Interesting blog post on the difficulty of mapping where native people lived in North America prior to Columbus’s arrival. Two things stand out.
First, there’s this stunning, and depressing, animated gif map:
Second, there’s this quote, from Charles Mann’s book 1491, about the impact of European diseases on Native Americans:
Dobyns argued that the Indian population in 1491 was between 90 and 112 million people. Another way of saying this is that when Columbus sailed more people lived in the Americas than in Europe.
According to a 1999 estimate from the United Nations, the earth’s population in the beginning of the sixteenth century was about 500 million. If Dobyns was right, disease claimed the lives of 80 to 100 million Indians by the first third of the seventeenth century. All these numbers are at best rough approximations, but their implications are clear: the epidemics killed about one out of every five people on earth. According to W. George Lovell, a geographer at Queen’s University in Ontario, it was “the greatest destruction of lives in human history.”