Christopher Columbus find could rewrite European history

Christopher Columbus find could rewrite European history

Christopher Columbus find could rewrite European history

Four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean were completed by the Italian, opening the way for European exploration and colonisation of the Americas. His expeditions were the first European contact with the Caribbean, Central and South America, funded by the Catholic monarchs of Spain.

But the navigator has also been long blamed for bringing the syphilis of sexually transmitted diseases from the Americas to Europe by his crewmembers. However, recent research, published in the journal ‘Current Biology,’ indicates this could be unreasonable.

Columbus completed four voyages

The traces of the bacteria which causes syphilis have been discovered by scientists in 9 skeletons by archaeologists found in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands before Columbus’ explorations.

Study author Verena Schunemann, from the University of Zurich, said: “It seems that the first known syphilis breakout cannot be solely attributed to Columbus’ voyages to America.”

Four of the nine samples carried traces of syphilis, according to the study. 

Using a technique called molecular clock dating, the team was able to determine how old the bacterial genes were. 

A map of the navigator’s routes

They coupled this information with the skeletons’ and coffins’ ages to create a timeline.

The disease, which is now easily curable, took hold in Europe during the late 15th century and killed millions over the following two centuries. 

But the researchers found evidence of related bacterial strains in the historical remains – including a disease called yaws, which still exists today in tropical and subtropical regions. 

Remarkably, they identified another previously unknown pathogen as well.

Columbus has long been blamed for bringing syphilis into Europe

By analysing the bacteria’s genetic code, researchers determined that the predecessor of all modern syphilis likely evolved between the 12th and 16th centuries.

But the newly discovered diversity among the family of bacteria that causes syphilis may indicate that the disease originated or developed in Europe.

This breakthrough could potentially spoil the long-held theory that Columbus and his sailors triggered the outbreak between 1492 and 1507.

But the bones date back to a wide time scale, making some experts hesitant to declare Columbus innocent just yet.

Evolutionary epidemiologist Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney, who was not involved in the study, told Science: “It’s really interesting and really important that they’ve got these syphilis strains at around that time. 

“What I’m less sure about is the exact time scale of the samples.”

Not everyone is convinced Columbus is innocent yet

Although syphilis is treatable when detected early, it is still a rapidly spreading disease.  

The most recent World Health Organisation data estimated that there were six million new cases of syphilis worldwide in 2016.

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