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Population history of American indigenous peoples

Population history of American indigenous peoples

Overview

The population figures for Indigenous peoples in the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 before the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

 have proven difficult to establish and rely on archaeological data and written records from European settlers. Most scholars writing at the end of the 19th century estimated the pre-Columbian
Pre-Columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

 population at about 10 million; by the end of the 20th century the scholarly consensus had shifted to about 50 million, with some arguing for 100 million or more.
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The population figures for Indigenous peoples in the Americas
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian inhabitants of North and South America, their descendants and other ethnic groups who are identified with those peoples. Indigenous peoples are known in Canada as Aboriginal peoples, and in the United States as Native Americans...

 before the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator, born in the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy. Under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean that led to general European awareness of the American continents in the...

 have proven difficult to establish and rely on archaeological data and written records from European settlers. Most scholars writing at the end of the 19th century estimated the pre-Columbian
Pre-Columbian
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...

 population at about 10 million; by the end of the 20th century the scholarly consensus had shifted to about 50 million, with some arguing for 100 million or more. Contact with the New World led to the European colonization of the Americas
European colonization of the Americas
The start of the European colonization of the Americas is typically dated to 1492. The first Europeans to reach the Americas were the Vikings during the 11th century, who established several colonies in Greenland and one short-lived settlement in present day Newfoundland...

, in which millions of immigrants from the "Old World
Old World
The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

" eventually settled in the New.

The population of African and Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

n peoples in the Americas grew steadily, while the number of the indigenous people plummeted. Eurasian diseases such as smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

, influenza
Influenza
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae , that affects birds and mammals...

, bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

 and pneumonic plague
Pneumonic plague
Pneumonic plague, a severe type of lung infection, is one of three main forms of plague, all of which are caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is more virulent and rare than bubonic plague...

s devastated the Native Americans who did not have immunity. Conflict and outright warfare with European newcomers and other American tribes reduced populations and disrupted traditional society. The extent and causes of the decline have long been a subject of academic debate, along with its characterization as a genocide
Genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

.

Population overview


Given the fragmentary nature of the evidence, even semi-accurate pre-Columbian population figures are impossible to obtain. Estimates are made by extrapolations from small bits of data. In 1976, geographer William Denevan
William Denevan
William M. Denevan is professor emeritus of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a prominent member of the Berkeley School of Latin Americanist Geography. He also worked in the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies at the same university...

 used the existing estimates to derive a "consensus count" of about 54 million people. Nonetheless, more recent estimates still range widely.

Using an estimate of approximately 30 million people in 1492 (including 15 million in the Aztec Empire and six million in the Inca Empire
Inca Empire
The Inca Empire, or Inka Empire , was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cusco in modern-day Peru. The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century...

), the lowest estimates give a death toll due from disease of an astonishing 80% by the end of the 17th century (eight million people in 1650). Latin America would match its 15th century population early in the 20th century; it numbered 17 million in 1800, 30 million in 1850, 61 million in 1900, 105 million in 1930, 218 million in 1960, 361 million in 1980, and 563 million in 2005. In the last three decades of the 16th century, the population of present-day Mexico dropped to about one million people. The Maya
Maya peoples
The Maya people constitute a diverse range of the Native American people of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term...

 population is today estimated at six million, which is about the same as at the end of the 15th century, according to some estimates. In what is now Brazil, the indigenous population declined from a pre-Columbian high of an estimated four million to some 300,000.

While it is difficult to determine exactly how many Natives lived in North America before Columbus, estimates range from a low of 2.1 million (Ubelaker
Douglas H. Ubelaker
Douglas H. Ubelaker is an American forensic anthropologist. He works as a curator for the Smithsonian Institution, and has published numerous papers and monographs that have helped establish modern procedures in forensic anthropology...

 1976) to 7 million people to (Russell Thornton) to a high of 18 million (Dobyns 1983).

The Aboriginal population
Aboriginal peoples in Canada
Aboriginal peoples in Canada comprise the First Nations, Inuit and Métis. The descriptors "Indian" and "Eskimo" have fallen into disuse in Canada and are commonly considered pejorative....

 of Canada during the late 15th century is estimated to have been between 200,000 and two million, with a figure of 500,000 currently accepted by Canada's Royal Commission on Aboriginal Health. Repeated outbreaks of European infectious disease
Infectious disease
Infectious diseases, also known as communicable diseases, contagious diseases or transmissible diseases comprise clinically evident illness resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism...

s such as influenza
Influenza
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae , that affects birds and mammals...

