Scientists Have New Evidence About What Bacteria May Have Killed Half of the Aztec Population

Lead Photo: Photo by RapidEye/E+
Photo by RapidEye/E+
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DNA found in teeth has led scientists to pinpoint what probably wiped out a large portion of the Aztec population. In 1545, after Spanish colonizers invaded the Aztec’s home, an estimated 5 to 8 million died from diseases, such as smallpox, measles, and mumps. But it’s a 1576 to 1578 outbreak that scientists questioned.

“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,” Åshild Vågene of the University of Tuebingen in Germany said, according to The Guardian.

The outbreak killed about half the remaining population, making it almost as deadly as the Black Death bubonic plague. But new evidence shows typhoid-like “enteric fever” is the likely culprit.

Analyzing the teeth of 29 skeletons, scientists found traces of the salmonella enterica bacterium, specifically of the Paratyphi C variety, which can cause enteric fever. Scientists believe the salmonella strain arrived through the animals the Spanish brought (so yes, their answer is still the Spanish).

However, scientists cannot say this is the definitive answer. “We cannot say with certainty that S enterica was the cause of the cocoliztli epidemic,” scientist Kirsten Bos added. “We do believe that it should be considered a strong candidate.”

Read more at The Guardian.