16th century skeletons suggest the slave trade brought some diseases to Mexico

Thursday, April 30, 2020 - 10:01 in Paleontology & Archaeology

Slavery proved contagious when Spain colonized 16th century Mexico. Africans abducted into the transatlantic slave trade and taken to Mexico around that time may have introduced forms of two infectious diseases, hepatitis B and yaws, to the Americas, researchers say. DNA of three men whose skeletons were previously excavated near a Mexico City hospital indicates that all were from western or southern Africa, say archaeogeneticist Rodrigo Barquera of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany, and his colleagues. The men’s upper front teeth had been filed down, a practice known to have characterized African slaves in the Americas, the scientists report online April 30 in Current Biology. Forms of strontium, carbon and nitrogen in the men’s teeth, which indicate the region where a person grew up, also suggest childhood origins outside Mexico. One man’s tooth carried DNA from a strain of the hepatitis B virus (SN: 4/30/13) typically found in present-day West Africans, the investigators say. While it’s unclear when hepatitis B...

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