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Her Cup for Sweet Cacao

Her Cup for Sweet Cacao
Food in Ancient Maya Society

Presenting new data from leading scholars in the field, this collection uses evidence from archaeology, hieroglyphic texts, chemical analyses, and art to explore the many ways food was integral to Classic Maya society.

Series: The Linda Schele Endowment in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies

December 2020
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400 pages | 6 x 9 | 30 b&w photos and 53 b&w illus. |

For the ancient Maya, food was both sustenance and a tool for building a complex society. This collection, the first to focus exclusively on the social uses of food in Classic Maya culture, deploys a variety of theoretical approaches to examine the meaning of food beyond diet—ritual offerings and restrictions, medicinal preparations, and the role of nostalgia around food, among other topics. For instance, how did Maya feasts build community while also reinforcing social hierarchy? What psychoactive substances were the elite Maya drinking in their caves, and why? Which dogs were good for eating, and which breeds became companions? Why did even some non-elite Maya enjoy cacao, but rarely meat? Why was meat more available for urban Maya than for those closer to hunting grounds on the fringes of cities? How did the molcajete become a vital tool and symbol in Maya gastronomy?

These chapters, written by some of the leading scholars in the field, showcase a variety of approaches and present new evidence from faunal remains, hieroglyphic texts, chemical analyses, and art. Thoughtful and revealing, Her Cup for Sweet Cacao unlocks a more comprehensive understanding of how food was instrumental to the development of ancient Maya culture.

  • Preface by Michael D. Coe
  • 1. Introduction (Traci Ardren)
  • 2. Potluck: Building Community and Feasting among the Middle Preclassic Maya (M. Kathryn Brown and Carolyn Freiwald)
  • 3. A Toast to the Earth: The Social Role of Beverages in Pre-Hispanic Maya Cave Ritual at Pacbitun, Belize (Jon Spenard, Adam King, Terry G. Powis, and Nilesh Gaikwad)
  • 4. The Epigraphy of Ancient Maya Food and Drink (Nicholas Carter and Mallory E. Matsumoto)
  • 5. Plant Foodstuffs of the Ancient Maya: Agents and Matter, Medium and Message (Shanti Morell-Hart)
  • 6. Food, Friend, or Offering: Exploring the Role of Maya Dogs in the Zooarchaeological Record (Petra Cunningham-Smith, Ashley E. Sharpe, Arianne Boileau, Erin Kennedy Thornton, and Kitty F. Emery)
  • 7. Celebrating Sihó: The Role of Food and Foodways in the Construction of Social Identities (Lilia Fernández Souza, Mario Zimmermann, and Socorro del Pilar Jiménez Álvarez)
  • 8. Cuisine and Feasting in the Copán and Lower Ulúa Valleys in Honduras (Julia A. Hendon)
  • 9. Talking Feasts: Classic Maya Commensal Politics at La Corona (Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire)
  • 10. Thinking (and Eating) Chichén Itzá: New Food Technology and Creating the Itzá State at Xuenkal (Traci Ardren)
  • 11. Faunal Foods as Indices of Commoner Wealth (or Poverty) in Rural versus Urban Houselots of the Terminal Classic and Postclassic in Northwest Yucatán (Marilyn A. Masson, Timothy S. Hare, Bradley W. Russell, and Carlos Peraza Lope)
  • 12. Human-Deity Relationships Conveyed through Balche’ Rituals and Resource Procurement (Gabrielle Vail and Maia Dedrick)
  • 13. Conclusion: In Maya Food Studies, Who Is Maya? What Is Food? (Jeffrey M. Pilcher)
  • Index

Traci Ardren is a professor of anthropology at the University of Miami. She is the author of Social Identities in the Classic Maya Lowlands, and her research has appeared in the journals Food and Foodways and Ancient Mesoamerica, among others.


“Through a range of approaches, Her Cup for Sweet Cacao makes powerful connections that show the many different ways one can learn about past peoples through food. It is an important work not only for Mesoamerican archaeologists but anyone studying the foodways of the Americas.”
Christine A. Hastorf, University of California, Berkeley, author of The Social Archaeology of Food: Thinking about Eating from Prehistory to the Present


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca