Predating columbus

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To establish criteria for distinguishing among the three diseases based on skeletal changes the Rothschilds analyzed a North American collection of skeletons for syphilis cases (diagnosed at autopsy), a collection from Guam predating 1668 for yaws (the only treponemal disease on the island before then), and early historic Near Eastern Bedouin for bejel (bejel is endemic to the region).

They were able to identify characteristic bone changes for each disease, for example, modifications to the shin and tibia particular to syphilis, or routine involvement of hand or foot in yaws but not syphilis or bejel.

THE brave seamen whose great voyages of exploration opened up the world are iconic figures in European history.

Columbus found the New World in 1492; Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488; and Magellan set off to circumnavigate the world in 1519.

Mr Liu says he knew it was significant, but thought it might be a modern fake.

Debate about the origins of syphilis has continued for nearly 500 years, ever since early sixteenth-century Europeans blamed each other, referring to it variously as the Venetian, Naples, or French disease.

One hypothesis assumes a New World origin, and holds that sailors who accompanied Columbus and other explorers brought the disease back to Europe. A third possibility is that syphilis developed in both hemispheres from the related diseases bejel and yaws.

Another explanation is that syphilis was always present in the Old World but was not identified as a separate disease from leprosy before about A. New studies by paleopathologists Bruce and Christine Rothschild favor a New World origin.

Ancient and medieval sources have long been cited as evidence for syphilis in Europe before Columbus, but none of the descriptions by Greek and Roman authors are specific enough to be certain. references to "venereal leprosy" may also indicate syphilis because leprosy is not sexually transmitted.

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