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One directional pandemics


Elessar78

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I was reading an article in the Post about some blue-eyed, dark-skinned caveman they found in Leon, Spain. The article states that the man already had genes to fight measles and other diseases 7,000 years ago. They contrasted this feature with the inhabitants of the Americas that did not merely several hundred years ago. 

 

So, how come pandemics only went the way of the euros and not the other way around? 

 

Is that just genetic dumb luck?

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It starts with food production. Eurasia was ahead there because of many ecological factors not available in the Americas.

Once you have food production, you get population densities. Once you get population densities, pandemics can start. Pandemics cannot exist in rural areas or among hunter/gatherer societies

The Americas didnt start getting significant population densities until, well, a thousand years ago or so.

Food production is an interesting, interesting thing. It is the root of civilization advancement, not just with pandemics, but with things like division of labor (that leads to scientists and skilled labor,etc. because men and women aren't out foraging all day)

What is interesting about food production is that paleontologists agree that civilizations typically have to make pretty significant steps backwards in order to adopt food production. It's origins, or why certain tribes thousands and thousands of years ago decided to start producing food is somewhat of a mystery.

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I was reading an article in the Post about some blue-eyed, dark-skinned caveman they found in Leon, Spain. The article states that the man already had genes to fight measles and other diseases 7,000 years ago. They contrasted this feature with the inhabitants of the Americas that did not merely several hundred years ago. 

 

So, how come pandemics only went the way of the euros and not the other way around? 

 

Is that just genetic dumb luck?

 

Read "Guns, Germs and Steel," my friend.    Great book.

 

Short answer: humans in the eurasian fertility belt running from europe to China shared diseases and immunities, and lived in close proximity with domestic livestock, which is where most of those diseases originated (especially pigs and cows).  The diseases came on gradually over millenia, and each killed some of the Eurasians, but the survivors were more resistant over time.  The New World natives had no resistance at all and got hit with all of them at once after Columbus showed up.

 

There is also a theory that in crossing the Bering Strait, the travellers to the New World had a genetic "bottleneck," in that they were all descented from the few people that made it through and thus had less genetic diversity so they were all similarly susceptable to the same diseases.   Not sure how widely accepted that one is.  

 

I'm sure there are more reasons, but those are the two I remember off the top of my head. 

 

edit - as zoony explained population density also played a part.  There were cities in the Middle East with over 100,000 people in them in the year 2000 BC (Ur was the biggest I believe).  Rome had maybe a million people at the time of Jesus Christ.    

 

one million inhabitants 

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If I were to hypothesize, I'd guess that people from Europe had grown a lot of diseases and immunities from living in environments with a lot of other people, while the Native Americans were still tribal and had much less exposure to other people meaning fewer diseases and fewer immunities. When the Europeans came over, they just brought so much more disease with them.

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Yeah a guy I used to work with had traveled to India a few times in the past for business and he told me pretty much the same thing. Make sure you get all your vaccinations, etc. He also said NEVER drink the water; always drink bottled water. I guess there are things in the water there that they're systems are hardened against. He said he made that mistake on his first trip and ended up spending pretty much 2 full days in the bathroom.   :blink:

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Yeah a guy I used to work with had traveled to India a few times in the past for business and he told me pretty much the same thing. Make sure you get all your vaccinations, etc. He also said NEVER drink the water; always drink bottled water. I guess there are things in the water there that they're systems are hardened against. He said he made that mistake on his first trip and ended up spending pretty much 2 full days in the bathroom.   :blink:

I was within a few days of being born in India, my parents lived there over a year

The stories my parents tell me about sanitation there are mind blowing. India is one of the few places in the world I have no desire whatsoever to visit

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http://voices.yahoo.com/domestication-animals-native-americans-11786832.html

 

I guess, the city sizes were the key ingredient in Europe? Native Americans domesticated animals too, but yeah, just wondering why there wasn't some disease the Native Americans had that were enough to wipe out the europeans. 

 

I have read guns, germs, and steel but I can't remember if they discuss why the native peoples of the Americas did not have some killer disease. 

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http://voices.yahoo.com/domestication-animals-native-americans-11786832.html

 

I guess, the city sizes were the key ingredient in Europe? Native Americans domesticated animals too, but yeah, just wondering why there wasn't some disease the Native Americans had that were enough to wipe out the europeans. 

