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Christopher Columbus DID bring syphilis back to Europe after all

All 54 reports arguing he didn't are flawed, say experts Syphilis used to be the scourge of every city in Europe By Ted Thornhill Last updated at 3:25 PM on 28th December 2011 Although hailed for his discovery of the Americas in the 15th century, Christopher Columbuss reputation was tainted because he was blamed for introducing syphilis to Europe. However, several reports have since argued the case that the deadly disease was already widespread before Columbus landed back in Spain in 1493. Now researchers George Armelagos, from Emory University, Molly Zuckerman, from Mississippi State University and Columbia Universitys Kristin Harper, claim that all the evidence putting Columbus and his crew in the clear is flawed.

In the dock over syphilis: Explorer Christopher Columbus, who came from Genoa, in present-day Italy Armelagos told LiveScience: There's no really good evidence of a syphilis case before 1492 in Europe. Curable in the present day by antibiotics, syphilis used to be a debilitating and often fatal disease. Caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria it affected the heart, brain, eyes and bones and was 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. Historians who argue that Columbus couldnt have been source point out that rudimentary 15th century medical know-how meant that doctors would not have been able to distinguish the disease among others that had similar symptoms, so it could have been around for a long time. There are also skeletons from Europe that pre-date Columbuss epic voyage and that show signs of syphilitic lesions. Its strong evidence and Armelagos admits to finding the idea of Columbus bringing the disease back laughable at first.

A syphilitic skull with the tell-tale indentations on the forehead (file picture) But then he began a closer inspection of the 54 published reports putting Columbus in the clear. He found that the skeletal material wasnt irrefutable proof, by any means. Writing in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, his team report: We did not find a single case of Old World treponemal disease that has both a certain diagnosis and a secure pre-Columbian date. We also demonstrate that many of the reports use non-specific indicators to diagnose treponemal disease, do not provide adequate information about the methods used to date specimens, and do not include high-quality photographs of the lesions of interest. In the cases where the skeletons definitely were afflicted with syphilis, the researchers noted that they came from coastal areas, which would make radio-carbon dating difficult. This is because its likely the victims ate seafood, which can contain carbon many thousands of years old from water wells. The team adds: Solid evidence supporting an Old World origin for the disease remains absent.