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Did Salmonella Kill Off the Aztecs?

Did Salmonella Kill Off the Aztecs?

Today, those of us who are unlucky enough to get salmonella (or technically salmonellosis) will probably get it from eating undercooked meat, poultry or eggs. It’ll make us sick for about a week, including stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and fever. A nasty bug, yes—but not life-threatening.

But some strains of salmonella bacteria can cause serious illnesses, such as typhoid fever, and can even be deadly. One strain in particular, known as Paratyphi C, causes enteric fever, or fever in the intestines. When left untreated, the bug can kill up to 10 to 15 percent of those it infects. Paratyphi C is now extremely rare, and mostly strikes people in developing countries, where sanitary conditions may be poor. According to new DNA research, however, an outbreak of this deadly form of salmonella may have contributed to the 16th-century downfall of the Aztecs.

In the decades following the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1519, the Aztecs suffered several devastating waves of disease. In their native language, Nahuatl, the Aztecs called such outbreaks cocoliztli, for the word “pestilence.” One major cocoliztli, between 1545 and 1550, is believed to have claimed the lives of more than 80 percent of the Aztec population. Another major outbreak hit in 1576, bringing the total death toll to between 7 million and 18 million.

Seeking clues as to what exactly caused these outbreaks, a team led by Johannes Krause, an evolutionary geneticist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, decided to look at the burial ground in the Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico. According to their findings, published on the pre-print site bioRxiv earlier this month, the researchers extracted and sequenced DNA fragments from the teeth of 29 bodies buried there, 24 of which were victims of the 1545-1550 outbreak.

After separating bacterial DNA from human DNA, the scientists compared their results with more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes. They found that the bacterial DNA recovered from several people matched the bacteria genus Salmonella, and were eventually able to reconstruct two genomes of the Paratyphi C strain of Salmonella enterica, one of two species of Salmonella.

Previous studies have suggested typhus, smallpox and measles as possible causes of the massive Aztec demise. In 2002, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City proposed that a viral hemorrhagic fever, combined with drought, killed millions of Aztecs. They compared its magnitude to the Black Death, which killed as many as 20 million people across 14th-century Europe. None of these prior hypotheses have been supported by DNA evidence, however, making the new study a particularly intriguing development.

As ScienceAlert reported, the study is not yet peer-reviewed, and others in the field will presumably test the results and weigh in now that it has been published on the bioRxiv server. At least one scientist—María Ávila-Arcos, an evolutionary geneticist at UNAM who was not involved in the new study—remained skeptical that salmonella could cause so many deaths. She argued that a virus could be responsible for the outbreak, as the method the geneticists used wouldn’t have detected a virus.

Another, unrelated DNA study published on the same pre-print site last week could provide additional insight into the new study’s salmonella theory. That research, led by the microbiologist Mark Achtman from the University of Warwick in Coventry, United Kingdom, collected and sequenced a bacterial genome taken from the remains of a young woman buried in a cemetery in Trondheim, Norway in the year 1200. By providing the earliest known genetic evidence of Paratyphi C in Europe, more than 300 years before the conquest of Mexico, the study appears to support the possibility that Europeans could have brought the strain of salmonella bacteria with them to the New World, with devastating consequences for the Aztecs.


Aztecs were wiped out by horror ‘eye-bleeding’ disease that killed 15million in just five years, scientists reveal

THE Aztecs were wiped out by a horror disease that caused them to bleed from the eyes, mouth and nose, experts have revealed.

Scientists say as many as 15 million people - an estimated 80 per cent of population - were killed when an epidemic known as cocoliztli swept Mexico's Aztec nation in 1545.

The word means “pestilence” in the Aztec Nahuatl language.

Its cause, however, has been in question for nearly 500 years.

On Monday, scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, fingering a typhoid-like “enteric fever” for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims, reports news.com.au.

Ashild Vagene, of the University of Tuebingen in Germany, said: “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.

“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 a longstanding historical question."

Vagene co-authored a study published in the science journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

The cocoliztli outbreak is considered one of the deadliest epidemics in human history, approaching the “Black Death” bubonic plague that felled some 25 million people in western Europe in the 14th century — about half the regional population.

Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, scientists found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety.

KILLER DISEASE What is cocoliztli?

The cocoliztli epidemic – attributed to one or two illnesses collectively - caused millions of deaths in the New Spain territory of Mexico in the 16th century.

Although the cause for the epidemic remains unknown, theories suggest it could have been a deadly viral haemorrhagic fever exacerbated by the worst droughts to hit the region in 500 years.

Heavy downpours that followed the drought saw an increase in populations of the Vesper mouse – a carrier of haemorrhagic fever.

According to physician Francisco Hernandez, symptoms included high fever, severe headache, vertigo, black tongue, dark urine, dysentery, severe abdominal pain, head and neck nodules, jaundice and profuse bleeding from the nose, eyes, and mouth.


500 years later, scientists discover what probably killed the Aztecs

Within five years as many as 15 million people – an estimated 80% of the population – were wiped out in an epidemic the locals named “cocoliztli”. The word means pestilence in the Aztec Nahuatl language. Its cause, however, has been questioned for nearly 500 years.

On Monday scientists swept aside smallpox, measles, mumps, and influenza as likely suspects, identifying a typhoid-like “enteric fever” for which they found DNA evidence on the teeth of long-dead victims.

“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 Åshild Vågene 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 a longstanding historical question.”

Vågene co-authored a study published in the science journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The outbreak is considered one of the deadliest epidemics in human history, approaching the Black Death bubonic plague that killed 25 million people in western Europe in the 14th century – about half the regional population.

European colonisers spread disease as they ventured into the new world, bringing germs local populations had never encountered and lacked immunity against.

The 1545 cocoliztli pestilence in what is today Mexico and part of Guatemala came just two decades after a smallpox epidemic killed an estimated 5-8 million people in the immediate wake of the Spanish arrival.

A second outbreak from 1576 to 1578 killed half the remaining population.

“In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” is how Franciscan historian Fray Juan de Torquemada is cited as chronicling the period.

Even at the time, physicians said the symptoms did not match those of better-known diseases such as measles and malaria.

Scientists now say they have probably unmasked the culprit. Analysing DNA extracted from 29 skeletons buried in a cocoliztli cemetery, they found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, of the Paratyphi C variety.

It is known to cause enteric fever, of which typhoid is an example. The Mexican subtype rarely causes human infection today.

Many salmonella strains spread via infected food or water, and may have travelled to Mexico with domesticated animals brought by the Spanish, the research team said.

Salmonella enterica is known to have been present in Europe in the middle ages.

“We tested for all bacterial pathogens and DNA viruses for which genomic data is available,” and salmonella enterica was the only germ detected, said co-author Alexander Herbig, also from Tuebingen University.

It is possible, however, that some pathogens were either undetectable or completely unknown.“We cannot say with certainty that S enterica was the cause of the cocoliztli epidemic,” said team member Kirsten Bos. “We do believe that it should be considered a strong candidate.”

This article was amended on 16 January 2018 to correct the spelling of Åshild Vågene’s name from Ashild Vagene. It was further amended on 23 January 2018 to replace a picture that showed a structure in Teotihuacan that was built before the dawn of the Aztec empire with a more appropriate image.


Aztec ‘Black Death’ may have been caused by salmonella – research

Most of the pathogens responsible for outbreaks in Latin America during this period remain unknown and debate in the scientific community is rife with suspects ranging from measles, smallpox and typhus to a viral hemorrhagic fever.

By extracting and sequencing the DNA from the teeth of 29 people buried at a grave site in Oaxaca, Mexico, a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History were able to reconstruct the genome of the Salmonella enterica strain known as Paratyphi C.

Today this Paratyphi C bacterium causes enteric fever, mostly in the developing world, which can kill 10 to 15 percent of people infected if left untreated, according to Nature. However, in the 16th century, native Aztec populations would not have developed any kind of resistance to this particular bacterium.

The &lsquococoliztli,&rsquo or &lsquopestilence&rsquo in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, that took place between 1545 and 1576 is believed to have killed between 7 and 18 million people, with researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City drawing comparisons to the Black Death that struck Eurasia in the 14th century.

