Re: This used to be on disease and immunity

Philip Deitiker (
Sun, 14 Jul 1996 22:23:23 GMT (Eric Brunner) wrote:

>Feel free to post anything you want, now that you've established the value
>you place on definitions of such key athropological terms as domesticatants,
>cultigens and so forth.
Example 1 (see below): BTW, As an 'anthropologist' Eric you should
know that vocabulary is the property of those societies which choose
to use those words to intercommunicate. While your language bashing
why don't you go beat up on the french guianans and other creole
speakers for their improper improvisations of language, I'm sure they
appreciate it as much as we do.

> I'm sure you'll find subscribers who, like yourself,
>find a dictionary an acceptable substitute for the literature. I'm still
>a giggle over paleolithic. All very Humpty Dumptyesque.

OK Eric, this is for you:
Hey everybody, I somehow during a discussion about immunity and intial
contact events misused the word 'paleolithic' because after many years
I've not managed to keep all these clichesh definition packed in my
head. Happy.
Having said this (and pardon me for again not having the best chioce
of words), this discussion has gotten to the point of being an anal
retentive argumentation. See examples:

>: I have tried to make it clear that I am not a professional anthropologist,

>This was self-evident.
Example 2

>: such my vocabulary in this field is probably quite limited. However, this
>: does not mean that I cannot make an effort to express myself clearly.

>A sucessful effort would be of different value than an effort.
Example 3

>: If you can suggest better terms for the meaning which I've tried to present,
>: then by all means share them. Until then, Merriam-Webster seems just as
>: good a place to find a match between word and concept as any other reference.

>This would appear to be a poor use of my time, given your attachment to the
>sources of your preferences. Generalized, your position appears to be that
>for each term of specialist meaning, dictionary meaning takes precidence
>until someone manages to convince you of the limitations of that meaning.

Example 4. And BTW, who should we beleive in this, someone who
admittedly takes a biased or 'Americanist' point of veiw. I find many
of your arguments although technically correct highly slanted in favor
of some literatures over others and a half presentation of the data,
why is that?

>This could be extreamly tedious, since there are lots of rather loaded words
>rattling about in dictionaries and a discourse on what is actually ment in
>some context would have to incorporate a history of how that specialized
>meaning came into being and what the theoretical issues behind each nuance
>of meaning actually incorporates. Clearly, an attempt to use nomenclature
>as commonly used within a field is less of an imposition upon participants
>in that field than an insistance on the use of meanings provided by the
>authors and publishers of dictionaries, who have their own cultural limits
>and problems of ethnographic construction to compound the problem of any
>useful collective understanding.

Very good point, but don't bash the users, simply correct the
inaccuracies by stating that the defintion used is inaccurate or no
longer accurate, if I forced everyone here to be up to snuff on even
the more popular genetic or immunological terminologies I think it
would be rather unfair, but truely since we are talking about immunity
and the genetics of immunity I could qualify all my arguments in those
terms and make the discussion cryptic. Its very possible that during
the quoting and requoting process which goes on during scientific
discussions (reviews or reviewed literature that antiquated
terminology creeps in).
Secondarily with respect to some precolumbian south american
tribes and _possibly_ some north american, even according to what the
contemporary usage is these groups might still be treated as
functional paleoliths, although I must admit after refreshing my
memory on the defintions the _great mass_ of pre-columbian
populations were probably significantly more advanced than implyed by
my inaccurate usage, your correction was well taken. I will try to
get better lingo for this in the future, however, I have tried not to
focus on the topic at hand which was disease, genetics and the effect
of epidemic diseases in the post-contact america. I don't wnat to get
into a discussion of irom/bronze/copper/late stone/middle stone/early
stone ages, since its not germane to the subject. Iron age doesn't
equate to large transatlantic vessels and naviagtion, writing and
graphic however, is critical. So I would say that being a writing
civilization with a diversity of technologies is critical.

The important tenant to the argument with respect to the
comparsion of european and new-world populations is whether eurasians
had tempered their immune systems by the way they procured their
nutrients relative to the new world population. In this I might point
to the alteration of lifestyle away from tradition hunting to
domestication and close association. Since the eurasions were derived
from populations which were hunters one expects that they maintained
some alleles protective against disease resulting from hunting but
increased alleles protective against diseases promoted by the pastoral
lifestyles. In this resect they might have both had a genetic and
adaptive immunolical resistances better equiped for dealing with new
diseases. How much so, I don't think can be quantitated.

