Re: diseases and immunity

Philip Deitiker (
Tue, 02 Jul 1996 00:40:23 GMT

( (Domingo Martinez-Castilla) wrote:
(Prescipt: your comments are well taken, and thank you for focusing on
the disease aspect and providing references, )

>3. By the way, what happened in the Andes? Everybody is talking about
>Mesoamerica. I suspect that, de facto, the Andes have been included
>there, right? More good scholarship, I guess... ;-)

Not only what happened to the andes but what happened as far as
epidemic in other wave populations of north america. I for one didn't
want to focus on the comparison a single northeastern population to
mesoameric but that's, but thats the direction that the conversation
went. My argument is there may have been differences in the immunity
of different groups of people and using what happened on the northeast
atlantic as an example may not be the best interpretation fo what
really happened holocontinentally.

> More seriously,
>note that the difference between older Mesoamerican civilizations
>(mainly Mayan and Aztec, if some of you want to know) and Andean ones
>(especially Inca and Wari-Tiwanaku), was somewhat similar to that
>between Greek and Roman. The first were heavily dependent on
>city-states, some of them very large and tending to become hegemonic,
>while the latter were close to the "empire" paradigm, which collapsed,
>among many other things, due to over-extension. That difference is very
>important to understand the spread of epidemics at the time of contact.
>Note that while in Mexico/Tenochtitlan there was a very high density of
>population, in the Andes there were one or more huge armies roaming from
>Northern Ecuador to Southern Chile, which makes a very good vector of
>disease (cf Crusades, mongol invasions, etc.)

>4. Where did that "fact" about Palermo being the biggest city of Europe
>come from? All my sources point to Paris and Constantinople for the
>time of contact.

Not from I, I dispute this, I gave Paris as an example, I think you'll
need to probe some of the facts presented by these 'americanist'
acheologist. Secondly Constantinople fell and was renamed by the turks
it well before the 16th century. If you'll remember I ask for proof.

>5. Mr Deitiker mentioned that crops were domesticated in Eurasia 2000
>years before than in the Americas. Could you please include any source
>for that? I am extremely interested in the topic, for I believe that
>crop variability is one of the "tracers" to the development of

At least 2000 before, and this going by recent reports in science news
section here on new finds in the middle east/IVC as for a reference
you'll have to look them up,some times the references are in very
obscure journels (I reproduce the report but I've been chided for
copyright violation so your on your own), frankly I have some doubts
about the reliability ascerting first date of use to real date of
domestication, I keep an open mind that there is a possibility that
11,5 KYA immigrants may have brougth some limited agriculture with
them. But in context I don't think you can doubt the evolutionary
argument that develops. If one group is 'prone' to develope
agriculture, but they migrate to a region of greatly underutilized
natural resources, one expects (and this is what I mean by expects)
that they will defer the developemnt of agriculture until such time as
the natural food sources are less in supply. This is the expected
source of delay and also applys to the development of animal husbandry
not some genetic argument. I don't think you can argue in this context
that a group which sees new natural resources utilizes those
resourses. There is evidence in north america that there were very
large animals that may have represented a windfall to the immigrating

> You may want to know that the development of agriculture
>in a mountainous region (the Andes) is very different from that on truly
>tropical weather (Mayan Mesoamerica), and both differ significantly from
>the grass-based agriculture of Eurasia. What are the implications of
>that? Fodder for thought... :-)

No fodder, Isn't it expected. I think you entered this discussion
rather late, such comments would have be more useful earlier before
the focus was on the comparison of mesoamerica and the northeast.
I use mesoamerica as an example of the height of a american
civilization. What I find especially demostrative is the variety of
agricultural products produced by the mesoamericans. If you want to
compare spuds per chiles to mesoamericas then incas certainly compare
very well, I'm more inclined to look at the diversity of agricultural
products that were common to the mesoamerican markets.