&ldquoThe epidemic of cocoliztli from 1545 to 1548 killed an estimated 5 million to 15 million people, or up to 80 percent of the native population of Mexico,&rdquo wrote Dr. Acuna-Soto, a professor of epidemiology on the Faculty of Medicine at UNAM. &ldquoIn absolute and relative terms the 1545 epidemic was one of the worst demographic catastrophes in human history, approaching even the Black Death of bubonic plague.&rdquo

Given the chaos and societal breakdown that ensued throughout the Spanish conquest, the theory that the strain of salmonella could have killed so many people in such a short space of time has merit, as Paratyphi C is typically transmitted through fecal material.

Not everyone is entirely convinced, however, as María Ávila-Arcos, an evolutionary geneticist at UNAM, notes that the method used would not have detected a virus, for example, according to Nature.

Johannes Krause, who led the team from the Max Planck Institute, will continue the search for ancient pathogens in Caribbean burial sites which may provide more conclusive evidence to support the salmonella theory.


A mysterious disease of unknown origins killed a ton of Aztecs

Smallpox devastated the Aztecs, but it wasn't the end of them. However, we've known for some time about the epidemic that really did them in. Historically, it's been referred to as "cocoliztli," which is an Aztec name meaning "pestilence." But for a long time, we didn't know what the cause of the illness actually was, even though it was responsible for the deaths of between seven and 17 million people in South America. The disease swept through Mexico and Guatemala in the latter part of the 16th century, decades after Cortés' conquest of Tenochtitlán. According to The Guardian, it killed 80 percent of the population within five years, and it was one of the worst plagues in history, similar in scale to the bubonic plague epidemic that killed 25 million people in Europe during the 14th century.

A historian from the period described the extent of the devastation, writing, "In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches."

For a people who were already devastated by smallpox and conquistadors, cocoliztli must have been both terrifying and demoralizing. Only a real optimist could witness such a thing and not see it as the beginning of the end, and it's probably safe to say there weren't a lot of Aztec optimists left in the world at the time.


Have scientists really found the germ responsible for killing 15m Aztecs?

Aztec sculpture. Credit: Authentic travel/Shutterstock

This week, dozens of media outlets declared that scientists had solved the mystery of what wiped out the Aztecs. Traces of a pathogen that can cause a typhoid-like enteric fever have been found in skeletons from a cemetery linked to the catastrophic epidemics of 1545-50, which killed millions of indigenous people in 16th-century Mexico.

One of three pandemics that brought about the collapse of native populations in Central America, the 1545 outbreak was caused by an unknown disease, which is described in the sources as "cocoliztli". The new study, published in Nature, Ecology & Evolution, speculates that the origin was a rare strain of salmonella called paratyphi C. But from my point of view, as an indigenous historian, this claim is problematic.

Cocoliztli, a Nahuatl (Aztec language) term, is usually translated as "pestilence", but the word actually suggests "pustules" or breaking through the skin, issues not usually connected to enteric fever. Indigenous sources like the Codex en Cruz (a pictorial codex) show spots and nose bleeds as the main symptoms, and extreme bleeding is also mentioned regularly in Spanish accounts.

This matches recent scholarly opinion, which has tended to favour an unknown form of haemorrhagic fever, similar to Ebola, as the cause of cocoliztli. But it is possible that spots and nosebleeds were simply the easiest symptoms to draw, as well as being the most obvious markers of disease to people probably suffering from multiple unknown illnesses. We are not even sure that the term cocoliztli had a consistent meaning. It first pops up in reference to what was almost certainly a smallpox epidemic in 1519-20.

Worst death tolls in history

The death of millions of indigenous Americans after the European invasion is one of the great tragedies of the modern era. Even using the most optimistic estimates, at least 80% of the pre-contact population of Mexico died in the first century after the Spanish arrival.

With one of the worst death tolls in history – more than 90% in some areas – the devastation is almost incomprehensible. Try to imagine nine out of every ten people you know dying in the next decade: the devastation of families, the loss of children, the decimation of communities, being unable to care for dying relatives because you are so sick yourself.

