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440-year-old document sheds new light on native population decline under Spanish colonial rule

Analysis reveals new details about native population decline following Spanish conquest


The follow is from the May 19, 2011, edition of

May 23, 2011

According to the analysis, the native Andean population in the Yucay Valley of Peru showed a remarkable ability to bounce back in the short term from the disease, warfare, and famine that accompanied the initial Spanish invasion. However, it was the repetition of such disasters generation after generation, along with overly rigid colonial administration, that dramatically reduced the population over the long term.

The research, by R. Alan Covey (Southern Methodist University), Geoff Childs (Washington University in St. Louis), and Rebecca Kippen (University of Melbourne), is published in the June issue of the journal Current Anthropology.

The analysis is based on an unusually detailed survey of the native population taken by the valley's parish priest in 1569 and copied by a royal official during a 1571 visit. Most surviving Spanish documents recording native population from this time included only a few age and sex categories, but this one counted individual men, women, and children in more than 800 households. As such, it provides researchers with a rare snapshot of a rural native population under colonial rule and sheds light on the demographic pressures they faced.

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