Cocoliztli or Cocolitzli?

Indigenous Hemorrhagic Fever
and The Spanish Conquest

Complete Version: cocolitzli.pdf (46 kb)

by Charles William Johnson

In the magazine, Discover, February 2006, an article appears entitled, Megadeath in Mexico by Bruce Stutz*. Basically, the author makes the case for the idea that it was not the actions of the Spanish Conquest nor the epidemics that followed upon the heels of that conquest that reduced the twenty million indigenous peoples of that land to around two million. It was a hemorrhagic viral fever, which the Nahuas, Mexicas, or Tenochcas called Cocoliztli in their language Nahuatl.

The author cites the work of a Mexican epidemiologist Rudolph Acuņa-Soto. Stutz appears to err by spelling cocoliztli as cocolitzli. Such a transposition of sound [ tz for zt ] or phonemes is not uncommon throughout the development of any language; however, in this case it may simply be a typographical error. All source materials employ the word-concept cocoliztli, with the usual final "tl" phoneme so characteristic of Nahuatl.

According to Acuņa-Soto, supposedly outbreaks of zahuatl [smallpox] occurred in 1520 and 1531, followed by epidemics in 1545 and 1576 that were caused by cocoliztli [hemorrhagic viral fever]. The traditional interpretation is that the conquering Spaniards brought with them virulent diseases that wiped out most of the indigenous population of Mexico during the Spanish Conquest.

Cocoliztli is often translated as smallpox or viruela in Spanish. Consider some word-concepts in Nahuatl that appear to be related to or suggest the word-concept cocoliztli.

Complete Version: cocolitzli.pdf (46 kb)


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Science in Ancient Artwork. P.O. Box 231126, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70183-1126.

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