There is a natural desire to find a single cause for events, to try and make a tragedy explicable, to understand what "really" happened. But such appalling mortality rates were not caused by a single, devastating plague. They reflect people who, lacking immunity to European diseases and suffering under colonialism, were battered by wave after wave of germs – including flu, typhus, measles, smallpox and, almost certainly, enteric fever.

Salmonella bacteria. Credit: Tatiana Shepeleva/Shutterstock.com

Major epidemics tended to follow times of famine and drought and were worsened by colonial policies that herded indigenous people into more easily manageable settlements. Already exhausted and living in close quarters, with little idea how to cope with these new illnesses, indigenous people died in huge numbers.

The Nature study itself is admirably measured, resisting the temptation (unlike headline writers) to declare enteric fever as the cause of the cocoliztli outbreak. And the new DNA analysis tool used in the study, which offers for the first time a way of scanning for all known bacterial pathogens, opens exciting new possibilities for research into historical DNA.

But it doesn't tell us – as the authors themselves freely admit – whether salmonella was responsible for the 1545 epidemic. It is not even certain (although it is highly likely) that the people studied suffered from enteric fever. We know only that they were exposed to the bacteria. This is an important finding, and the research method opens the way for future studies that may shed further light on this historical catastrophe.

Unfortunately, this research can't definitively tell us what killed the Aztecs in this dreadful way, and science can only ever tell part of the story. As the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún recorded:

People with the illness could not walk…they could not move they could not stir. And when they stirred, they screamed. The pustules that covered people caused great desolation a great many people died of them, and many just died of hunger [for] no one took care of others any longer.

To disentangle a single disease from the bacterial and viral soup that existed in 16th-century Mexico is not only impossible, it obscures the reality of cocoliztli.


The Aztecs May Have Been Wiped Out by Salmonella

The story of the Aztecs is well known. After dominating much of Mesoamerica for three centuries, European diseases brought by Spanish invaders led by Hernán Cortés nearly wiped them out. The native word for these epidemics was cocoliztli (pestilence) and the worst occurred between 1545 and 1550 when 80 percent of the Aztecs died – upwards of 18 million people. That kind of “pestilence” can be caused by measles, smallpox or typhus and it has been assumed that one, if not all three, were responsible. But it’s never been proven by DNA analysis. That test has finally been run on human remains from this scourge and the surprise finding was not any of those but an early form of salmonella.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany went to a burial ground in the Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico and extracted DNA from the teeth of 24 people believed to have died during the cocoliztli. According to their report in the pre-print site bioRxiv, several of the teeth showed that they came from humans infected with Salmonella Paratyphi C, a severe form of Salmonella enterica which causes paratyphoid fever, a bacterial infection with the same symptoms and contagious effects as typhoid fever.

We propose that S. Paratyphi C contributed to the population decline during the 1545 cocoliztli outbreak in Mexico.

According to the report, “contributed to the population decline” means the disease was easily spread via the notorious fecal-matter-in-water-due-to-poor-sanitary-conditions method, killing 10-15 percent of those exposed to it. An account by a Franciscan historian describes the aftermath:

In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches.

The arrival of cocoliztli

For those who need more proof of where it came from, a separate study found evidence of Salmonella Paratyphi C in a young woman buried in Norway in the year 1200. Fortunately, this form of salmonella is extremely rare – but not extinct – today.

However, this new DNA evidence means it may have caused fatal epidemics in other areas that were once blamed on different bacterial or virus-caused diseases. It also reminds us how contagious and deadly the salmonella bacteria still is today.


Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak

DNA of 500-year-old bacteria is first direct evidence of an epidemic — one of humanity's deadliest — that occurred after Spanish conquest.

One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest.

In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country's native inhabitants. The team reports its findings in a preprint posted on the bioRxiv server on 8 February 1 .

This is potentially the first genetic evidence of the pathogen that caused the massive decline in native populations after European colonization, says Hannes Schroeder, an ancient-DNA researcher at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen who was not involved in the work. “It’s a super-cool study.”

