Monday, January 08, 2007

Europeans Didn't Kill the Aztecs - Part II

First covered here some months ago, the AP picks up on the controversy in Mexico over whether diseases brought to the New World by the Spaniards were responsible for the death of millions of indigenous Americans:

Mexicans have long been taught to blame diseases brought by the Spaniards for wiping out most of their Indian ancestors. But recent research suggests things may not be that simple.

While the initial big die-offs are still blamed on the Conquistadors who started arriving in 1519, even more virulent epidemics in 1545 and 1576 may have been caused by a native blood-hemorrhaging fever spread by rats, Mexican researchers say.

The idea has sparked heated debate in Mexican academic circles...

"This wasn't smallpox," Acuna-Soto says. "The pathology just does not fit."

He says some historians in Mexico are offended by his theory.

"Much of the reason why these epidemics were left unstudied was that it was politically and institutionally easier to blame the Spaniards for all of the horrible things that might have happened," he said. "It was the official version of history."

Certainly, imported diseases such as smallpox, measles and typhoid fever did cause huge numbers of deaths starting in 1521. But the epidemics of 1545 and 1576 struck survivors of the first die-offs and their children, who would presumably have developed some immunity.

While there is no reliable figure on Mexico's population in the 1500s — estimates range from 6 million to 25 million — it is clear that by 1600 only around 2 million remained.

It's interesting how history can change hundreds of years later.

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