The Decimating Effects of Infectious Disease in the New World Essay

The Decimating Effects of Infectious Disease in the New World Essay

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The Decimating Effects of Infectious Disease in the New World


"It is often said that in the centuries after Columbus landed in the New
World on 12 October, 1492, more native North Americans died each year from
infectious diseases brought by the European settlers than were born." (6) The
decimation of people indigenous to the Americas by diseases introduced by
European invaders is unprecedented. While it is difficult to accurately
determine the population of the pre-Columbian Americas, scholars estimate the
number to have been between 40 and 50 million people. The population in
Mexico alone in 1519 is believed to have been approximately 30 million. By
1568, that number was down to 3 million inhabitants. Although there were other
causes for the population reduction such as "alcoholism, warfare, genocide,
cultural disruption, and declines in fertility", it is now known that disease played a
central role in the depopulation of the Americas. But how is it that these native
peoples harbored virtually no immunity to the European diseases? What were
these diseases and how did they come to be so feared? Who introduced them
to this New World? How did this biological disaster affect the social structure of
the Indians? This brief will attempt to answer the preceding questions.

How is the presence or absence of disease in the New World determined?
Archeologists are able to determine if a society or individual fell prey to disease
by examining teeth, bones, coprolites(feces), and artistic depictions. Through
the excavations of burial mounds, scientists have discovered that certain
afflictions existed even before the white man landed. "Missing limbs, skin
diseases, blindness, cleft palate, club...


... middle of paper ...


... Typhus arrives

1556-60 - Influenza hits Europe and Japan

1558,59 - Influenza hits the New World

16th and 17th c. - Diphtheria, mumps, smallpox(again), and
Influenza(again)(1)


Works Cited:

1. McNeill, William. Plagues and Peoples.

2. Cowley, Geoffrey. The Great Disease Migration. Newsweek, Fall-Winter 1991
vol. 118, pg.54

3. Lunenfeld, Marvin. 1492 Discovery, Invasion, Encounter. Lexington, Mass. and
Toronto, D.C. Heath and Company, 1991.

4. Bedini, Silvio A., Editor. The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia. Vol 1. New
York, NY, Simon and Schuster, 1992

5. Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Conquest of Paradise, Christopher Columbus and the
Columbian Legacy. New York, NY, Penguin Group, 1990

6. Meltzer, David J. How Columbus Sickened the New World. New Scientist,
Oct. 10, 1992 v. 136 pg. 38

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