Dead bodies and ditches

In 1519, when forces led by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés arrived in Mexico, the native population was estimated at about 25 million. A century later, after a Spanish victory and a series of epidemics, numbers had plunged to around 1 million.

The largest of these disease outbreaks were known as cocoliztli (from the word for ‘pestilence’ in Nahuatl, the Aztec language). Two major cocoliztli, beginning in 1545 and 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 18 million people living in Mexico’s highland regions.

“In the cities and large towns, big ditches were dug, and from morning to sunset the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches,” noted a Franciscan historian who witnessed the 1576 outbreak.

There has been little consensus on the cause of cocoliztli — although measles, smallpox and typhus have all been mooted. In 2002, researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City proposed that a viral haemorrhagic fever, exacerbated by a catastrophic drought, was behind the carnage 2 . They compared the magnitude of the 1545 outbreak to that of the Black Death in fourteenth-century Europe.

In an attempt to settle the question, a team led by evolutionary geneticist Johannes Krause at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, extracted and sequenced DNA from the teeth of 29 people buried in the Oaxacan highlands of southern Mexico. All but five were linked to a cocoliztli that researchers think ran from 1545 to 1550.

Ancient bacterial DNA recovered from several of the people matched that of Salmonella, based on comparisons with a database of more than 2,700 modern bacterial genomes.

Further sequencing of short, damaged DNA fragments from the remains allowed the team to reconstruct two genomes of a Salmonella enterica strain known as Paratyphi C. Today, this bacterium causes enteric fever, a typhus-like illness, that occurs mostly in developing countries. If left untreated, it kills 10–15% of infected people.

It’s perfectly reasonable that the bacterium could have caused this epidemic, says Schroeder. “They make a really good case.” But María Ávila-Arcos, an evolutionary geneticist at UNAM, isn't convinced. She notes that some people suggest that a virus caused the cocoliztli, and that wouldn't have been picked up by the team’s method.

The question of origin

Krause and his colleagues’ proposal is helped by another study posted on bioRxiv last week, which raises the possibility that Salmonella Paratyphi C arrived in Mexico from Europe 3 .

A team led by Mark Achtman, a microbiologist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, collected and sequenced the genome of the bacterial strain from the remains of a young woman buried around 1200 in a cemetery in Trondheim, Norway. It is the earliest evidence for the now-rare Salmonella strain, and proof that it was circulating in Europe, according to the study. (Both teams declined to comment on their research because their papers have been submitted to a peer-reviewed journal.)

“Really, what we’d like to do is look at both strains together,” says Hendrik Poinar, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. And if more ancient genomes can be collected from Europe and the Americas, it should be possible to find out more conclusively whether deadly pathogens such as Salmonella arrived in the New World from Europe.

The existence of Salmonella Paratyphi C in Norway 300 years before it appeared in Mexico doesn’t prove that Europeans spread enteric fever to native Mexicans, says Schroeder, but that hypothesis is reasonable. A small percentage of people infected with Salmonella Paratyphi C carry the bacterium without falling ill, so apparently healthy Spaniards could have infected Mexicans who lacked natural resistance.

Paratyphi C is transmitted through faecal material, and a collapse of social order during the Spanish conquest might have led to the poor sanitary conditions that are ripe for Salmonella spread, Krause and his team note in the paper.

Krause’s study offers a blueprint for identifying the pathogens behind ancient outbreaks, says Schroeder. His own team plans to look for ancient pathogens in Caribbean burial sites that seem to be linked to catastrophic outbreaks, and that were established after the Europeans arrived. “The idea that some of them might have been caused by Salmonella is now a distinct possibility,” he says.


Collapse of Aztec society linked to catastrophic salmonella outbreak

We're sorry, but this post has been locked due to too many off-topic comments and even personal attacks. It's a drain on moderator resources which could be allocated better elsewhere.

Having had salmonella I can honestly say I could see how this could have killed a shit-ton of folks.

I lost 13 pounds in 1! day. Couldn't even hold water in.

104 degree fever, uncontrollable chills, runs, and a pain in my guts like someone shoved a paint-stirrer drill attachment into my intestines.

And I had all the best medicine could offer. I cannot imagine what would have happened with nothing to help.

