Disease and death in the New World

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Author: Leslie Roberts
Date: Dec. 8, 1989
From: Science(Vol. 246, Issue 4935)
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,703 words

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Abstract :

European explorers brought highly contagious diseases such as smallpox, measles, typhus and scarlet fever to the New World, to which Native Americans had never been exposed before. These new diseases proceeded to kill between 50 to 90 percent of the population. Native populations in many of the Caribbean islands were totally eliminated. There is disagreement among historians as to how many people lived in the Americas before Columbus landed in America in 1492, and when and how fast the diseases killed the population. One group, led by Henry F. Dobyns, believes that there were about 112 million people in the Americas and that the population was virtually wiped out by disease after 1492, before the Europeans could even count them. The group estimates that in North America there were approximately 18 million Native Americans in 1492 and fewer than 500,000 by 1900. Other groups agree that the devastating epidemics occurred, but that the original population before the arrival of Columbus was just two million. The written records that would resolve the differences are incomplete, and archaeologists, ethnohistorians, and anthropologists must use a variety of techniques to recreate what happened during that time. Data from the various sources, such as archeological excavations and historical documents, seem to lead to different conclusions, so questions about Native Americans before Columbus are left up to debate. (Consumer Summary produced by Reliance Medical Information, Inc.)

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A8351397