Science
6:21 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Raise A Cup To The "Black Drink"

The yaupon holly, or Ilex vomitoria
The yaupon holly, or Ilex vomitoria
Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service/public domain

Imagine a caffeinated concoction that, when ingested, resulted in bouts of vomiting.  You might prefer to stick with your gourmet coffee.

But the "Black Drink" as it is known was part of a ritual. The vomiting was done for purity.  It turns out, early societies imbibed.  Even the Cahokia civilization about 1000 years ago.  That's roughly 500 years earlier than records of consumption elsewhere.  Research has found residue in ceremonial cups that confirm the Black Drink was used at Cahokia.

Dr. Thomas Emerson, State Archaeologist and Director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey, will speak on the subject Wednesday night in Springfield. 

He says the only native plant to produce caffeine was grow hundreds of miles to the south of Cahokia.  "It's present in a place where they physically have to import the leaves to make it. It gives you a whole new thought about the kinds of interactions that was going on at a big place like Cahokia," he said.

Emereson's appearance is part of the Paul Mickey Science Lecture Series at the State Museum's Research and Collections Center at 1011 E. Ash St.  The program starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday and it's free to attend.