Open Access Research Article

Pre-Hispanic Distillation? A Biomolecular Archaeological Investigation

Patrick E Mc Govern*, Fabian H Toro, Gretchen R Hall, Theodore Davidson, Katharine Prokop Prigge, George Preti, W Christian Petersen and Mike Szelewski

University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, USA

Corresponding Author

Received Date: February 15, 2019;  Published Date: March 11, 2019


Multiple, highly sensitive chemical techniques were used to analyze ancient pottery vessels from an excavated cemetery in Colima, west-central Mexico, dated to the Capacha phase (ca. 1500-1000 B.C). A double-chambered jar type, together with bowl and miniature cup types, are hypothesized to have been used as a pre-Hispanic distillation still. The results from the ancient vessels were compared to those from modern replica jars of the same types in which agave had been successfully distilled to a high-alcoholic beverage. Chemical biomarkers of agave in the modern replicas were absent from the ancient vessels, as were compounds of other native natural products of the region (e.g., maize, hog plum, prickly pear, etc.). Archaeological and archaeobotanical considerations, while suggestive, also provided no definitive evidence for a pre-Hispanic distillation hypothesis. Our study is placed within a broader ancient context of how this important technology for medicines, aromatics, metal purification, and alcoholic beverages, developed in east Asia and the Middle East, later to be adopted in Europe and brought to the New World. While an independent invention of a distillation apparatus in Mexico is yet to be proved, our goal is to stimulate further research and discussion, possibly leading to more compelling evidence.

Keywords: Biomolecular archaeology; Distillation; Pre-Hispanic Mexico; Agave; Fermentation; Archaeobotany; Pulque; Mezcal; History of science and technology; FT-IR; GC-MS; SPME

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