Kevin asked in Social ScienceAnthropology · 8 years ago

Did 80% of the Native American population actually went extinct because of contamination with the Europeans?

It's difficult to imagine that a population would go extinct because of simple contact with settlers and colonists. You'd figure human beings are more enduring than an epidemic from the same homo-biology. Does that mean we are that different?

8 Answers

  • Batlow
    Lv 6
    8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Europeans had already survived the Antonine Plague (AD 165), the Plague of Justinian (AD 541), the Black Death (1338–1351), the Granada Plague (1489) and the English Sweating Sickness (1485-1551); plus a multitude of lesser epidemics since the rise of zoogenic diseases (diseases transferred from animals to humans) from farm animals, around 9,000 BC onwards.

    The Black Death alone is estimated to have killed between 30 and 60 percent of Europe's population during the Middle Ages.

    Native Americans had been relatively isolated from the Eurasian landmass for around 12,000 years when Europeans arrived in the Americas in the 16th century. Most of the diseases carried by Europeans had emerged since 9,000 BC, when people first started farming animals. These diseases were endemic to animals in the farm sector, and mutated into forms which could attack humans - much like Asian Bird Flu mutated into the human SARS virus around 2003. Native Americans had no contact with European farm animals or diseases until the Europeans arrived.

    So the difference in immunity between Europeans and Native Americans is pretty straightforward. Europeans in 1600 were the survivors of 10,000 years of deadly plagues. Immunity to these diseases was deep in their biochemistry. Native Americans had never been exposed to any of these diseases, ever before - they had the same level of immunity to these specific diseases that a European would have had in 7,000 BC. Estimates vary, but around 80% is a reasonable figure supported by evidence; probably even conservative.

    I agree with Mark - the book "1491" by Charles C. Mann is a fascinating and surprising look at the world of indigenous Americans before European settlement. It is readable and entertaining. Definitely worth reading! Kevin7 also makes a good point - in some cases, smallpox was deliberately propagated as a means of 'clearing the land' for settlement.

    In summary: Native Americans and Europeans have the same basic immune system. The difference is that Europeans had been fighting these diseases for thousands of years, and had already survived repeated epidemics which wiped out large portions of the European population. Native Americans were encountering these diseases for the first time.

    At least one well-known disease travelled in the other direction. Shortly after the discovery of the New World, a virulent new disease appeared in Europe, causing agonising lesions, deformities and insanity. It was called the "Great Pox" - which we know today as 'syphilis': the venereal disease caused by the bacterial spirochete, Treponema pallidum.

    Hope it helps.

    EDIT: Respect to Asugrad, for a great answer from the heart.

  • 8 years ago

    Most native Americans belong to group O blood type. It is believed that this is due to syphilis epidemics and that the O type were better at fighting off the disease. O offers virtually no immunity against cholera. It also attracts more mosquitoes (through which malaria is transmitted). But type O blood is more resistant to malaria. People who are type O are at a higher risk for contracting plague

    .The extraordinarily high percentage of blood group O in "ancient" or otherwise isolated populations also testifies to its great age. Even though the early migrations dispersed the gene for group O blood throughout the world, there are some extraordinary examples of "old" populations existing in our world today. Because of their geographic locations, these societies have remained isolated from interaction with other populations. If A, B and O had developed simultaneously, the isolated population groups would have had all of them. But these "old societies" are group O because genes for the later blood groups never had the opportunity to enter into their populations. They have remained unchanged. Some sources suggest a higher susceptibility to smallpox among people with O type blood.

  • Mark
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    The book "1491" details the pre-European Americas and the consequences of the arrival of Europeans.

    The research indicates even a higher figure; as much as 90% of Native Americans may have died in as little as 200 years after the arrival of the first Europeans. Mostly due to disease.

    Much of this is undocumentable; the first European settlers confined themselves to small parts of the continent while their diseases spread among widely-scattered Indian populations unknown to them.

  • Kevin7
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    Over 99 percent of Native Americans were killed off by illnesses they had no immunity to as people. (introduced by Europeans,Africans and other latter arrivals in the Americas)Many Native Americans were also killed by massacres from Europeans,slavery ,war and other mistreatment.The American government practiced germ warfare against some Native Americans with small pox contaminated blankets presented as gifts

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  • 8 years ago

    They were exposed to smallpox, which spread quickly and had killed thousands of Europeans. In Central America, native Americans never had been exposed, and they didn't have immunity to it. Genetically, pretty much every human being is different, but where they live determines what diseases and pathogens they are exposed to. This makes you more suseptable to one disease or another.

    Source(s): World AP book, personal knowledge on the subject.
  • nene
    Lv 4
    8 years ago

    What group of people didn't the Europeans didn't kill off is the question.


    Native American

    Australian Aborigines

    and many more was killed or maimed by them

  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    It's multiple plagues as they're hit with measles, small pox, etc...

    One disease, the black plague killed one third to half of all Europe. One outbreak.

    I'd say 80% is conservative.

  • Lenny
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    80% is too much of a figure. Something between 30% and 50%

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