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Three reasons why Christopher Columbus did not contribute to population decline of the indigenous peoples of the Americas
Written by Yoohyun Jeon | Published. 2022.01.18 16:53 | Count : 589

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There has been great controversy over and historical debate on whether Columbus’ discovery of the Americas directly led to the death of large numbers of Indigenous people. Although Columbus may have played a role in the decline of Indigenous populations in the Americas, there is plenty of historical evidence showing that Columbus was not the primary cause.

Some historians state that more than tens of millions of people died as a result of European exploration of the New World. However, some findings suggest that the number of pre-Columbian native people was highly inflated as early researchers’ counting method was not properly implemented and there were also epidemics that decimated native populations. 

To begin with, there has been controversy over the size of the pre-Columbian native population. Early researchers estimated that the population of the Western Hemisphere was nearly 100 million and that 56 million people died as a result of European exploration. 

However, recent research suggests that the initial population was 53 million and previous figures are highly exaggerated. In fact, this figure has been repeatedly confirmed by new publications and recent findings, showing that there is no evidence that large populations existed and that European explorers overestimated the pre-Columbian population as such explorers are known to have had the tendency to exaggerate.

According to N. D. Cook’s research, the population could have been no more than 15 million, and the 100 million number exceeds Cook’s figure by over 400 percent. This evidence confirms that Columbus was not a major factor that led to a huge reduction in the Indigenous population as the population was initially overestimated.       

Furthermore, there has been much disagreement on whether epidemics were caused by the European explorers or whether epidemics occurred even before the Europeans arrived. A recent study of more than 12,500 skeletons from 65 sites found that the health of native peoples had been declining long before Columbus arrived 

Historical evidence shows that natives’ health had been deteriorating and that other diseases such as tuberculosis existed in Central and North America long before the Spanish arrived, as did herpes, polio, tick-borne fevers, giardiasis, and amebic dysentery  Hence, it is difficult to conclude that Europeans are solely responsible for bringing epidemic diseases as epidemics had already been occurring in Central and North America. 

Moreover, there is limited evidence for calculating the number of individuals killed in battle prior to the arrival of the Europeans as the native peoples did not keep written records. Later, it was found that different tribes had exaggerated their accounts of battles in different ways, depending on their tribal customs 

For example, some native people exaggerated the numbers of casualties to emphasize their bravery. Rather than European exploration resulting in the decline of Indigenous populations in the Americas, vast numbers of natives were killed by other natives. In particular, large swaths of Mexico and the Southwest had been depopulated for almost a century before Columbus arrived.

According to a recent source, the consensus is that many areas of the Greater Southwest were abandoned or largely depopulated over a century before Columbus’ fateful discovery as a result of climatic changes, warfare, resource mismanagement, and other causes. 

Overall, it is difficult to conclude that the arrival of Columbus and/or Europeans led to the extermination of large numbers of Indigenous people. Some studies show that the sizes of pre-Columbian Indigenous populations are inflated, implying that Columbus slaughtered large numbers of people. However, native populations had been declining for about a century before Columbus arrived.

Furthermore, recent research shows that disease outbreaks occurred long before Europeans arrived. Actually, struggles between nations could be the principal cause of pre-Columbian population decline as Indigenous groups fought among themselves often. This evidence indicates that the decline in the Indigenous populations of the Americas was not because of Columbus. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoohyun Jeon

Grade 11

Idyllwild Arts Academy 

 

 

Yoohyun Jeon  hsr@dherald.com

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