, measles
Measles
Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus, specifically a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. Morbilliviruses, like other paramyxoviruses, are enveloped, single-stranded, negative-sense RNA viruses...

 and smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

 (to which they had no natural immunity), combined with dispossession from European/Canadian settlements
Former colonies and territories in Canada
Former colonies, territories, boundaries, and claims in Canada prior to the current classification of provinces and territories. In North America, ethnographers commonly classify Aboriginals into ten geographical regions with shared cultural traits and by related linguistic dialects...

 and repressive policies, resulted in a forty to eighty percent aboriginal population decrease post-contact. For example, during the late 1630s, smallpox killed over half of the Wyandot (Huron), who controlled most of the early North American fur trade
North American Fur Trade
The North American fur trade was the industry and activities related to the acquisition, exchange, and sale of animal furs in the North American continent. Indigenous peoples of different regions traded among themselves in the Pre-Columbian Era, but Europeans participated in the trade beginning...

 in what became Canada
Territorial evolution of Canada
The federation of Canada was created in 1867 when three colonies of British North America were united. One of these colonies split into two new provinces, three other colonies joined later...

. They were reduced to fewer than 10,000 people.

Historian David Henige
David Henige
David Patrick Henige is an American historian, bibliographer, academic librarian and Africanist scholar. The majority of Henige's academic career has been spent in affiliation with the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where for over three decades he has held the position of bibliographer in...

 has argued that many population figures are the result of arbitrary formulas selectively applied to numbers from unreliable historical sources. He believes this is a weakness unrecognized by several contributors to the field, and insists there is not sufficient evidence to produce population numbers that have any real meaning. He characterizes the modern trend of high estimates as "pseudo-scientific
Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

 number-crunching." Henige does not advocate a low population estimate, but argues that the scanty and unreliable nature of the evidence renders broad estimates inevitably suspect, saying "high counters" (as he calls them) have been particularly flagrant in their misuse of sources. Many population studies acknowledge the inherent difficulties in producing reliable statistics, given the scarcity of hard data.

The population debate has often had ideological underpinnings. Low estimates were sometimes reflective of European notions of cultural and racial superiority. Historian Francis Jennings
Francis Jennings
Francis Jennings was an American historian, best known for his works on the colonial history of the United States.Jennings taught at Cedar Crest College....

 argued, "Scholarly wisdom long held that Indians were so inferior in mind and works that they could not possibly have created or sustained large populations." On the other hand, some have argued that contemporary estimates of a high pre-Columbian indigenous population are rooted in a bias against Western civilization
Western culture
Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization or European civilization, refers to cultures of European origin and is used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, religious beliefs, political systems, and specific artifacts and...

 and/or Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

. Robert Royal writes that "estimates of pre-Columbian population figures have become heavily politicized with some scholars, who are particularly critical of Europe, often favoring wildly higher figures."

Civilizations rose and fell, and indigenous peoples migrated long before Europeans arrived on the scene. The indigenous population in 1492 was not necessarily at a high point and may actually have been in decline in some areas. Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel
Fernand Braudel was a French historian and a leader of the Annales School. His scholarship focused on three main projects, each representing several decades of intense study: The Mediterranean , Civilization and Capitalism , and the unfinished Identity of France...

 has pointed out a problem the Amerindian faced which was not a factor in Eurasia and Africa: "The Indian population ... suffered from a demographic weakness, particularly because of the absence of any substitute animal milk. Mothers had to nurse their children until they were three or four years old. This long period of breast-feeding severely reduced female fertility and made any demographic revival precarious." Indigenous populations in most areas of the Americas reached a low point by the early 20th century. In most cases, populations have since begun to climb. In the United States, for instance, the numbers may already have recovered to pre-Columbian levels or even exceeded them.

Pre-Columbian Americas



Genetic diversity
Genetic diversity
Genetic diversity, the level of biodiversity, refers to the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. It is distinguished from genetic variability, which describes the tendency of genetic characteristics to vary....

 and population structure in the American land mass using DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 micro-satellite markers (genotype
Genotype
The genotype is the genetic makeup of a cell, an organism, or an individual usually with reference to a specific character under consideration...

