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Aztec epidemic mystery may have been solved

Posted on Tuesday, 16 January, 2018 | Comment icon 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."

Source: | Comments (5)

Tags: Cocoliztli, Aztec

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Piney on 16 January, 2018, 12:13
This is the only reason the Spanish won out. The Triple Alliance (Aztec Empire) was hammering them up until this happened.
Comment icon #2 Posted by UFOwatcher on 16 January, 2018, 16:32
Unintentional biological warfare?
Comment icon #3 Posted by quiXilver on 17 January, 2018, 3:54
Another reminder that the top predators in any system, are preyed on and consumed by the tiniest and lowest of the system.
Comment icon #4 Posted by Noxasa on 17 January, 2018, 3:58
That's just the way nature and evolution works. The two populations would eventually interact together at some point in time, regardless of conquest. Since the European populations were not devastated by diseases from the New World I guess the immune systems of Europeans were more robust at that time. Nature's a cruel mistress sometimes.
Comment icon #5 Posted by Jarocal on 17 January, 2018, 10:56
There have been papers published on the subject, by whom evades my memory. Charles Mann gives an overview and gives names which can be used to track down the peer reviewed papers on the subject in his book 1491. If I gettime I will try and chase down links to a couple of them.

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