 

I have read guns, germs, and steel but I can't remember if they discuss why the native peoples of the Americas did not have some killer disease. 

 

The most recent research suggest that syphilis went from the Americas to Europe.

 

While the Native Americans had domesticated some animals, it certainly wasn't to the degree in terms of absolute number or varieties as the Eurasia.

 

I think the combination of the number of people (again in terms of absolute numbers and density) and animals probably lead to the difference in pandemics.

 

I'll also point out in terms Guns, Germs, and Steele (and sort of related to the Predicto's point about the bottle neck) that I think that the small population crossing the Bearing Strait probably had a lot to do with the development (or lack there of) of natives (in the Americas and other places like Australia).  A small population isn't going to be able to support a large number of skills.

 

I believe there is evidence that new people in America's actually lost "skills" and "techniques" as compared to the people in Siberia that they came from.

 

If you have somebody that knows how to make potter, but they die then you've lost that skill at the population level.

 

From a population based level and skills based level, "natives" were behind the people of Eurasia.

 

**EDIT**

In terms of diseases jumping from one species to another, think of every close interaction between a human and an animal and/or some of its bodily material (e.g. blood) as a chance for the disease to jump from the animal to the human.  In Eurasia, you have many more people and many more animals so many more chances.

 

And then you have larger population densities and better travel from the areas in Eurasia so the diseases travel through the total population.

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Read "Guns, Germs and Steel," my friend.    Great book.

This book changed the way I thought about human history. And it's directly concerned with the question in the OP.

I think you nailed it, but I want to add a few conclusions from that Book:

- Eurasians did live in close proximity to their livestock, and you're right that it's the source of a lot of our plagues. The reason Native Americans didn't is because they had no large domesticable mammals except Alpacas. They even had few domesticable birds. Jared Diamond wrote that almost all of the large mammalian species on the Americas were hunted to extinction by the pre-Clovis and Clovis hunters.

- the latitudinal width of the continents played a key role in spreading epidemic diseases (and crops/technologies/ideas/diseases) and thus developing immunities to them. Diamond notes that climates remain pretty similar over great spans of latitude but change drastically over similar spans of longitude. So crops and livestock transferred easily westward from the East in Eurasia and vice versa. Eurasia and Africa is an extremely wide group of continents. But the Americas are comparitavely very long and narrow.

So the great population centers in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, India, and China were all sharing their crops, technologies, animals, and diseases. Meanwhile you had total isolation in the human populations in the Americas. It seems like those Clovis hunters totally separated and isolated themselves after they spread from the top of the continents to the bottom. The Mayan and Aztec civilizations were cut off from the Mississippi Valley population centers by the inhospitable deserts of Sonora and the impassable jungles and mountain ranges of South America where the Incans settled.

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http://voices.yahoo.com/domestication-animals-native-americans-11786832.html

 

I guess, the city sizes were the key ingredient in Europe? Native Americans domesticated animals too, but yeah, just wondering why there wasn't some disease the Native Americans had that were enough to wipe out the europeans. 

 

I have read guns, germs, and steel but I can't remember if they discuss why the native peoples of the Americas did not have some killer disease.

Native Americans had only one large domesticated mammal and that's what you need to get the epidemic diseases Europe got. Something larger than a domesticated bird. The Alpaca and it's related species were it, which were confined to the Andes civlization anyway. So even if they'd developed a sort of Alpaca-pox at some point, it wouldn't have spread to the population centers in the Mississippi valley and the Yucatan to create a general immunity.

Malaria was the indigenous disease that bothered the Europeans when they came, but it spreads from Mosquitoes and I think airborne communicability is the key feature of the great killer plagues of Eurasia. The delivery system has to be ubiquitous.

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Malaria is now prevalent, and I assume always way, in Africa. Was it a New World disease? Or did Europeans have an immunity to it since they'd encountered it? 

 

It is strange that Malaria didn't have a similar effect. Today, malaria is the leading cause of death worldwide—how could a bunch of Renaissance age travelers not succumb to it more readily. I mean in the North, Pilgrims/Mayflower they could've avoided it but the Virginia Colonies on south have to have been deluged by mosquitoes. 