This is the first time I've seen salmonella linked to the 1545 outbreak that wiped out a huge portion of the population in the Basin of Mexico. It's interesting how healthy people can carry the disease, but pass it on to others through poor sanitation. I'm curious how this might change the discussion of early colonial history in Mexico

Yeah, it's certainly an interesting proposal. The paper is a bit light on practical details (Iɽ like to eventually see more discussion of the phylogeny, for example), but it's worth noting that the authors are some of the foremost researchers in this area. Definitely a narrative worth monitoring and considering as new papers are published.

Modern American colonial history is already heavily distorted in the public's mind. Most people simply assumed that colonials killed all the natives but that's absurd. A few hundred colonials (even if they had muskets) couldn't kill millions of natives. They died largely from disease unintentionally brought over from Europe. Why everybody keeps insisting that Europeans killed all the natives I'll never know.

"Hey, smell this chicken does it smell right to you?"

"Quit worrying about everything what's the worst that could happen?"

Why would it change the discussion at all? It is a well known fact that disease played a key role in the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. I just don't see how knowing which specific disease would change the discussion much.

I'm a bit confused. Was this not a well known fact? I'm from Mexico and ever since I started taking history classes in Elementary/Junior High/High School we were taught that after repealing Cortez advances on to the Aztec city (I can't remember the name), he set up a rather good siege. However, that was not what beat the Aztecs, but an outbreak of Salmonella that lowered their numbers considerably.

That's what I was always taught and I left those grades. maybe 20 years ago.

Guns, Germs and Steel takes a similar look at the colonization of the Americas.

Food poisoning is a form of salmonella. When I had it 30+ years ago, because of the type I had, I had to be tested to see if I was a carrier.

If I was a carrier, I would never be able to cook or touch food that was served to anyone else otherwise they might contract it. It came back negative and I was good.

I'm just tossing this out there, but it is possible that something like that happened and got caught up without medicine or testing. Could quickly take out lots of people.


Arrival of the Spanish

The transatlantic voyage in the sixteenth century took about three months. The ships contained barrels of water, salted meat, and livestock. Sailors collected rainwater to replenish the drinking water. Rats found their way onto the ships while docked. It was not unusual for them to drown in the drinking water, contaminating it for those on board. Food was rationed and often was comprised of some sort of broth and a small portion of salted meat one time per day. If a ship got off course, the food was rationed more.

When the Spaniards arrived in the New World, they were already malnourished and sick from the transatlantic voyage. It must have been a great shock when Europeans arrived in the New World expecting loaves of bread and other wheat-based items only to find corn and never-before-seen animals. This drastic change in diet caused most Europeans to suffer from intestinal complaints as their bodies adapted to new foods. They vomited, had diarrhea, and dysentery, which is classified as runny stool combined with blood. Upon arrival and for weeks after, Europeans were not in a good state of health.

Despite their overall ill health, the Spanish conquistadors were successful in their conquest of present-day Mexico and Guatemala. Officials created New Spain, which had several regional governments. Silver mines became very important for the Crown and soon, after the Conquest, silver flooded European markets. From the 16th century through the 18th century, Spain was the most powerful empire in Europe. It controlled almost the entire North and South American continents, its people, and its resources.

Aztec warrior mask. Google Images.

The Aztecs were formidable opponents. They fiercely defended their land and homes. From the 14th century onward, they conquered rival tribal areas and forced them to come under Aztec rule. Warfare was bloody and brutal. Well-trained warriors fought each other with various projectiles and hand-to-hand combat. When a tribal area fell, it came under the control of a growing Aztec Empire. For over 100 years before the Spaniards arrived, the Aztec Empire had grown in population, military strength, and land occupying all of present-day Mexico and Guatemala.

The conquistadors arrived with gun powder and protective armor. This gave them a tremendous advantage over the Aztecs. Despite being experts at warfare, the Aztecs were mortally wounded when Europeans used modern tools of warfare. The fighting between the two great armies was brutal. Visual depictions, folk lore, and written reports proclaim the devastating and brutal violence used throughout the Conquest. Despite high mortality, warfare did not kill 22 million Aztecs. So, what did?


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