News Release

European settlers and mortality of Indigenous people

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A study examines mortality of Indigenous people in California following Spanish settlement. The decline of Indigenous populations in the Americas following the arrival of European settlers is among the most severe demographic collapses. However, the timing and scale of the collapse in some regions, such as California, remain unclear. To determine the impact of diseases in the Americas before and after 1769, Terry Jones, Brian Codding, and colleagues analyzed age-at-death records of 33,715 Indigenous people who lived in central California between 3050 BCE and 1870 CE. The data included 10,256 records from excavated human burial sites and 23,459 records created by missionaries from Spain and retained by missions in central California. From 1770 CE to 1800 CE, Indigenous populations in central California exhibited a mortality profile similar to that of populations experiencing an epidemic plague. Beginning around 1770 CE, Indigenous people likely had sustained contact with individuals from Spain, who established permanent settlements and missions in central California during this period. Mortality records also showed that more females than males died near Spanish missions. The findings suggest that extreme social disruption, including increased violence, enslavement, and food insecurity, caused by Spanish settlers increased the vulnerability of Indigenous people to disease, while also increasing mortality in general, according to the authors.


Article #20-24802: "Historic and bioarchaeological evidence supports late onset of post-Columbian epidemics in Native California," by Terry L. Jones et al.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Terry L. Jones, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA; tel: 805-235-6621; email: <>; Brian F. Codding, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT; tel: 801-581-8663; email: <>

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.