Archaeology & History
Aztec epidemic mystery may have been solved
By T.K. Randall
January 16, 2018 · 5 comments
'Cocoliztli' translates to 'pestilence' in the Aztec language. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 4.0 Ivanpares
500 years ago, a deadly epidemic known as 'cocoliztli' killed nearly 80 per cent of the Aztec population.
In around 1545, Mexico's Aztec nation was struck down by a highly contagious malady that caused symptoms ranging from a high fever and headaches to bleeding from the nose, eyes and mouth.
Those unfortunate enough to be infected typically wound up dead in three to four days.
Within as little as five years, the epidemic wiped out 15 million people and devastated the Aztec population, yet despite numerous studies in to the phenomena, scientists have long struggled to determine exactly what the disease actually was.
Now though, a new study has revealed that the most likely candidate was a typhoid-like fever that may have spread from domestic livestock brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors.
The researchers made the discovery by studying DNA samples taken from ancient skeletons.
"The 1545-50 cocoliztli was one of many epidemics to affect Mexico after the arrival of Europeans, but was specifically the second of three epidemics that were most devastating and led to the largest number of human losses," said Ashild Vagene of the University of Tuebingen in Germany.
"The cause of this epidemic has been debated for over a century by historians and now we are able to provide direct evidence through the use of ancient DNA to contribute to [this] longstanding question."
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