[lit-ideas] Re: How the Old World Conquered the New via infectious diseases

  • From: Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 11 May 2014 01:13:20 +0200

Well, it is part of the explanation. The Northern AMerica might have been
relatively scarcely populated. The diseases played a part in that, but so
did the destruction of buffaloes, the introduction of alcohol, forced
migrations, and outright killing.

The case of the conquest of the Astecs is somewhat different, and involves
Cortez's remarkable ability to use the subjugated, vassal or neighbouring
peoples against the ruling Astecs. The army that Cortez eventually led
against the Astecs did not number a few hundred but about a hundred
thousand, largely composed of locals.


On Sat, May 10, 2014 at 9:44 PM, Lawrence Helm

> Here are a few paragraphs from Cochran and Harpending in regard to the
> ease with which the Spanish conquered the Amerindians of America:
> “The Amerindians migrated from Northeast Asia some 15,000 years ago. They
> did not carry with them crowd diseases that arose after the birth of
> agriculture, nor did they carry the genetic defenses that later developed
> against those diseases. Since their path to the New World went through
> frigid landscapes like Siberia and Alaska, they left behind some of the
> ancient infectious diseases that were vectorborne or had complex life
> cycles—malaria and Guinea worm, for example. . .”
> “Although Amerindians did develop agriculture independently—a very
> effective agriculture that included some of the world’s most important
> crops, such as maize and potatoes—they domesticated few animals, mostly
> because they had already wiped out most of the species suited to
> domestication. . .”
> “. . . infectious disease was so unimportant among Amerindians, selection
> most likely favored weaker immune systems, because people with weaker
> immune systems would be better able to avoid autoimmune disorders, in which
> the immune system misfires and attacks some organ or tissue. Type 1
> diabetes, in which the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that make
> insulin, and multiple sclerosis, where it attacks the myelin sheaths of the
> central nervous system, are well-known examples—both are rare among
> Amerindians. A less vigorous immune system would have been an advantage
> under those conditions.
> This Amerindian vulnerability was a primary reason for European success in
> the Americas. Epidemic disease, particularly smallpox, interfered with
> armed resistance by Amerindians and thus played an important part in the
> early Spanish conquests. In Mexico, where Hernán Cortés and his troops had
> made the Aztec emperor their puppet, the Aztecs rose against them, killing
> Moctezuma II and two-thirds of the Spanish force in the famous “Noche
> Triste.” The Aztecs probably would have utterly destroyed the invaders,
> were it not for the smallpox epidemic under way at the same time. The
> leader of the Aztec defense died in the epidemic, and Cortés and his men
> conquered the Aztec Empire. It is hard to see how Cortés could have won
> without those microscopic allies, since he was trying to conquer an empire
> of millions with a few hundred men.
> Cochran, Gregory; Henry Harpending (2009-01-27). The 10,000 Year
> Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution . . .. Basic Books.
> Kindle Edition.
> *Comment:  *We’ve known about the conquering of the Amerindians by the
> Conquistadors for a great many years, but what we didn’t know until
> scientists began working with the human genome (completed in 2003) was that
> the Amerindians didn’t have the diversified HLA systems.  In the Old World
> with all its years of agriculture since 8,000 BC, humans were subjected to
> a variety of diseases from animals, poor hygiene, and the close proximity
> they were to each other in cities.  Having different HLA alleles expands
> the range of pathogens that our immune systems can deal with.  Amerindians
> didn’t have that diversity.  Many tribes had only a single HLA allele.
> This also explains why the British had such an easy time colonizing North
> America.  The Amerindians had been decimated by disease.  The New World was
> largely empty.
> Lawrence

Other related posts: