, centuries earlier than previously believed. The words are spelled in syllabic Maya signs painted on a pot known to have contained chocolate (Hall et al. 1990). The words occur within the context of the primary standard sequence, a well-known Maya formula, and describe the chocolate drink that among the later Mexica (Aztec) was reserved for “rulers and esteemed noblewomen.” This new reading supports the Uto-Aztecan etymology of cacao proposed by Karin Dakin and Søren Wichmann (2000) and their assertion that an economically and militarily powerful Nahua-speaking people were responsible for the spread of the word cacao into southern Mesoamerica. More broadly, these findings have implications for the role of Uto-Aztecan speakers in the formation and spread of Mesoamerican civilization.

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