>: Since the topic seemed to have been an cultures existing around the time of
>: European contact, the Aztecs seemed a good place to begin. Just because I
>: chose to examine a single culture in depth does not mean that I excluded
>: examination of other 'Mesos'.

>I asked what you've examined. You've managed not to be responsive. Try not
>to be offended, I've simply asked what you do know. It could be as obscure
>as 14th century settlement patterns in the Canaries, or as mainstream as
>Mesoamerican writing systems, or as on-point as maize genetics or the
>ethnographic record of pathogenic events in the Valley of Mexico. It is
>your offered area of in depth examination, I'm only curious to know just
>what that is, given the pattern of assertions offered thus far.
Example #5

I see, and why don't you tell me what your expertise in immunology and
genetics is concerned. Are there any records documenting the change
in HLA (or other immunity genes) patterns (in unmixed populations) as
a result of post-contact epidemics. Is there any documentation on how
protective and how long maternal affect passage of immunity is for
each epidemic disease encountered. What was the proportion protective
alleles in the precolumbian population? Was the small differences
between precolumbian north americans and eurasions the result of
genetic drift or disease selection? How important were enviromental
issues like diet, climate, etc related to each epidemic type?
The argument is that if we know the answers to these questions then
the big question can be qualified, problem is that even in the
woarani, the issue of post-contact microevolution of immune locus may
be the result of selection, genetic drift, and immunity to endemic
diseases (difficult to answer since the degree of post-contact change
is unknown) over a 500 year period. Simply stated, the answers to the
questions are unknown, so I don't think its fair for anyone to say
definitively that they know the answer. Anyone that does is probably
heralding their own clichesh point of view. You seem to make matter a
fact argument that all data indicates the there was no genetics to the
immunity (but you know full well that with a single mutation of a
single gene can obliterate the funtion of the immune system; i.e
remember the bubble boy). There are genetic arguments to everything,
and no two sub-populations are genetically identical because no 2
constituants are identical, dissimiliarity only gets stronger with

>Well, by all means, use your own grasp over that of anthropologists.
>So far you've managed to hit on basic issues in sedentism, cultigens,
>settlement patterns, heck, I've lost count.
Example 5

>It hardly requires wrong data to refute some crank "ranking" of cultigens
>and human culture. Good data is usually sufficient.
Example 6

ranking of cultures <sigh>. Since when does an agricutural system =
culture? Why must you twist the argument so? This is what I don't like
about several individuals responding to this thread, everything seems
to become a personal assualt. If i decide to build a very nice
domicile in a place that has low geolical activity, few storms and
abundant resources, who knows, an asteroid can blast me to bits, that
don't mean I was stupid or of inferior genetics, it just means 'shit
happens'. Every culture has its idiosycracies, if at some point in
time some aspects of culture, if for only a moment, become
disadvantageous, severe consequences can occur. Who knows, native
americans may form a world dominating 'culture' 50 or a 100 years from
now, but this isn't the issue either. The issue is whether _some
aspect_ of the way new-worlders lived at the time of contact gave then
a disadvantage. While I beleive that disease certainly played a role
I dont think it would be intelligent to say that disease was totally
contributive to the events that transpired. Although I think the point
is obvious it seems to be watered down by al this revistionist
Let me restate.

1. It was the europeans, packed at high densities in wind driven water
craft, who came over from one huge collection of continents to another
much smaller collection of continents.

2. The net flow of people was from eurasia to the americas. The rate
of back migration realtive to foward migration prior to the 20th
century was relatively small. (even if we include those who only
ported in either the new world or old world ports)

