Sweet Cacao and Sour Atole: Mixed Drinks on Classic Maya Ceramic Vases

  • Dmitri Beliaev
  • Albert Davletshin
  • Alexandre Tokovinine


Many Classic Maya painted vessels feature a genre of inscriptions known as the “dedicatory formula” or the “primary standard sequence” (PSS).These texts usually mention the vessel type, its contents, and its owner’s name. The decipherment of the PSS on Classic Maya ceramics in the 1980s (Houston and Taube 1987; Houston et al. 1989; MacLeod 1989; Stuart 1988, 1989) opened the first page in the Ancient Maya cook book. The two main ingredients mentioned in the contents section of the PSS were cacao and atole (maize gruel), but the list of additives and flavors quickly expanded.

First of all, it was shown that different kinds of cacao and maize gruel beverages were in use in the Classic period. David Stuart (1989:152) identified two kinds of cacao. The first one was spelled as tzi-te-le or ’i-tzi-te-le, and Stuart compared it to the Yukatek botanical term itzimte or itzinte (Stuart 1989:152). The second kind of cacao, read yu-ta-la, was left without translation (Stuart 1989:152). Subsequently, Nikolai Grube (1990:326; see also Stuart 2006:196) discovered the collocation tzi-hi-li ka-wa on Chochola ceramics and suggested that tzihil was an adjective “fresh.” Another term for fresh chocolate – ’ach’ kakaw or “fresh cacao” – was identified by Marc Zender in 2002 (see Stuart 2006:199, Fig. 9.15).


Sweet Potato Ciudad Real Content Section Royal Court Green Corn 
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We would like to thank the organizers and participants of the session “The Role of Sustenance in the Feasts, Festivals, Rituals and Every Day Life of Mesoamerica” of the 2007 Chacmool conference in Calgary, where we presented the first version of this paper (a section of this manuscript was circulated as a short note among epigraphers in 2003). We are particularly indebted to Cameron McNeil, Kerry Hull, Nicholas Hopkins, Karen Bassie, Robert Laughlin, Michael Carrasco, John Staller, Alfonso Lacadena, Marc Zender, and Soeren Wichmann for fruitful discussions and excellent comments, which have greatly contributed to the improvement of the original manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dmitri Beliaev
    • 1
  • Albert Davletshin
  • Alexandre Tokovinine
  1. 1.Knorozov Center for Mesoamerican StudiesRussian State University for the HumanitiesMoscowRussia

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