Residue recovered from pottery vessels suggests that the residents of Teotihuacan, Mexico, one of the largest urban centers of prehistory, made an alcoholic beverage from agave, according to a study. In addition to celebratory and social uses, alcoholic beverages likely provided ancient peoples with an important source of essential nutrients, potable water, and insurance against failed crops. Although direct evidence was lacking, researchers had theorized that the liquor of choice in Teotihuacan was pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of several species of agave plants, the consumption of which is depicted in ancient mural paintings.
Using a biomarker approach to detect residues of Zymomonas mobilis, the ethanol-producing bacterium that gives pulque its punch, Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol and a team of colleagues from other universities have tested several hundred pottery vessel fragments from Teotihuacan (150 B.C. to 650 A.D.) and identified the characteristic signature on 14 sherds. The findings, according to the authors, represent the earliest direct chemical evidence of pulque production in Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica.
“These findings provide compelling evidence for the use of ceramic vessels to contain pulque in the locality of La Ventilla around A.D. 200–550, at the height of Teotihuacan’s growth and power………pulque was stored in distinctive amphorae vessels sealed with pine resin, as well as in other, less specialized vessels,” report Evershed, et al. “Direct evidence of pulque production provides new insights into how the nutritional requirements of Teotihuacanos were sustained in a region in which the diet was largely based on plants and crop failures, due to drought and frost damage, which resulted in frequent shortfalls in staples.”………*
In addition, the authors propose that the study’s biomarker approach can be extended to identify the presence of other common bacterially fermented alcoholic beverages, including palm wine, beer, and cider.
The research report is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
*Article #14-08339: “Pulque production from fermented agave sap as a dietary supplement in Prehispanic Mesoamerica,” by Marisol Correa−Ascencio, Ian G. Robertson, Oralia Cabrera−Cortés, Rubén Cabrera−Castro, and Richard P. Evershed.
Source: Adapted and edited from a PNAS press release.
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