So just in these 2 statements we have 2 factors which place the native
americans at a disadvantage. For example, if the amerinds had a deadly
disease which kill 90% of europeans, few would have made it back and
those few would have done so because of their immunity, given three
weeks they either die or 'cure'. Second because the net flow, diseases
were more likely to be carried from eurasia to america rather than
vise versa. Thus the european colonizations was in essence an
unpredicatable event which could not have been anticipated; however,
one does have to entertain the flipside being that had the amerinds
envaded europe they could have reversed the tables. Since it was the
europeans which had the 'culture's which got them to the new world
they, by insight or not, controlled their destiny in at least one
regard (i.e. whose diseases where going to go what direction). The
amerinds did not have the capacity at that time to do as the europeans
did. As evidence the europeans had apparantly made 2 or 3 penetrations
into the americas (Columbian, Nordic, and possibly portuguese) by the
end of the first columbian voyage, yet there is no evidence of
unassisted reciprical voyages by the amerinds. While one can make the
argument that tradewinds disfavored the reciprical travel, there are
,nonetheless, arguments to be made for a pacific northwest/asian
route, with great historical potential but not used by amerinds. So is
this data that testifies to differential abilites of
europeans.....statisically I can argue that there is >75 to 87.5%
chance that europeans had better transoceanic skills when compared to
amerinds. Also stasitically I _could_ argue based upon one point
statistics that it takes 2.5 'discoveries' to result in a formallized
discovery of a body of land the distance being across the atlantic
ocean, and that at the columbus siting the new world the amerinds had
apparently not even made their first.

3. New worlders might, in order to increase regional population
densities without excessive animal husbandry relied on the coastal
fisheries for protein nutrition. (there is nothing unique about this
strategy, its seen worldwide but in this instance....)

This was a disadvantage because it brings the highest population
densities in rapid contact with new diseases, in addition high
densities augment the infection of a population and can result in
mortality rates much higher than situations in which disease is passed
truely serially from indiviudual to individual. (meaning that the
exposure dose was within the range of a single exposure over critical
exposure time versus several doses of the same range over the same
critical exposure time). I have minimized this effect for the reason
(speculative for this argument sakes) that these communities may have
also been susceptible for endemic diseases and that population levels
were subject to fluctuation anyway. I will stipulate that the
mortality rate was probably much higher and for more generations when
compared with endemic infections, but then we have to address another
eurasion/amerind difference. While the amerinds had no facility for
the production of transatlantic ships the europeans were competing to
claim and colonize the americas in big european land grab. The
position of the many highly populated areas along coastal areas meant
that many areas were going to be hit with a variety of diseases
intensely and somewhat simulateously. This means that the interior
populations will be hit harder and faster however not as bad as highly
populated areas, however, there is a huge time period between first
exposure and mass intracontinental migartion both in temperate north
america and south america that occured from 1800 to the present, and I
personally believe the populations had the opportunitiy to recover in
many areas, but that the europeanization of the the coastal regions
created indirectly socially destabilizing phenomena within the

This leaves two possibilities.
1. That these groups lost immunity after exposure and for several
generations did not experience and reexperineced first-exposure
phenomena again during the 1800's (meaning that nominal populations
dentisities in the enterior are generally low)

2. That these groups suffered more as a result of european aggression
than as a result of disease, (implications are many)

3. That the destabilizing events created by coastal colonization and
the changes in culture in the interior may have acted to suppress the
anticipated rebound in populations

As flamebait I would say 1 cannot be true, 2 and 3 are probably both


I think we can all agree here that noone can rank culture, if we
could I would dread how modern american culture gets ranked. Culture
is truely the realm of anthropologist; however, I think some very
simple questions can be asked and ranked about 'settlements' that are
not strictly cultural questions and cross into areas of epiemiology
and agricultural sciences, and possibly relevant to immunity.

To this I repeat the original issues of discussion..

1. How dependent are the settlements, to the best of our knowledge on
domesticated plants (% of dietary intake comming from seeds planmted
and harvested). How comprehensive and reliable was the nutrition
derived from these sources and non-domesicated sources.

2. How dependent are the settlements, to the best of our knowledge on
domesticated animals.

3. How dependent are the settlement for other products of living
(housing, clothing, instruments, etc) on domesitcated animals and

4. Maybe a subjective argument (by placing it here), but were
dometicated animals used for transportation. If they were it means
that the animals must be brought alive back and forth into the
population center increasing the number of possible vector types.

5. What pattern of animal husbandry can be compared (were the animals
rotated on pastures, or were they kept close to housholds of
individuals responsible for care)

6. What strategies did the settlements use for dealing with the
deleterious products of human overpopulation (if overpopulated)
What technological mechanisms for dealing these and how might they
have been effective for dealing with the occurance of old-world
diseases in the new world.