Buzzed: Native Americans Traded for Caffeinated Drinks 1,000 Years Ago

By Mike Pomranz |

© Werner Forman / Getty Images

It’s almost hard to believe at this point, but there was once a time when people living on this continent weren’t getting their caffeine fix from Starbucks. New research shows that, despite not living near any indigenous caffeinated plants, Native Americans in the American Southwest had found a way to procure the drug, probably establishing trade routes as far back as between 750 and 1,400 A.D.

The findings come from a team led by Patricia Crown, a professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico. According to NPR, they looked at 177 pottery samples from 18 sites in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and old Mexico (Chihuahua, to be exact). Forty of the samples from 12 of the sites contained detectable amounts of caffeine residue, including not only evidence of cacao, which researchers knew had made it to these regions by this period, but also yaupon holly, a caffeinated plant never seen before in this area during this time frame.

The discovery provides increased evidence of just how extensive trade between different parts of the Americas was a millennium ago. But it also speaks to the use of and desire for caffeine, even in areas where the now-ubiquitous substance isn’t naturally found. “I think it points out how extensive the use of caffeinated plants for drinks was in North America,” Crown told NPR, “and that more work needs to be done to try to figure out exactly where that was coming from.”

Maybe in future research, they can also look for traces of pumpkin spice.

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