) sampled from North, Central, and South America have been analyzed against similar data available from other indigenous populations
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

 worldwide. The Amerindian populations show a lower genetic diversity
Genetic diversity
Genetic diversity, the level of biodiversity, refers to the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. It is distinguished from genetic variability, which describes the tendency of genetic characteristics to vary....

 than populations from other continental regions. Observed is both a decreasing genetic diversity as geographic distance from the Bering Strait
Bering Strait
The Bering Strait , known to natives as Imakpik, is a sea strait between Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Russia, the easternmost point of the Asian continent and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, USA, the westernmost point of the North American continent, with latitude of about 65°40'N,...

 occurs and a decreasing genetic similarity to Siberian populations
Indigenous peoples of Siberia
Including the Russian Far East, the population of Siberia numbers just above 40 million people.As a result of the 17th to 19th century Russian conquest of Siberia and the subsequent population movements during the Soviet era, the demographics of Siberia today is dominated by native speakers of...

 from Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

 (genetic entry point). Also observed is evidence of a higher level of diversity and lower level of population structure in western South America compared to eastern South America. A relative lack of differentiation between Mesoamerican and Andean
Andes
The Andes is the world's longest continental mountain range. It is a continual range of highlands along the western coast of South America. This range is about long, about to wide , and of an average height of about .Along its length, the Andes is split into several ranges, which are separated...

 populations is a scenario that implies coastal routes were easier than inland routes for migrating peoples (Paleo-Indians) to traverse. The overall pattern that is emerging suggests that the Americas were recently colonized by a small number of individuals (effective size of about 70), and then they grew by a factor of 10 over 800 – 1000 years. The data also show that there have been genetic exchanges between Asia, the Arctic
Arctic
The Arctic is a region located at the northern-most part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, the United States, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. The Arctic region consists of a vast, ice-covered ocean, surrounded by treeless permafrost...

 and Greenland
Greenland
Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

 since the initial peopling of the Americas.

Depopulation from disease


Nearly all scholars now believe that widespread epidemic disease, to which the natives had no prior exposure or resistance, was the overwhelming cause of the massive population decline of the Native Americans. They reject both of the earliest European immigrants' explanations for the population decline of the American natives. The first explanation was the brutal practices of the Spanish conquistador
Conquistador
Conquistadors were Spanish soldiers, explorers, and adventurers who brought much of the Americas under the control of Spain in the 15th to 16th centuries, following Europe's discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492...

es, as recorded by the Spanish themselves. This was applied through the encomienda
Encomienda
The encomienda was a system that was employed mainly by the Spanish crown during the colonization of the Americas to regulate Native American labor....

 which was a system ostensibly set up to protect people from warring tribes as well as to teach them the Spanish language and the Catholic religion, but in practice was tantamount to slavery. The most notable account was that of the Dominican
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

 friar
Friar
A friar is a member of one of the mendicant orders.-Friars and monks:...

 Bartolomé de las Casas
Bartolomé de Las Casas
Bartolomé de las Casas O.P. was a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians"...

, whose writings vividly depict Spanish atrocities committed in particular against the Taíno
Taíno people
The Taínos were pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, and the northern Lesser Antilles. It is thought that the seafaring Taínos are relatives of the Arawak people of South America...

s. It took five years for the Taíno rebellion to be quelled by both the Real Audiencia
Real Audiencia of Santo Domingo
The Royal Audiencia of Santo Domingo was the first court of the Spanish crown in America. It was created by Ferdinand V of Castile in his decree of 1511, but due to disagreements between the governor of Hispaniola, Diego Colon and the Crown, it was not implemented until it was reestablished by...

—through diplomatic sabotage, and through the Indian auxiliaries fighting with the Spanish. After Emperor Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

 personally eradicated the notion of the encomienda system as a use for slave labour, there were not enough Spanish to have caused such a large population decline. The second European explanation was a perceived divine approval, in which God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

 removed the natives as part of His "divine plan" to make way for a new Christian
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 civilization. Many native Americans viewed their troubles in terms of religious or supernatural causes within their own belief systems.

