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ReCAPP: Topics In Brief: Sexually Transmitted Infections
These seemed to be evidence that syphilis originated in the Old World and that Columbus was not to blame. Armelagos and his colleagues took a closer look at all the data from these prior reports.
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They found most of the skeletal material didn't actually meet at least one of the standard diagnostic criteria for chronic syphilis, such as pitting on the skull, known as caries sicca , and pitting and swelling of the long bones. The 16 reports that did meet the criteria for syphilis came from coastal regions where seafood was a large part of the diet. This seafood contains "old carbon" from deep, upwelling ocean waters.
As such, they might fall prey to the so-called "marine reservoir effect" that can throw off radiocarbon dating of a skeleton by hundreds or even thousands of years. To adjust for this effect, the researchers figured out the amount of seafood these individuals ate when alive.
Since our bodies constantly break down and rebuild our bones, measurements of bone-collagen protein can provide a record of diet. Nowadays, a lot of diseases jump the species barrier due to environmental unrest.
The great thing about science is constantly being able to understand things in a new light. Live Science.
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Find out why we celebrate Columbus as the man who discovered the Americas. Shown above, a statue of Columbus in Lavagna, Genova, Italy.