Explain why, citing both epidemiological and social factors, 500 years after Columbus's first voyage to the New World, there is still a large Indian population in Mexico and the Andean countries, while the native population of other areas, such as the Caribbean and the eastern United States, has almost disappeared.
Following the European discovery of the New World at the end of the fifteenth century around 95 percent of the native American population disappeared. Immigrants from other continents, most of them from Europe and Africa, eventually repopulated the Americas.
Why did this happen? Historians now believe that it was primarily because native American peoples lacked immunity to many of the epidemic diseases that European explorers and settlers brought from the Old World. Among the diseases that New World populations had never experienced were smallpox, measles, chickenpox, influenza, typhus, typhoid, diphtheria, plague, scarlet fever, whooping cough, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. Of course, pre-Columbian Americans did not live in a paradisiacal environment. Like their old world counterparts they died as a result of disease, famine, and violence, but the diseases they suffered from seem to have been fewer and largely different from those of the Old World.
Aboriginal New World inhabitants were descended from small groups of people that crossed from Asia over the Bering Land Bridge, probably between 40,000 and 25,000 years ago. One reason they that they had few diseases may have been that, passing through a cold climate as they expanded south, the founding groups left behind many pathogens. Another may be that, unlike Old World peoples, they domesticated very few animals, and therefore they did not live in close and continuous contact with animals with which they might share pathogens.
Recently, historians and anthropologists have been revising upward their previous estimates of the pre-Columbian population of the Americas. Earlier investigators assumed that, with the exception of state-level societies in Mesoamerica and western South America, the Americas were very thinly populated. For example, Alfred Kroeber, an anthropologist writing in the 1930s, estimated the total aboriginal population of North America to have been under one million. An estimate, made 50 years later by the anthropologist and historical demographer Henry Dobyns, raises the number to almost 10 million.
Let's look at the low (Kroeber) and the high (Dobyns) estimates of the pre-Columbian population of the Western Hemisphere (SEE "KroeberDobyns.doc" ATTACHED).
The low estimates are based on the assumption that the pre-Columbian population declined gradually, through the attrition of disease, warfare, acculturation stress, and loss of resources, mainly after direct contact. The base numbers would be those recorded by ...