Soon after Europeans and Africans began to arrive in the New World, bringing with them the infectious diseases of Europe and Africa, observers noted immense numbers of indigenous Americans began to die from these diseases. One reason this death toll was overlooked (or downplayed) is that once introduced the diseases raced ahead of European immigration in many areas. Disease killed off a sizable portion of the populations before European observations (and thus written records) were made. After the epidemics had already killed massive numbers of natives, many newer European immigrants assumed that there had always been relatively few indigenous peoples. The scope of the epidemics over the years was tremendous, killing millions of people—possibly in excess of 90% of the population in the hardest hit areas—and creating one of "the greatest human catastrophe in history, far exceeding even the disaster of the Black Death
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 of medieval Europe", which had killed up to one-third of the people in Europe and Asia between 1347 and 1351. The Black Death occurred to a European population which also had not been exposed and had little or no resistance to a new disease.

One of the most devastating diseases was smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

, but other deadly diseases included typhus
Typhus
Epidemic typhus is a form of typhus so named because the disease often causes epidemics following wars and natural disasters...

, measles
Measles
Measles, also known as rubeola or morbilli, is an infection of the respiratory system caused by a virus, specifically a paramyxovirus of the genus Morbillivirus. Morbilliviruses, like other paramyxoviruses, are enveloped, single-stranded, negative-sense RNA viruses...

, influenza
Influenza
Influenza, commonly referred to as the flu, is an infectious disease caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae , that affects birds and mammals...

, bubonic plague
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

, cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

, malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

, tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

, mumps
Mumps
Mumps is a viral disease of the human species, caused by the mumps virus. Before the development of vaccination and the introduction of a vaccine, it was a common childhood disease worldwide...

, yellow fever
Yellow fever
Yellow fever is an acute viral hemorrhagic disease. The virus is a 40 to 50 nm enveloped RNA virus with positive sense of the Flaviviridae family....

, and pertussis
Pertussis
Pertussis, also known as whooping cough , is a highly contagious bacterial disease caused by Bordetella pertussis. Symptoms are initially mild, and then develop into severe coughing fits, which produce the namesake high-pitched "whoop" sound in infected babies and children when they inhale air...

 (whooping cough), which were chronic in Eurasia. The indigenous Americas also had a number of endemic diseases, such as tuberculosis
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 and perhaps including an unusually virulent type of syphilis
Syphilis
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The primary route of transmission is through sexual contact; however, it may also be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis...

, which soon became rampant when brought back to the Old World. (This transfer of disease between the Old and New Worlds was part of the phenomenon known as the "Columbian Exchange
Columbian Exchange
The Columbian Exchange was a dramatically widespread exchange of animals, plants, culture, human populations , communicable disease, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres . It was one of the most significant events concerning ecology, agriculture, and culture in all of human history...

"). The diseases brought to the New World proved to be exceptionally deadly to the Native Americans.

The epidemics had very different effects in different regions of the Americas. The most vulnerable groups were those with a relatively small population and few built-up immunities. Many island-based groups were annihilated. The Caribs and Arawaks of the Caribbean nearly ceased to exist, as did the Beothuk
Beothuk
The Beothuk were one of the aboriginal peoples in Canada. They lived on the island of Newfoundland at the time of European contact in the 15th and 16th centuries...

s of Newfoundland. While disease ranged swiftly through the densely populated empires of Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica
Mesoamerica is a region and culture area in the Americas, extending approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica, within which a number of pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas in the 15th and...

, the more scattered populations of North America saw a slower spread.

Virulence and mortality


A disease (viral
Virus
A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Viruses infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea...

 or bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

l) that kills its victims before they can spread it to others tends to flare up and then die out, like a fire running out of fuel. A more resilient disease would establish an equilibrium
Homeostasis
Homeostasis is the property of a system that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition of properties like temperature or pH...

; if its victims lived beyond infection
Infection
An infection is the colonization of a host organism by parasite species. Infecting parasites seek to use the host's resources to reproduce, often resulting in disease...

, the disease would spread further. The evolutionary process selects against quick lethality, with the most immediately fatal diseases being the most short-lived. A similar evolutionary pressure acts upon the victim populations, as those lacking genetic resistance to common diseases die and do not leave descendants, whereas those who are resistant procreate and pass resistant genes to their offspring. For example, in the fifty years following Columbus' voyage to the Americas, an unusually strong strain of syphilis
Syphilis
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum. The primary route of transmission is through sexual contact; however, it may also be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or at birth, resulting in congenital syphilis...

 killed a high proportion of infected Europeans within a few months; over time, however, the disease has become much less virulent.