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Europeans died like flies because of Malaria and yellow fever. And "agues" were commonplace and inflicted a lot of misery on settlers for centuries whether or not it killed them.

But those diseases still weren't on the scale of the Eurasian epidemics like Smallpox and plague. Pneumonic plague and Smallpox were airborne and incredibly virulent. Capable of killing 90+ % of populations.

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Malaria is now prevalent, and I assume always way, in Africa. Was it a New World disease? Or did Europeans have an immunity to it since they'd encountered it? 

 

It is strange that Malaria didn't have a similar effect. Today, malaria is the leading cause of death worldwide—how could a bunch of Renaissance age travelers not succumb to it more readily. I mean in the North, Pilgrims/Mayflower they could've avoided it but the Virginia Colonies on south have to have been deluged by mosquitoes. 

 

 

Malaria killed Europeans in large numbers.

 

A great book on this subject is A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz. One of the takeaways from that book is that the Spanish "conquered" massive territory from South America through Texas and explored as far as Kansas, ruled for hundreds of years, and never really established "colonies" beyond some small settlements on the coast and some Catholic missions in the interior. Most Spaniards wanted to get as much gold out as they could and get back to Spain as soon as possible....before they died of horrible tropical diseases.

 

The other thing that is interesting is that the Spaniards did not need large armies to conquer the territory. Or even smart soldiers. The same story repeats itself over and over for hundreds of years. Spaniard meets a tribe. They are able to communicate in some way. The message is sent to the Spaniards that a "city of gold" exists and is a three day walk that-a-way. The Spaniards move on. No one dies.

 

Until...the Spaniards come back - in smaller numbers - and discover that the tribe they had talked to is utterly decimated. People have died in massive numbers and those that remain are sick. One of the points is that Mexico and Central America were depopulated almost immediately due to the presence of a few hundred Conquistadors.

 

And as others have pointed out, Malaria did not travel with the Spanish back to Europe. But smallpox stayed and made a happy home in the Americas.

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Malaria killed Europeans in large numbers.

 

A great book on this subject is A Voyage Long and Strange by Tony Horwitz. One of the takeaways from that book is that the Spanish "conquered" massive territory from South America through Texas and explored as far as Kansas, ruled for hundreds of years, and never really established "colonies" beyond some small settlements on the coast and some Catholic missions in the interior. Most Spaniards wanted to get as much gold out as they could and get back to Spain as soon as possible....before they died of horrible tropical diseases.

 

 

Well there was also the Comanches that kept the Spaniards to the south... the most forbidable light cavalry in the history of mankind up to that point.

 

The Spanish got to Texas and subsequently got ****-slapped back to Mexico.  Repeatedly.  So did every other Westerner until that guy up north developed this 6 shot handgun that nobody wanted until the Texas Rangers found a use for it.

 

It's remarkable to me how overlooked the Comanches are as a fighting force to this day - narratives about the Spanish in North America almost never mention it.  They only come up when the discussion turns to the Texas Rangers.  The hundreds of years leading up to that point where the white men were what was for dinner are not mentioned much.

 

I guess it doesn't fit in with the helpless Indian who was brutalized by the white man.  Or something.

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Well there was also the Comanches that kept the Spaniards to the south... the most forbidable light cavalry in the history of mankind up to that point.

 

The Spanish got to Texas and subsequently got ****-slapped back to Mexico.  Repeatedly.  So did every other Westerner until that guy up north developed this 6 shot handgun that nobody wanted until the Texas Rangers found a use for it.

 

It's remarkable to me how overlooked the Comanches are as a fighting force to this day - narratives about the Spanish in North America almost never mention it.  They only come up when the discussion turns to the Texas Rangers.  The hundreds of years leading up to that point where the white men were what was for dinner are not mentioned much.

 

I guess it doesn't fit in with the helpless Indian who was brutalized by the white man.  Or something.

 

You pretend you are 1/8th Comanche on your pappy's side, don't you?

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Well there was also the Comanches that kept the Spaniards to the south... the most forbidable light cavalry in the history of mankind up to that point.

 

 

 

The Comanches were truly badass, but I would suggest that the Mongol Keshik were the most formidible light cavalry in the history of mankind, by a large order of magnitude.  Mongol armies regularly defeated opposing forces many times their size.

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