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Native Population Decline in Totonicapan, Guatemala

Thomas T. Veblen
Annals of the Association of American Geographers
Vol. 67, No. 4 (Dec., 1977), pp. 484-499
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2562478
Page Count: 16
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Native Population Decline in Totonicapan, Guatemala
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Abstract

The Spanish conquest of the New World resulted in a rapid and drastic reduction of the native population. This demographic collapse was caused by the battles of conquest, the severe disruption of native economies, and the devastating impact of Old World diseases on an immunologically virgin population. In the case of Totonicapan in the western highlands of Guatemala, population decline was initiated by lethal epidemics introduced via Mexico which immediately preceded the arrival of the Spaniards. Spanish and native eyewitness testimony indicate that the western highlands of Guatemala were densely settled at the time of contact. Native and Spanish colonial documents clearly show that Old World epidemic diseases were the major killers. These eyewitness accounts and documentary materials permit a tentative estimate of the contact-time population of Totonicapan as being of the same magnitude as the mid-twentieth century population. Thus, approximately four centuries were required for the native demographic recovery of Totonicapan following the collapse brought about by the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century.

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