Re: New world populations

Dan Moerman (
Thu, 22 Dec 94 13:30:35 est

In article <3difsv$cra@cmcl2.NYU.EDU>, says...
>Third, it does not say much about scientific independence
>to reply to a statement of fact with a wildly emotional
>Last: I don't believe anyone has ever claimed that an
>epidemic of plague wiped out indigineous Americans.
> ------ Paul J. Gans []

This is a curious thread. The notion that indigenous people suffered enormous declines
due to inadvertently introduced diseases, and that they were subjected to deliberate
germ warfare harldy seem to me to be mutually exclusive possibilities.

Regarding precolumbian populations, my reading of the various estimates suggests that
whatever figure investigators select as the "original" value for 1492, they seem almost
always to select a nadir figure of about 5% of it. Dobyns, for example, says roughly
10 million north of the Rio Grande in 1492 and 500000 in about 1930. Most others seem
to have the same proportion of decline. Figures for Australian Aborigines are not
quite so precipitous seeming to decline to about 10% of original values by about the
same time (mid 30s). Given this, arguing about the original figure seems to me like
arguing about the placement of chairs on the deck of the titantic.

There is, for me however, another dimension of this problem which is very intriguing.
There is no doubt that there was a catastrophic decline in population after the 15th
century. But it also seems to me that there might have been an equally broadscale if
smaller decline 200 years earlier. In most regions of north america, there is evidence
of population declines in the 13th century. The most obvious are in the southwest with
the abandonment of the anisazi towns and cities of Chaco and regions nearby, and in the
southeast, most spectacularly with the apparent abandonment of Cahokia and a number of
related or similar major cities throughout the region. This is also a period of major
movements on the continent, most famously the move south from (probably) "Canada" to
the southwest by the ancestors of the Navaho and Apache. Most american archaeology is
local, so most explanations of these declines and movements are local (minor climatic
changes, environmental degradation at Chaco, etc.) But the pattern to me seems global.

I have speculated in private that Bristol fishermen actually found the Great Banks cod
fisheries in 1292, and, while trading for supplies with indigenous people in Nova
Scotia, introduced smallpox, or measles, or some other disease which then rippled
across the continent long before the more devastating second wave of European disease
two or three centuries later. But I would never say that in public. . .