Thus both diseases and populations tend to evolve towards an equilibrium in which the common diseases are non-symptomatic, mild, or manageably chronic. When a population that has been relatively isolated is exposed to new diseases, it has no resistance to the new diseases (the population is "biologically naive"); this body of people succumbs at a much higher rate, resulting in what is known as a "virgin soil" epidemic. Before the European arrival, the Americas had been isolated from the Eurasian-African landmass. The peoples of the Old World had had thousands of years for their populations to accommodate to their common diseases.

The fact that all members of an immunologically naive population are exposed to a new disease simultaneously increases the fatalities. Populations where the disease is endemic have generations of individuals with acquired immunity or hardiness. In populations where a disease is endemic, most adults are exposed to the disease at a young age. Thus resistant to reinfection, they are able to care for individuals who catch the disease for the first time, such as the next generation of children. With proper care, many of these "childhood diseases" are often survivable. In a naive population, all age groups are affected at once, leaving few or no healthy caregivers to nurse the sick. With no resistant individuals healthy enough to tend to the ill, a disease may have higher fatalities than otherwise.

The natives of the Americas suffered the introduction of several new diseases at once, so that a person who successfully resisted one disease might die from another. Multiple simultaneous infections (e.g., smallpox and typhus at the same time) or in close succession (e.g., smallpox in an individual who was still weak from a recent bout of typhus) are more deadly than just the sum of the individual diseases. In this scenario, death rates can also be elevated by combinations of new and familiar diseases: smallpox in combination with American strains of syphilis or yaws
Yaws
Yaws is a tropical infection of the skin, bones and joints caused by the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum pertenue...

, for example.

Other contributing factors:
  • Native American medical treatments such as sweat baths
    Sweat lodge
    The sweat lodge is a ceremonial sauna and is an important event in some North American First Nations or Native American cultures...

     and cold water immersion (practiced in some areas) weakened some patients and probably increased mortality rates.
  • Europeans brought many diseases with them because they had many more domesticated animals than the Native Americans. Domestication
    Domestication
    Domestication or taming is the process whereby a population of animals or plants, through a process of selection, becomes accustomed to human provision and control. In the Convention on Biological Diversity a domesticated species is defined as a 'species in which the evolutionary process has been...

     usually means close and frequent contact between animals and people, which is an opportunity for diseases of domestic animals to mutate and migrate into the human population.
  • The Eurasian landmass extends many thousands of miles along an east–west axis. Climate zones also extend for thousands of miles, which facilitated the spread of agriculture, domestication of animals, and the diseases associated with domestication. The Americas extend mainly north and south, which, according to the environmental determinist theory popularized by Jared Diamond
    Jared Diamond
    Jared Mason Diamond is an American scientist and author whose work draws from a variety of fields. He is currently Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA...

     in Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a 1997 book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles . In 1998 it won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book...

    , meant that it was much harder for cultivated plant species, domesticated animals, and diseases to migrate.
  • Mexican epidemiologist Rodolfo Acuña-Soto argues that mortality due to imported diseases was compounded, or even dwarfed, by mortality due to a hemorrhagic fever native to the Americas. The Aztecs called it . Acuña-Soto's conclusions are based in part on the 50 volumes written by Francisco Hernández
    Francisco Hernández de Toledo
    Francisco Hernández de Toledo was a naturalist and court physician to the King of Spain....

    , physician to Philip II of Spain
    Philip II of Spain
    Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

    . He interviewed survivors of the 1576 epidemic and autopsied many victims, then recorded his findings and observations. He found that the fever was endemic during drought years, a series of which had coincided with the early Spanish invasion of Central America. Acuña-Soto noticed that previous historians using the same reference works that he used had chosen which accounts to base their results on, so that epidemic illnesses coinciding with the Spanish invasion could, by selectively using resources, look like accounts of European-caused smallpox rather than the Aztec-recognized . The disease the Aztecs described, however, when read in full described a hemorrhagic fever that had nothing in common with smallpox. Such fevers are viral, spread by rodents and bodily fluid contacts between infected people. Using evidence from 24 epidemics, Acuña-Soto concluded that the Spanish did not bring the epidemic to the Aztecs, but arrived during its onset and intensification. Acuña-Soto's theory is controversial and not widely accepted .

