News & Opinion | January 16, 2018 1:20 pm

Scientists May Have Identified Cause of Mysterious Ancient Epidemic

Cocoliztli caused bleeding and vomiting and killed millions of people.

cocoliztli epidemic
Cocoliztli epidemic. (Wikipedia)

Back in the 16th century, an epidemic swept through a large area of Guatemala, Mexico and even Peru. Known as “cocoliztli,” the epidemic wiped out 80 percent of the population and killed millions of people. Ancient DNA and a new technique have been used to determine the likely cause of this mysterious epidemic. Scientists were able to recover DNA from within the teeth of 10 skeletons buried in a “cocoliztli” cemetery in Oaxaca, Mexico. Researchers found salmonella genomes, which cause typhoid fever, in the DNA. This would be the first known occurrence of salmonella in the Americas. According to CNN, typhoid fever has long been suspected due to the recorded symptoms, but this is the first identification of the bacteria at the site. Researchers think it is likely that it was the arrival of Europeans that caused the epidemic. Europeans were susceptible to enteric fever (or typhoid fever) and it is very likely that they were carriers for the disease when they arrived to conquer the area, which was known as Mesoamerica.