The Atlantic

A New Clue to the Mystery Disease That Once Killed Most of Mexico

The evidence comes from the 16th-century victims’ teeth.
Source: Rafael Monleón y Torres / Wikimedia Commons

In the decades after Hernán Cortés invaded Mexico, one of the worst epidemics in human history swept through the new Spanish colony. A mysterious disease called “cocolitzli” appeared first in 1545 and then again in 1576, each time killing millions of the native population. “From morning to sunset,” wrote a Franciscan friar who witness the epidemic, “the priests did nothing else but carry the dead bodies and throw them into the ditches.”

In less than a century, the number of people living in, an epidemiologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. What can even kill so many people so quickly?

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