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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As long time friends of the decanter will know, historickal trivia is pure catnip to Ol’ Robbo.  So you will not be a-tall surprised that I find this article fascinating: Salmonella May Have Caused Massive Aztec Epidemic, Study Finds.

See? See? What has your mother always told you? Don’t eat that human heart after it’s been sitting out in the sun all day!

Oi, vey!

Seriously, though, I love this sort of thing.  According to the article, new technology is providing the forensic advances to figure out the nuts and bolts:

A new algorithm allowed [Kirsten Bos, a molecular paleopathologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and her team] to identify fragments of ancient salmonella DNA with extreme specificity.

“It was an analytical technique that was really the game-changer for us,” Bos explains. While scientists have been able to extract ancient DNA from bones and other tissue, until recently it was impossible to compare that extracted DNA to a wide variety of potential matches.

But a new computer program called MALT allowed them to do just that. “The major advancement was this algorithm,” Bos says. “It offers a method of analyzing many, many, many small DNA fragments that we get, and actually identifying, by species name, the bacteria that are represented.”

Bos and her team used MALT to match up the DNA fragments extracted from teeth of epidemic victims with a database of known pathogens…….

In the end, they found evidence of the deadly Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C bacteria.

Surprisingly, the new information does not appear to pin this epidemic on the eeeeeevil European invaders.

The study does not pinpoint the source of the bacteria, which is an area of great interest for biologists and archaeologists alike. The authors note that many epidemics of the period are believed to originate with European invaders who arrived in the region in the early part of the 16th century, but the new research doesn’t present biological evidence for or against that.

A previous study suggested the pathogen responsible for the epidemic originated in Mexico, and that the epidemic was exacerbated by drought. And, Bos notes, “the Europeans who were observing the symptoms didn’t know what it was, and Europeans got it as well,” which suggests it wasn’t a disease endemic to Europe.

That doesn’t mean, in NPR’s view, that said European invaders aren’t guilty as hell of biological warfare anyway:

But even if Europeans did not introduce the pathogen, they may still be responsible for its profound deadliness among indigenous people. “We know that Europeans very much changed the landscape once they entered the new world,” Bos says. “They introduced new livestock, [and] there was lots of social disruption among the indigenous population which would have increased their susceptibility to infectious disease.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that said “social disruption” might actually have been the revolt against the Aztecs of the surrounding tribes, greatly bolstered by the arrival of Cortez and his men, who were sick and tired of being carted off en masse to serve as human sacrifices to the Aztecs’ Sun God.

Incidentally, Eldest is taking a Latin American history class this semester.  She told me they watched a video today about early European contact that was, to her, surprisingly balanced in its presentation.  One of the things that was emphasized was the fluidity of societies among “native” Americans even before the Europeans turned up.   Empires rose and fell.  (I haven’t looked it up, but according to the Gel, the Aztecs had only recently established dominance over the Valley of Mexico when the Spanish first appeared.)  Tribes gained ascendency and then lost it.  Others were wiped out or subsumed. Territories changed hands.

This is important factual ammunition in the war against bloody Jean-Jacque Rousseau and his pipe-dream “Noble Savages”.  Ask the average hipster-doofus SJW what the Americas were like pre-Columbus and xhe’ll probably say something about how wonderful and peaceful and static it all was in its pristine harmony.  Utter rubbish.  I don’t deny the beastliness of Spanish colonialism in the New World for an instant.  What I do deny is the idea that the locals were any less beastly than their own means permitted.  As a general rule, Bad Things happen and people are shites wherever and whenever you go in history.



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January 2018