Deliberate infection


One of the most contentious issues relating to disease depopulation in the Americas concerns the degree to which Europeans deliberately infected indigenous peoples with diseases such as smallpox. Cook asserts that there is no evidence that the Spanish attempted to infect the American natives. The cattle introduced by the Spanish polluted the water reserves which Native Americans dug in the fields to accumulate rain water. In response, the Franciscan
Franciscan
Most Franciscans are members of Roman Catholic religious orders founded by Saint Francis of Assisi. Besides Roman Catholic communities, there are also Old Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, ecumenical and Non-denominational Franciscan communities....

s and Dominicans
Dominican Order
The Order of Preachers , after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III on 22 December 1216 in France...

 created public fountains and aqueducts to guarantee access to drinking water
Drinking water
Drinking water or potable water is water pure enough to be consumed or used with low risk of immediate or long term harm. In most developed countries, the water supplied to households, commerce and industry is all of drinking water standard, even though only a very small proportion is actually...

. But when the Franciscans lost their privileges in 1572, many of these fountains were not guarded any more and deliberate well poisoning
Well poisoning
Well-poisoning is the act of malicious manipulation of potable water resources in order to cause illness or death, or to deny an opponent access to fresh water resources....

 may have happened. Although no proof of such poisoning has been found, some historians believe the decrease of the population correlates with the end of religious orders' control of the water.

Vaccination


After Edward Jenner
Edward Jenner
Edward Anthony Jenner was an English scientist who studied his natural surroundings in Berkeley, Gloucestershire...

's 1796 confirmation of the efficacy of smallpox vaccination
Smallpox vaccine
The smallpox vaccine was the first successful vaccine to be developed. The process of vaccination was discovered by Edward Jenner in 1796, who acted upon his observation that milkmaids who caught the cowpox virus did not catch smallpox...

, the inoculation technique became better known. Smallpox became less deadly in the United States (and elsewhere). Many colonists and natives became vaccinated. Although in some cases officials tried to inoculate natives, the disease often was carried beyond containment attempts. At other times, trade demands broke quarantines. In other cases, some natives refused inoculation because of suspicion of European Americans. In 1831 government officials inoculated the Yankton Sioux at Sioux Agency. The Sante Sioux refused inoculation and many died.

War and violence



While epidemic disease was by far the leading cause of the population decline of the American indigenous peoples after 1492, there were other contributing factors, all of them related to European contact and colonization. One of these factors was warfare. According to demographer Russell Thornton, although many lives were lost in wars over the centuries, and war sometimes contributed to the near extinction of certain tribes, warfare and death by other violent means was a comparatively minor cause of overall native population decline.

There is some disagreement among scholars about how widespread warfare was in pre-Columbian America, but there is general agreement that war became deadlier after the arrival of the Europeans and their firearms. Europeans had gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 and swords, which made killing easier and war more deadly. Europeans proved consistently successful in achieving domination in warfare with Native Americans for a variety of reasons. One reason was the staying power of the Europeans, who could call on a far ranging supply network, and could sustain a conflict over several years including the winters if necessary. Almost no Indian tribes had the stored resources to conduct a war for more than a few months. The massive death toll from disease played a major role in the European conquest, but equally decisive was the European approach to war, which was less ritualistic and more focused on achieving decisive victory. European colonization also contributed to a number of wars between Native Americans, who fought over which of them should have first access to the new weapon.

Empires such as the Incas depended on a highly centralized administration for the distribution of resources. Disruption caused by the war and the colonization hampered the traditional economy, and possibly led to shortages of food and materials.

Exploitation


Some Spaniards objected to the encomienda
Encomienda
The encomienda was a system that was employed mainly by the Spanish crown during the colonization of the Americas to regulate Native American labor....

 system, notably Bartolomé de las Casas
Bartolomé de Las Casas
Bartolomé de las Casas O.P. was a 16th-century Spanish historian, social reformer and Dominican friar. He became the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed "Protector of the Indians"...

