General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Professor Jennifer Mathews

Question for April 2017

I’ve read that the ancient Greeks chewed gum too: who were first to chew gum, the ancient Greeks or the ancient Mexicans? Asked by Avonmore Primary School. Chosen and answered by Professor Jennifer Mathews.

The resin of the Sapodilla tree, used to make traditional Mexican chewing gum
The resin of the Sapodilla tree, used to make traditional Mexican chewing gum (Click on image to enlarge)

Thank you for your great question! It’s actually difficult to answer because we don’t have actual dating of when gum chewing started in either culture. Although we know a famous Greek writer called Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) spoke of the Greeks chewing gum called “mastich”, we don’t know how long they had been chewing prior to his writings. Additionally, although we know that the Aztecs and earlier Maya peoples of Mexico chewed “chicle” and used it as a kind of glue, for tooth fillings and other things, we don’t know how far back it went. However, we do know that people began chewing bark tar as a kind of gum as early as 9,000-4,000 BC. Hope that helps.

Photo by and with thanks to Dr. Oscar Forero.

See our main feature on chewing gum...

Professor Jennifer Mathews has answered 2 questions altogether:

Is the chewing gum tree only found in Mexico?

I’ve read that the ancient Greeks chewed gum too: who were first to chew gum, the ancient Greeks or the ancient Mexicans?

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