Robert McCaa Aleta Nimlos


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Why Blame Smallpox? The Death of Huayna Capac & the Demographic Destruction of Tawantinsuyu (Ancient Peru)

  • Robert McCaa

  • Aleta Nimlos

  • Teodoro Hampe-Martínez

  • www.hist.umn.edu/~rmccaa/aha2004


Why Blame Smallpox?

  • I. Aleta Nimlos

    • Introduction
    • Ancient chronicles and modern histories
  • II. Robert McCaa

  • III. Aleta Nimlos (for Dr. Hampe-Martínez)

    • The Mummy of Huayna Capac
    • Reflections


Overview

  • I. The historical canon blames smallpox for:

    • killing Huayna Capac and
    • destroying much of the population of Tawantinsuyu before Pizarro’s conquest
    • Evidence is based on a few, selected chronicles (Table 1) and rests almost solely on the episode of Huayna Capac
  • II. Recent histories (Table 2) do not give due regard to

    • a broad range of evidence (or lack thereof):
      • linguistic (Tables 3 and 4)
      • narrative (lack of descriptions of pockmarked survivors)
      • archaeological
    • nor to new epidemiological findings on smallpox
  • III. Finally, there is the mummy:

    • descriptions, depictions, and, perhaps, the remains
  • IV. Reflections: Exceedingly unlikely that smallpox was responsible:

    • For the death of Huayna Capac
    • Or, before 1558, for the demographic destruction of Ancient Peru
    • There is an alternative explanation (Assadourian 1994): decades of civil war, devastation and destruction


I. Ancient Chronicles and Modern Histories



Chronicles (Table 1—1533-57)

  • The historical canon blames smallpox for:

    • killing Huayna Capac and
    • destroying much of the population of Tawantinsuyu before Pizarro
  • Evidence is based on a few, selected chronicles and refers solely to the episode of Huayna Capac (Table 1)

  • Recent histories (Table 2) do not take into account

    • a broad range of evidence (or lack thereof):
      • linguistic (Tables 3 and 4)
      • narrative (lack of descriptions of pockmarked survivors)
      • archaeological
    • nor new epidemiological findings on smallpox
      • Low communicability of the disease
      • Significance of pockmarked survivors to determine presence of the disease
  • Finally, there is the mummy:

    • descriptions, depictions, and, perhaps, de remains


Discussion of chronicles (see table 1)

  • The death of Huayna Capac was central to the Christian conquest, because Pizarro took advantage of the war of succession between Atahualpa and Huascar to defeat the divided empire.

  • Table 1 summarizes key texts of 19 chronicles

  • 3 accounts based on best native testimony do not indicate smallpox:

    • Francisco de Xerez (1533): “aquella enfermedad”
    • Juan de Betanzos (1557): “una sarna y una lepra”
    • Garcilaso de la Vega (1613): “enfermedad de calenturas”
  • Accounts are contradictory

    • Of 19 most frequently cited/important chronicles, 6 state solely smallpox
    • 13 others, various causes: perlesia, pestilencia/lepra incurable, mortales calenturas, epidemia de romadizo, sarampion, melancolia, bubas
    • Cieza de Leon (1550) conditions the smallpox story with “cuentan que”
    • Martin de Murua (1590) “unos dicen…de calenturas, y otros dicen…de viruelas”
    • Garcilaso discounts smallpox: “aunque otros dicen de virguelas y sarampion”


Modern Histories (see table 2)

  • Table 2 classifies principal modern histories by sources cited.

  • The more skeptical histories note that evidence is scanty and contradictory

    • Polo (1913)
    • Lastres (1951, 1954, 1957): “inclined” toward smallpox
    • Hemming (1970), Assadourian (1987/94), Guerra (1999)
  • The Virgin Soil School explains away contradictions and writes as though a virgin soil epidemic engulfed the Andean peoples before 1531

    • Dobyns (1963), Crosby (1972), Cook (1998), Alchon (2003)
  • Assadourian’s well-documented counter-argument (1987/94) is ignored

  • Meta-narratives blame smallpox, without equivocation

    • McNeill (1976) Plagues and Peoples
    • Diamond (1997) Guns, Germs and Steel
    • Oldstone (1998) Viruses, Plagues and History
    • Tucker (2001) Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox




II. New Evidence plus New Insights from the Eradication of Smallpox



New Evidence—and lack thereof

  • Linguistic evidence from early Quechua dictionaries (Table 3)

    • Santo Domingo (1560)—compiled in 1540s, no Quechua term for smallpox
    • “Ricardo” (1586)—muru oncoy, Quechua term for smallpox, also for measles (Ricardo was the publisher; author = Padre Alonso de Barzana)
    • Gonzalez Holguin (1608)—distinguished smallpox (huchuy muru vncuy) from measles (hatun muru vncuy) and recorded 3 literal descriptors
  • Analysis by historians

    • Lastres (1954): lack of smallpox term in Santo Domingo proved the disease did not exist in Peru before 1492 (to counter contrary thesis by a contemporary)
      • Might the lack of a term also signal the absence of smallpox before 1557?
    • Cook (1998): uses Ricardo dictionary to interpret Betanzos’ “sarna y lepra” (77: “symptoms of severe skin rash and inflammations”)
      • The terms may also refer to any of a number of other diseases.


