March 12, 2005  Elin Danien, “Not Your Mother's Hot Chocolate: The Ancient Maya and Their Amazing Beverage”

Elin began by reviewing the requirements for Cacao trees to grow, and showed
that only a few areas of Mesoamerica were really suitable for large-scale
cacao cultivation.  She reviewed the peculiar nature of the tree, whose pods
grow directly out of its trunk, and described the typical yield.  She traced
the origin of cacao cultivation to the Olmecs, and reviewed how the Maya and
the Aztecs prepared and used its fruit, and the role cacao played in their
cultures and economies.  When the Europeans discovered chocolate, they were
originally unimpressed, but soon saw its virtues.  The Jesuits maintained
the chocolate was a drink, while the Dominicans considered it a food.
Cardinal Richlieu used chocolate to “moderate the vapors of his spleen.”

Elin Danien is a Research Associate in the American Section of the
University of Pennsylvania Museum, where she was responsible for the recent
renovation of the Mesoamerican gallery.  She also wrote the Guide to the
Mesoamerican Gallery and edited the newly published Maya Folktales from the
Alta Verapaz.  She earned her Ph.D. in 1998, with a dissertation on Penn
Museum's collection of Maya polychrome pottery.  That collection forms the
core of an exhibit in preparation, for which she serves as curator.

As the Museum's first Public Programs Coordinator, she originated and for
fifteen years ran its annual Maya Weekend.  Her interest in the history of
Mesoamerican archaeology is represented by articles in Assembling the Past:
Studies in the Professionalization of Archaeology, edited by Alice B. Kehoe
and Mary Beth Emmerichs, University of New Mexico Press, Heart of Creation:
The Mesoamerican World and the Legacy of Linda Schele, edited by Andrea
Stone, and Archaeology and Archaeologists in Philadelphia, edited by Don
Fowler, both University of Alabama Press.  She is a frequent contributor to
Expedition, the Museum journal.  She co-edited, with Robert Sharer, New
Theories on the Ancient Maya, and she is currently preparing a volume on the
paintings of Maya pottery by Mary Louise Baker, resident artist at the Penn
Museum during the first third of the twentieth century.  Danien continues
her research for a biography of Robert Burkitt, an archaeologist famous in
Guatemalan circles as the man who came to tea and stayed for thirty years.

In 1986 she founded "Bread Upon the Waters," a unique scholarship for women
over the age of 30, who can only complete their undergraduate degrees at
Penn as part time students.  So far, 46 women have graduated (24 with
honors), and 30 women are taking courses during the 2004/05 academic year.

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