>6. Mr Deitiker also raises the issue of time spans as a very important
>one, for example when he writes, very matter-of-factly:

>>2. At least 2,000 years behind in the domesitication of seeds than the
>>best of eurasia, (not unexpected if the variety of HG type foods
>>available without neccesity of agriculture) and several thousand years
>>behind in the development of animal husbandry. (not unexpected if wild
>>food stocks are avialable)

>And regarding the domestication of livestock, the word "behind" is also
>completely inappropriate. In plants and animals, Mr Deitiker, one does
>not domesticate what one wants, but what one can. There are some
>animals that lend themselves to very easy domestication (sheep, llamas,
>wolves), and others that just refuse to be domesticated (zebras, deer,
>vicunas). This does not have anything to do with being ahead or behind.
>It never had. Or is it that you do not know much about plant and
>animals domestication either? Want some references on that? I will
>gladly provide them.

Sorry but on this your wrong, deer are completely domesticatable, ever
been to Nara, Japan. There are many animals in the americas which are
domesticatable, bighorn sheep is another example, and some animals
were infact domesicated. But the question is what relative average of
european versus native american meat protein came from domesticated
animals. There are alot of animals which could have been
domesticated, some were but the degree of dependence on domesticated
animals is far less than in western eurasia (again if you have
reasonable proof otherwise please present), matter of fact if you
like. Even in Mary BW comments on the northeast points to the fact
that the major source of dietary protein was seafood (was this
aquaculture?). The point though is well taken that the domestication
of animals was in the process of developement, again this is an
example in which there was evidence as early as 10KYA that animals
were domesticated and this may have been defered in america do to

>7. Regarding rigid time lines: so Europe can develop from a bunch of
>barbarians in 1000 years but nobody in America can do it?

But europe didn't develope from a bunch barbarians, although it seems
from time to time like it did, it developed by a progression of shared
technologies from the mediterranian and the middle east and for that
matter the rest of the world, I don't think I ever said this what I
said was that as circumstances have it this group pf barbarians
managed to be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

>Last, and this may be my *opinion*, if I may as well indulge on that:
>There is clearly a difference in philosophy here. Mr Deitiker (and I
>would believe Mr Firl as well, on spite of their differences) seems to
>be partial to the strong belief that everything in history is a path
>towards "progress",

change the word everything to 'most' things, and I might agree with
you. Progress is something you can't argue was productive or
destructive until sometime later. Did 'amerinds' contribute to modern
world developments? sure they did, they are as much a part of modern
progress as any other group. BTW, I resent the comparison to Firl
statements, I have presented possibilities not what I beleive was the
reality. Unless samples of those populations could have been taken
no-one knows exactly what demographics and genetics came into play.

> and that indigenous Americans were, mostly, just
>backwards and with very bad genetic luck, and that is what did them in.

Did I say this???! Your attacking me through association, please
don't. What I said was that europeans had the benefit of being
connected to a vast reservoior of human experiences and that they, at
the point in time when technology began to flower they just happened
to be there, Firl is arguing the genetic point of view. As far as
human the genetics of human intelligence is concerned I for one don't
believe that there are significant differences between 200,000 YA HS
and current HS, only differences in the enviroment. The fact that they
were connected and that this helped in their exploits is a matter of
fact, you don't find romanesk architecture in English buildings by
chance nor the similarites of roman alphabet to greek alphabet to
phonecian alphabet and similiarites to the cuniform language of the
middle east a mere coincident. Amerinds simply didn't have the extent
of contacts, and the other problem is there was a lag period in the
development of population size required to get cultural diversity and
then the intercultural communication going. If there was a bad
decision made it was the crossing of the intercontinental divide (asia
and america), and even with the ravages of europeans diseases that
choice was probably one of the most productive choices ever made so
you can hardly argue it was bad, since the gene amplification that
occured is on the order of 3 to 5 magnitudes of 10. So don't put words
in my mouth, OK.

>My perception is that civilizations do not follow a linear and/or
>required path. There were at least five pristine complex civilization
>centers in the world, two of them in America (Mesoamerica and the Andes,
>the others in the Far East, the Indus Valley and the Mesopotamia). Each
>one of them followed very different paths, and progress was measured in
>very different ways. And that is just right.

