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Author Topic: C H I C L E  (Read 506 times)
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« on: March 17, 2009, 08:28:25 pm »

6.  Sapodilla Resin

The Aztecs were quick to appreciate the benefits of the sticky milky juice (resin) from the Sapodilla and, like the Maya, cooked it, mixed it with bitumen and other natural products… and then used it – to burn (mixed with tobacco) as incense, build with as glue (and also as an excellent water-proofer), and chew as gum!

7. Chicle - the real thing (Click on image to enlarge)
They called it TZICTLI (from the Náhuatl verb ‘tzicoa’, to stick – interesting that the Náhuatl for ‘sticky’ is ‘tzictic’!): this is probably the origin of the Mexican Spanish word for chewing gum CHICLE (though it could possibly come from the Maya word ‘tsicte’), and chicle is the origin of the popular US chewing gum Chiclet, marketed by the Adams company. Interesting too that the modern Greek word for chewing gum is ‘tsikles’…

8. Lake-asphalt in the Caribbean (Click on image to enlarge)
Black tar-like bitumen, incidentally, is a naturally occurring ‘thermoplastic polymer’, the ancient equivalent of Superglue. In Mexico it’s found mainly in the form of coastal surface deposits (‘lake-asphalt’, the residue from evaporated petroleum). In the Middle East it’s been used as a strong glue and/or mortar for tens of thousands of years – first for attaching stone tools to wooden shafts, and later by the Sumerians as a brick mortar and as a waterproofing for boats and buildings.

9. 'The gathering of bitumen' (Click on image to enlarge)
The Náhuatl word for bitumen is ‘chapopohtli’, and both it and tzictli were important enough not only to be mentioned several times but also illustrated in the Florentine Codex (the famous encyclopaedia of Aztec life prepared by Aztec scribes under Spanish rule).

10. Florentine Codex (Click on image to enlarge)
In Book 10, where the main products sold at major markets are described, the paragraphs on bitumen and chicle run together. The fragrant, pleasing scent of the bitumen was obviously striking – ‘When it is cast in the fire, its scent is spread over the whole land’ – and, combined with chicle, it became a mouth-freshener, popular particularly with women:

11. 'The chicle chewer' (Click on image to enlarge)
‘It is used by women; they chew the bitumen. And what they chew is named chicle. They do not chew it alone; they provide it with ‘axin’. They mix it with axin. It cannot be chewed alone; it crumbles. And in this manner it is improved: axin is provided, axin is mixed in, so that it is softened, smoothed.’
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