, who insisted that the Indians were humans with souls and rights. Due to many revolts and military encounters, Emperor Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

 helped relieve the strain on both the Indian labourers and the Spanish vanguards probing the Caribana for military and diplomatic purposes. Later on New Laws
New Laws
The New Laws, in Spanish Leyes Nuevas, issued November 20, 1542 by King Charles V of Spain regarding the Spanish colonization of the Americas, are also known as the "New Laws of the Indies for the Good Treatment and Preservation of the Indians", and were created to prevent the exploitation of the...

 were promulgated in Spain in 1542 to protect isolated natives, but the abuses in the Americas were never entirely or permanently abolished. The Spanish also employed the pre-Columbian draft system called the mita
Mita (Inca)
Mit'a was mandatory public service in the society of the Inca Empire. Historians use the hispanicized term mita to distinguish the system as it was modified by the Spanish, under whom it became a form of legal servitude which in practise bordered slavery.Mit'a was effectively a form of tribute to...

, and treated their subjects as something between slaves and serfs
Serfdom
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...

. Serfs stayed to work the land; slaves were exported to the mines, where large numbers of them died. In other areas the Spaniards replaced the ruling Aztecs and Incas and divided the conquered lands among themselves ruling as the new feudal lords with often, but unsuccessful lobbying to the viceroys of the Spanish crown
Crown of Castile
The Crown of Castile was a medieval and modern state in the Iberian Peninsula that formed in 1230 as a result of the third and definitive union of the crowns and parliaments of the kingdoms of Castile and León upon the accession of the then King Ferdinand III of Castile to the vacant Leonese throne...

 to pay Tlaxcalan war demnities. The infamous Bandeirantes
Bandeirantes
The bandeirantes were composed of Indians , caboclos , and some whites who were the captains of the Bandeiras. Members of the 16th–18th century South American slave-hunting expeditions called bandeiras...

 from São Paulo
São Paulo
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the largest city in the southern hemisphere and South America, and the world's seventh largest city by population. The metropolis is anchor to the São Paulo metropolitan area, ranked as the second-most populous metropolitan area in the Americas and among...

, adventurers mostly of mixed Portuguese and native ancestry, penetrated steadily westward in their search for Indian slaves
Slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

. Serfdom existed as such in parts of Latin America well into the 19th century, past independence.

Massacres



Las Casas and other dissenting Spaniards from the colonial period gave vivid descriptions of the atrocities inflicted upon the natives. This has helped to create an image of the Spanish conquistadores as cruel in the extreme. Even as late 1520, there were tentative parleys between the still explorative Spaniards who were continuously disadvantaged by the natives' superior knowledge of the terrain. Great revenues were drawn from Hispaniola
Hispaniola
Hispaniola is a major island in the Caribbean, containing the two sovereign states of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The island is located between the islands of Cuba to the west and Puerto Rico to the east, within the hurricane belt...

 so the advent of losing manpower didn't benefit the Spanish crown. At best, the reinforcement of vanguards sent by the Council of the Indies to explore the Caribana country and gather information on alliances or hostilities was the main goal of the local viceroys and their adelantado
Adelantado
Adelantado was a military title held by some Spanish conquistadores of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.Adelantados were granted directly by the Monarch the right to become governors and justices of a specific region, which they charged with conquering, in exchange for funding and organizing the...

s. Although mass killings and atrocities
Atrocity
Atrocity or Atrocities may refer to:* Atrocity , a German metal band* Atrocities , the fourth album by Christian Death* Atrocious , a 2010 Spanish film...

 were not a significant factor in native depopulation, no mainstream scholar dismisses the sometimes humiliating circumstances now believed to be precipitated by civil disorder
Civil disorder
Civil disorder, also known as civil unrest or civil strife, is a broad term that is typically used by law enforcement to describe one or more forms of disturbance caused by a group of people. Civil disturbance is typically a symptom of, and a form of protest against, major socio-political problems;...

 as well as Spanish cruelty.

However, in many areas settlers and even governments did engage in what have been called "democide
Democide
Democide is a term revived and redefined by the political scientist R. J. Rummel as "the murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide, and mass murder." Rummel created the term as an extended concept to include forms of government murder that are not covered by the...

s", usually against nomad
Nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

ic Indian tribes who were seen solely as hindrances to land use by European settlers. Whether or not these people were non-combatants (intruding on the term "massacre") is a subject to debate. Notable democides include:
  • The Taínos in the Antilles
    Antilles
    The Antilles islands form the greater part of the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea. The Antilles are divided into two major groups: the "Greater Antilles" to the north and west, including the larger islands of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola , and Puerto Rico; and the smaller "Lesser Antilles" on the...

