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Europe didn't catch the pox from Christopher Columbus – scientists
Syphilis was around before his New World jaunt, Austrian skeleton suggests
The skeleton of a six-year-old infant unearthed in Austria is challenging the theory that syphilis was imported into Europe from the New World by the ship's crew of Christopher Columbus.
The well-preserved remains (above) were found in a cemetery in St. Pölten, some 65km west of Vienna, by a team from the city's Medical University.
Several of the child's teeth display "lesions suggestive of or consistent with congenital syphilis", according to the research published in Anthropologischer Anzeiger.
These include "mulberry molar" and "Hutchinson's teeth". The former is a molar with "alternating nonanatomic depressions and rounded enamel nodules on its crown surface". The latter is where "permanent incisors have a screwdriver-like shape, sometimes associated with notching of the incisal edges".
Critically, carbon dating aged the skeleton to sometime between 1390 and 1440 AD, with a "mean" of 1415 AD. Since Columbus didn't sail off to the New World until 1492, "syphilis was probably not introduced to Europe by Columbus’ returning crew", the researchers conclude.
The first recorded outbreak of the disease in Europe was in Naples in 1494 or 1495. If the Treponema pallidum bacteria had already been present in the Old World for many years, then this event may ultimately have been attributed to Columbus's men simply because of a co-incidence of date (they returned from their first voyage in 1493). ®