No historical event follows a linear path but there are kinetic and
thermodynamic forces invovled. The kinetic forces driving the
accelerated advancment in technology was the fact that the region of
the middle east set at the convergence of three continents each with
some 'pressure' to develope more organized social arrangements with
one another, In your list you forgot ancient greece, and I might add
one of the oldest population centers known is a city now called
damascus. Now if we refocus on the argument we see that IVC, semetic,
and mycenoan civilizations where in very close proximity with one
another, there is very strong evidence for trade, and a forth site,
ancient egypt, was soon to develope. So the kinetic parameter of this
region is very large compared to other regions. Of course this center
was not geographically static and the shift in power away may have
been the result of depletion of minimal resources required to maintain
population densities, fortunatelty, there were suitable replacement
regions were close by and prestine areas, such as those in europe may
have been instrumental in the propulsion of european society.
I'm arguing this point, suppose everyone starts out with the same
resources for the developement of the structured population centers,
the groups in afro-eurasia remained on the fast track because there
was immediate population presure to do so. OTOH, the americas had a
lag which resulted from the neccesity to move into pristine areas and
populate them. Then, from there, setting up trade routes and
convergance of technologies, by the time that the population catches
up there a good 2000 to 5000 years behind developemnts in the middle
east, the advances in technologies at the time of first contact are
comparably demostrative of this. There no reason to say that this is a
genetic judgement against these peoples. In addition I have to argue
that you are a minimist in regard to the development of civilization,
there is are a collection of things that must happened in a somewaht
ordered fashion to undertake growth, one doesn't have a group of
paleoliths oneday and the next the mesopotamian flowering of
technologies. There is lots of evidence now that very important things
in the middle east were happening well before sumeria, evidence of
towns preminant settlements such as damascus, very old trading routes
and the like. So I think your approach is to suggests civilizations
develop spontaniously like a match catchin fire by itself, this is
clearly not the case.
Then in this scenario how are diseases in immunity compared, well I
think its obvious that one population may have a variety of advantages
including possible genetic advantages as a result of exposure, simply
stated such advantages have been demonstated in HLA for africans
exposed to malaria, there is stong evidence that selection occured
between temperate and tropical america, and its reasonable to assume
that some might have occured between europe and temperate north
america. So from a genetic point of view one has to argue that this
could have contributed as a facter in american displacements,
particularly when considering the european disadvantage in tropical
south america. Secondarily, one has tho argue that the level of
protection in the new world was different, the degree is uncertain,
but most certainly this had an affect on which population succumb and
which ones didn't, if you want to call the genetic defeciescies you
can. But I might also argue, as I did with Firl, that in the absence
of disease certain HLA types can be destructive with regard to
autoimmunity, and since most of the epidemic diseases are now under
control native americans might have a genetic advantage. Thats the way
the old genetic ball bonces.

Counter Summery.

I think there are alot of people here that would like to rewrite
history in their favor, the point is to get a middle ground on this,
your point about comparative strategy is well taken, there are many
examples of cultures with advanced technologies which unwisely used
them or just plain bad luck decline, and there are examples where a
'backward' groups use brute force against complacancy to swipe from
advanced cultures their gains. The so-called barbarians of the north
and the the mongolian raiders are excellent examples of this. The
point though is on average technology favors the bearer, this has set
the stage for developments in the middle east, near east and europe.
I will also argue that mesoamerican technological developement
favored, relatively, their survival compared to other north american
cultures. OTOH, the pure barbarianism (and I use this in full
complaince with terminology the incas used) and habitat of certain
amazonian jungle dwellers favored their ability to repulse the
conquerers. Thus both situations can be seen. The problem of north
america is that the lands invaded where most comparable to lands in
europe and this put those individuals at great disadvantage for all
the reasons I've listed. Mesoamerica was also choice but the
investment and relative abundance of organized societies was
sufficient to leave the mesoamerican populus largely intact, even when
diseases are considered. I think any real interpreation of native
american population densities will demonstrate that central america
mexico and parts of south america have the highest. I contest anyone
to show otherwise. What's missing here is one problematic piece of
infomation, the genetics of postmesoamerican populations in mexico and
central america has not been as thoroughly investigated as indemic
groups in south and north america. Still I expect there are
differences between both north and south american populations.