There is a dead body on the sidewalk in front of a skyscraper. Whether it fell from the fourth or the fortieth floor is irrelevant for the coroner who has to determine the direct cause of death. It was, beyond a doubt, the impact with the pavement. On the other hand, the police investigating the death are interested in determining from which floor the body fell: was he pushed, and by whom, or did he commit suicide? Hispaniola’s Tainos, a few decades after Columbus’ landfall, completed their course to extinction. This is a relatively well-established fact. But what were their numbers in 1492: one hundred thousand, one million, or ten million? The answer to this question is important, since it may shed light into the mechanisms of the following decline.

This article has two aims. The first is to narrow the irreconcilable estimates made by modern authors as to the...

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