The desire to travel and explore developed among many early civilizations. This mobility provided these cultures with many advantages that have helped to advance their societies. Unfortunately, these movements are also responsible for the transmission of numerous diseases and their resulting adverse effects upon the inhabitants of the Earth. This essay seeks to outline the causes of epidemic diseases, explain their diffusion around the world, and explore why they are more harmful in certain societies.
During the First Great Transition, small mobile groups of hunter-gatherers began to adopt sedentary lifestyles. This was facilitated by the development of agriculture and the practice of animal domestication. Although the foundation of agriculture originated in the Mediterranean, it spread to Europe, the near East and eventually the rest of the populated world. With more efficient methods of food production, the population of these groups began to significantly increase. Domesticated animals were not only used as a supplementary food source (meat and milk), but also for providing animal power in labor-intensive activities (such as plowing).
The transition to a sedentary lifestyle caused a major decline in health in these growing societies as virulent and lethal diseases began to appear. "The major killers of humanity throughout recent history-smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, and cholera-are diseases that evolved from diseases of animals, even though most of the microbes responsible for our own epidemic illnesses are paradoxically now almost confined to humans."1 As early farmers began to live closer to and spend more time with livestock and pets, the germs from these animals w...
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...s. As trade became a compelling force for the cultural evolution of many societies, they helped to spread diseases over the entire world. Due to an auspicious piece of luck, Europe, with many more domesticated animals and therefore epidemic diseases, was able to develop immunities that the populous of the Americas lacked.
1. Diamond, Jered. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton. 1997. Pg. 196-197.
2. Chant, Colin. Pre-industrial Cities & Technology. London: Routledge. 1999. Pg. 51.
3. Diamond. Pg. 205.
4. Ehrlich, Paul R. Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect. Washington D.C.: Island Press. 2000. Pg. 268.
5. Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. New York: St. Martin's Press. 1992. Pg. 224.
6. Ehrlich. Pg. 254
7. Diamond. Pg. 212.
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