A team of archeologists and anthropologists reported the first known use of “black drink” in North America in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on August 6, 2012. The study was reviewed at the Eureka Alert web site the same day.
“Black drink” is a high caffeine content ceremonial beverage brewed from the roasted leaves and stems of Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). The beverage was commonly used in purification rituals by Native Americans in the southeastern United States.
The scientists analyzed the residual contents of pottery beakers from Greater Cahokia (which included settlements in present-day Saint Louis, East Saint Louis and the surrounding five counties) and determined the people of Greater Cahokia were the first known Native Americans to brew and use “black drink” in ceremonies and rituals.
The key biochemical markers of the drink – theobromine, caffeine and ursolic acid – were found in the right proportions in eight beakers that appear to be a Cahokia invention. The design and decoration of the beakers indicate a ceremonial or religious element was involved.
The beakers date from A.D. 1050 to 1250.
The peoples who created Greater Cahokia lived more than 100 miles from any source of the holly that was needed to make “black drink”. The researchers conclude the residents of Greater Cahokia received the holly through trade and the ceremonial use of “black drink” was transferred to Native Americans throughout much of what is now the southeastern United States.
Greater Cahokia is an archeological mystery. More than 50,000 people lived in and around Greater Cahokia. This was the largest population center in North America at that time. The people of Greater Cahokia had all the trappings of religion, art, and culture that distinguish a civilization. No one knows why the Cahokia culture just disappeared about 900 A. D.
Ritual Black Drink consumption at Cahokia
Patricia L. Crown a,1 , Thomas E. Emerson b , Jiyan Gu c , W. Jeffrey Hurst d , Timothy R. Pauketat e , and Timothy Ward c
a Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131; b Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois, Champaign, IL 61820; c Keck Center for Instrumental and Biochemical Comparative Archaeology, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Millsaps College, Jackson, MS 39210; d Hershey Technical Center, Hershey, PA 17033; and e Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801