The 2024 Mesoamerica Meetings

The 2024 Mesoamerica Meetings - Food Plants and Fruit Trees: Maize and Cacao

The Maize God as an embodied cacao tree. Drawing by Simon Martin.

Detail of monkeys and cacao pods from vessel K8234


January 10-13, 2024
Conference Format: Hybrid
Organizers: David Stuart, Astrid Runggaldier, Milady Casco
The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

The 2024 Mesoamerica Meetings take a close look at maize and cacao, two essential Mesoamerican foods that were also sacred symbols, status markers, and ritual metaphors. Maize was, and is, the staple of Mesoamerica, with its cultivation and consumption deeply embedded in daily life, religion, and socioeconomic structure. Cacao on the other hand was a luxury commodity employed in maintaining social relationships that structured heterarchical and hierarchical power dynamics. The ancient culture of cacao is most visible to us in the elite ceramics of the Classic Maya, with their constant inscribed mention of the word kakaw itself, and of the drink’s many varieties (in fact, the ubiquitous ka-ka-wa hieroglyph was first identified on Maya ceramics exactly 40 years ago, in 1984, inspiring our topic for the 2024 Meetings). The borrowing and adoption of Mesoamerican cacao during the colonial era gave rise to the global chocolate industries we know today.

Together, maize and cacao were seen in ancient Mesoamerica as complementary fruits of the earth, celebrated in art and writing spanning many facets of Mesoamerican societies, their economies and ceremonies. Featuring new research and insights, the annual Mesoamerica Meetings conference explores their interdisciplinary study through the lenses of archaeology, art history, anthropology, ethnohistory, and ethnobotany.