Kristin N. Harper and Molly K. Zuckerman contributed equally to this work.
The origin and antiquity of syphilis revisited: An Appraisal of Old World pre-Columbian evidence for treponemal infection
Article first published online: 19 NOV 2011
Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Supplement: Yearbook of Physical Anthropology
Volume 146, Issue Supplement 53, pages 99–133, 2011
How to Cite
Harper, K. N., Zuckerman, M. K., Harper, M. L., Kingston, J. D. and Armelagos, G. J. (2011), The origin and antiquity of syphilis revisited: An Appraisal of Old World pre-Columbian evidence for treponemal infection. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol., 146: 99–133. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.21613
- Issue published online: 19 NOV 2011
- Article first published online: 19 NOV 2011
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars Program
- the Howard Hughes Medical Institute
- the National Science Foundation
- the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council
- the UK National Environment Research Council
- T. pallidum
For nearly 500 years, scholars have argued about the origin and antiquity of syphilis. Did Columbus bring the disease from the New World to the Old World? Or did syphilis exist in the Old World before 1493? Here, we evaluate all 54 published reports of pre-Columbian, Old World treponemal disease using a standardized, systematic approach. The certainty of diagnosis and dating of each case is considered, and novel information pertinent to the dating of these cases, including radiocarbon dates, is presented. Among the reports, 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 nonspecific 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. Thus, despite an increasing number of published reports of pre-Columbian treponemal infection, it appears that solid evidence supporting an Old World origin for the disease remains absent. Yrbk Phys Anthropol 54:99–133, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.