Disease, climate and the peopling of the Americas

A. Drake*, M. Oxenham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Archaeological discussions surrounding the reasons for pre-Columbian Native American disease susceptibility have encompassed a wide range of issues particularly that the cold of Beringia acted as a barrier to the entry of infectious disease during initial human migrations: 'the cold-screen hypothesis'. This paper aims to critically review this hypothesis, particularly in relation to (1) the paleopathological evidence; (2) effects of temperature, effective population size/density and animal reservoir diversity on pathogen survival/maintenance and (3) disease patterns in the past and present circumpolar region. Results demonstrate that a number of conditions, such as tuberculosis, treponemal infection and parasitic infections, were present in the pre-Columbian Americas. Epidemiological evidence also demonstrates that while temperature (cold) can affect the survival of some pathogens, other factors were more likely influential in the emergence and maintenance of disease in the pre-Columbian Americas. http://zoobank.org/714351F3-8F4C-4134-955F-D28C1B07617C.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)565-597
Number of pages33
JournalHistorical Biology
Issue number5-6
Early online date18 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Beringia
  • circumpolar
  • cold-screen
  • disease loads
  • New World
  • paleopathology


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