Columbus didn't import syphilis from America: study

Archaeologists, who have unearthed human skeletons from a cemetery at a East London church, found signs of the disease up to two centuries before the Spanish explorer first set sail in 1493.

The excavated bones have rough patches on skulls and limbs of some of the skeletons, telling evidence of syphilis which causes serious damage to the heart, brain, eyes and bones. According to the researchers, radiocarbon dating of the samples is estimated to be 95 per cent accurate. Previous findings of early syphilitic bones have been inconclusive.

Brian Connell, an expert from the Museum of London who studied the bones, said he had no doubt that the skeletons were buried before Columbus' voyage.

"We're confident that Christopher Columbus is simply not a feature of the emergence and timing of the disease in Europe," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.

"This puts the nail in the coffin of the Columbus theory." Two of the syphilitic skeletons unearthed from the site are from 1200-1250 while the other five are from 1250- 1400. They were buried with coins and other objects that helped the experts corroborate the radiocarbon dating results.

The site (St Mary Spital) was named after the hospital nearby in the City of London and the skeleton were probably victims of the disease who were patients there. One of the skeletons belong to a child who would have been blind, bald and had teeth that grew at a 45 degree angle through its jaw because of the disease.

Mr Connell said: "IT would have had gross facial disfigurement, which would have been very distressing for the child, who was about 10 years old when it died. "The skull, which should have been smooth, looks like a lunar landscape. It caused a bit of a stir when it was found because the symptoms are so obvious."

Syphilis, which can be fatal if untreated, is carried by the bacterium Treponema palladium. In an era hundreds of years before the discovery of antibiotics, syphilis quickly spread and was soon the scourge of every major city.

Ever since the first recorded case in Europe took place in 1495 -- three years after Columbus's first voyage to the New World -- doctors have argued over its origins. Some have claimed that it existed in Europe in ancient times. But others have claimed it was the price of those early and often violent visits to Latin America.

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