New Evidence—and lack thereof: Indeed there is no term for smallpox in Santo Tomas vs. later dictionaries (Table 3—abridged)





Descriptions and depictions of pockmarked individuals

  • Será hombre como de cuarenta años, de mediana estatura, moderno y con unas pecas de viruelas en la cara… —description of Inca Titu Cusi Yupanqui by Oidor Lic. Don Juan de Matienzo (1565)



Tenochtitlan: this illustration depicting pockmarked individuals from 1520 epidemic is widely reproduced:



Insights from Global Eradication of Smallpox: pockmarks

  • Descriptions of pockmarked survivors is an effective means of establishing the presence or absence of smallpox

    • Used by WHO to authenticate the eradication of smallpox in areas with poor record keeping
    • Historians have also used such evidence to date the occurrence of epidemics (e.g., Fenn, Pox Americana)
  • Until there is evidence of pockmarked individuals in the Andes should we not discount the presence of smallpox prior to 1558?



Insights from Global Eradication of Smallpox: low communicability

  • Smallpox was eradicated precisely because of its “fairly low communicability”

    • Historians have wildly exaggerated the communicability of smallpox
    • Scabs readily lose their potency in high heat, humidity or sunlight
  • As a bioterror weapon: “least suitable” because it is “not readily transmitted from one person to another” (Behbehani 1988:183)

  • Wholly improbable that smallpox leaped ahead of Europeans through the Darien or Amazon Basin

    • Difficulties of travel by land, sea or streams
    • Little evidence of trans-isthmian contact even over the millennia
    • Native settlements in the region were: “linguistic islands”
  • According to the WHO, corpses were heavily contaminated and posed a serious occupational hazard

    • Preparation of the mummy of Ramses V (1157 BC) interrupted due to the death of his embalmers?
    • Huayna Capac’s mummy was prepared without notable incident
    • Atahualpa kept a bit of flesh as a talisman, yet suffered no harm
    • The mummy was worshipped on the road to Cuzco and remained on display for years—no one ever remarked that people died from viewing it


III. The mummy of Huayna Capac: Descriptions, depictions, and de remains --drawings from Guaman Poma, El primer Nueva Corónica y buen gobierno http://www.kb.dk/elib/mss/poma/index-en.htm



Tawantinsuyu: the best known drawing of Huayna Capac’s mummy does not depict pockmarks (Guaman Poma):



379: The mummy of Huayna Capac enroute to Cuzco

  • Guaman Poma’s depiction—no signs of pockmarks

  • Yet, GP often depicts facial features



379: The mummy of Huayna Capac enroute to Cuzco

  • 558: Note stigmata on Christ’s face/torso

  • And absence of marks on HC’s face.



Guaman Poma, El primer Nueva Corónica y buen gobierno: http://www.kb.dk/elib/mss/poma/index-en.htm

  • p. 453: “The execution of Tupac Amaru Inka by order of the Viceroy Toledo, as distraught Andean nobles lament the killing of their innocent lord”

  • Note depiction of tears.



Guaman Poma, El primer Nueva Corónica y buen gobierno: http://www.kb.dk/elib/mss/poma/index-en.htm

  • p. 659: “Wrathful, arrogant Dominicans force native women to weave for them.”

  • Note the stubble on his unshaven face and the tears flowing from the weaver’s eyes.



Mummified remains reveal tell-tale pockmarks



History

  • Ground penetrating radar illuminates the most promising spots: “grade 1 anomalies”



No pockmarked mummies have been found anywhere in Peru. As more remains are studied:

  • Will it be possible to identify Huayna Capac?

  • Will there be sufficient tissue to identify smallpox?

  • Will any mummies be found with pockmarks?

  • Will a DNA test be developed to ascertain smallpox even where no tissue samples have survived?



Reflections: Why Blame Smallpox?

  • Too many…

  • Contradictions and contingencies in the chronicles

  • Silences in the historical record

    • No mentions of pockmarked survivors
    • No mention of smallpox in the earliest dictionary
  • Improbables

    • That the disease would leap ahead of the Spaniards—through one of the most impenetrable regions on the planet
    • That Huayna Capac would die, but not his embalmers or his son Atahualpa who kept some of his father’s flesh


Why Blame Smallpox? The Death of Huayna Capac and the Demographic Destruction of Tawantinsuyu (Ancient Peru)

  • Robert McCaa

  • Aleta Nimlos

  • Teodoro Hampe-Martínez

  • http:/www.hist.umn.edu/~rmccaa/aha2004



Guaman Poma, El primer Nueva Corónica y buen gobierno: http://www.kb.dk/elib/mss/poma/index-en.htm

  • p. 310: “The Inka's punishments in Anta Caca of youthful fornicators, thaskikuna waqllispa huchallikuqkuna

  • Tears drawn on cheeks demonstrate Guaman Poma’s concern with details.




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