Geneticists identify probable microbe that killed 80% of Mexico’s population
Chronology and scale of Mesoamerica’s population decline exactly matches the Lower Southeast.
The Washington Post published a fascinating article this week on genetic research being carried out in Mexico. One of the great mysteries of the European Contact Period has always been, “What wiped out most of the populations of advanced civilizations in Mesoamerica, the Amazon Basin and Southeastern United States during the 1500s?”
It is known that smallpox killed millions of indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica, plus the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic Coast of the United States in the first decade of the 16th century. However, a strange disease that the Nahuatl Peoples of Mexico called cocoliztli later killed 85% of the indigenous peoples of the Mexican Highlands, yet had no effect on European colonists or those indigenous peoples living near the coast. Another one of the cocoliztli plagues killed over 50% of the survivors of the first plague. The 1585 cocoliztli plague in Mexico coincided with the sudden abandonment of all the large proto-Creek towns in North Georgia and Western North Carolina.
The disease often killed its victims in one day, yet did not have the same symptoms as the bubonic plague or smallpox. This is what baffled biologists and anthropologists. Geneticists have analyzed the bones of cocoliztli victims in a Mexican cemetery and found the consistent presence of Salmonella entrica genomes. Very strangely . . . this disease first appeared in Norway! To read the full article go to:
Ironically, that you are reading the People of One Fire newsletter today is directly due to Salmonella entrica. I came down with it during my second evening in Mexico, while starting my fellowship in Mexico many suns ago. That will be a separate article, where I discuss the symptoms of this disease, human interest aspects of what could have been a catastrophic end to my studies in Mexico before they started, plus the possible implications for understanding the Southeast’s past.
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