     (Some believe 80% of the population disappeared in thirty years). The smallpox
    Smallpox
    Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

     outbreak in 1518–1519 wiped out much of the region's indigenous population.
  • The Pequot War
    Pequot War
    The Pequot War was an armed conflict between 1634–1638 between the Pequot tribe against an alliance of the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Saybrook colonies who were aided by their Native American allies . Hundreds were killed; hundreds more were captured and sold into slavery to the West Indies. ...

     in early New England.
  • In mid-19th century Argentina
    Argentina
    Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

    , post-independence leaders Juan Manuel de Rosas
    Juan Manuel de Rosas
    Juan Manuel de Rosas , was an argentine militar and politician, who was elected governor of the province of Buenos Aires in 1829 to 1835, and then of the Argentine Confederation from 1835 until 1852...

     and Julio Argentino Roca
    Julio Argentino Roca
    Alejo Julio Argentino Roca Paz was an army general who served as President of Argentina from 12 October 1880 to 12 October 1886 and again from 12 October 1898 to 12 October 1904.-Upbringing and early career:...

     engaged in what they presenteded as a "Conquest of the Desert
    Conquest of the Desert
    The Conquest of the Desert was a military campaign directed mainly by General Julio Argentino Roca in the 1870s, which established Argentine dominance over Patagonia, which was inhabited by indigenous peoples...

    " against the natives of the Argentinian interior, leaving over 1,300 indigenous dead.
  • While some California
    California
    California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

     tribes were settled on reservations, others were hunted down and massacred by 19th century American settlers. It is estimated that some 4,500 people of the Population of Native California
    Population of Native California
    Estimates of the Native Californian population have varied substantially, both with respect to California's pre-contact count and for changes during subsequent periods. Pre-contact estimates range from 133,000 to 705,000 with some recent scholars concluding that these estimates are low...

     suffered violent deaths between 1849 and 1870.


Determining how many people died in these massacres is difficult. Amateur historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 William M. Osborn calculates that as high as 16,000 people died at the hands of both the settlers and native Americans. Other somewhat presumptuous detailing of deadly frontier encounters range from 64,000 to 21,586 native and colonizing Americans being wounded, captured or killed. Both numbers are far too low for the presumed large loss of manpower.

Displacement and disruption


Even more consequential than warfare or mistreatment on indigenous populations was the geographic displacement of native Indian tribes. The increased European population due to immigration and high birth rates of Native European settlers put pressure on native tribes to relocate and alter their traditional ways of life. The introduction of new forms of intensive agriculture by Europeans let them grow enough food in a given area to support many more people than the native hunting and gathering societies could. Displacement of native peoples living their traditional lifestyles often resulted in decreased birth rates and often higher death rates which steadily lowered their populations for some time. In the United States, for example, the relocations of Native Americans resulting from the policies of Indian removal
Indian Removal
Indian removal was a nineteenth century policy of the government of the United States to relocate Native American tribes living east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the river...

 and the reservation
Indian reservation
An American Indian reservation is an area of land managed by a Native American tribe under the United States Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs...

 system created a disruption which resulted in fewer births and a short term population decline.

The populations of many Native American peoples were reduced by the common practice of intermarrying with Europeans. Although many Indian cultures that once thrived are extinct today, their descendants exist today in some of the bloodlines of the current inhabitants of the Americas.

United States of America



On September 8, 2000, the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the US Department of the Interior. It is responsible for the administration and management of of land held in trust by the United States for Native Americans in the United States, Native American...

 (BIA) formally apologized for the agency's participation in the "ethnic cleansing" of Western tribes.

See also


Further reading


  • Fagan, Brian. Ancient North America. London: Thames and Hudson, 2005, ISBN 0-500-28532-2.
  • Mann, Charles C. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Knopf Publishing Group, August 2005, ISBN 1-4000-4006-X.
  • McNeill, William H. Plagues and Peoples. Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., New York, 1976, ISBN 0-385-12122-9.
  • Michael Sletcher, ‘North American Indians’, in Will Kaufman and Heidi Macpherson, eds., Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, (2 vols., Oxford, 2005).
  • Cappel, Constance, The Smallpox Genocide of the Odawa Tribe at L'Arbre Croche. 1763: The History of a Native American People, Edwin Mellen Press, October, 2007, ISBN 10: 0-7734-5220-6 and ISBN 13: 978-0-7734-5220-6.


External links