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  • L’origine de la syphilis en Europe: Avant ou après 1493? / The Origin of Syphilis in Europe: Before or after 1493?
  • Jean Théodoridès
Olivier Dutour, György Pálfi, Jacques Berato, and Jean-Pierre Brun, eds. L’origine de la syphilis en Europe: Avant ou après 1493? / The Origin of Syphilis in Europe: Before or after 1493? Proceedings of an international colloquium, Toulon, France, 25–28 November 1993. Toulon: Centre Archéologique du Var; Paris: Editions Errance, 1994. 320 pp. Ill. FF 290.00 (paperbound).

This important work represents the proceedings of an international colloquium held in Toulon (Var, France) in 1993 on the controversial subject of the possible existence of syphilis in Europe before 1493. The occasion of this meeting was the discovery in 1989 near Hyères (Var, France) of a human skeleton of the third or fourth century a.d. presenting lesions similar to those of syphilis. The volume contains fifty papers in French and in English by eighty-six authors, grouped under seven headings: (1) Theories and Men; (2) Treponematoses Today— [End Page 711] Present Clues for Past Lues?; (3) Syphilis, Treponemes and Bone Diagnosis from Present to Past; (4–5) Syphilis in Europe and in the New World before 1493? (6) After 1493 in the Old World; and (7) Round Tables and Conclusions.

Part one (pp. 20–26) opens with a discussion of the ideas of Cecil J. Hackett, who recognized the existence of three different species of Treponema (pallidum, pertenue, and carateum), identical morphologically and serologically and responsible, respectively, for syphilis and bejel, yaws, and pinta. Ellis H. Hudson, on the contrary, believed in a single species of Treponema (T. pertenue) that originated in Africa and later reached Europe, Asia, and America, where it induced different syndromes, according to geographical, climatic, and human cultural conditions. His ideas were shared by Aidan Cockburn (1912–1981), whose contributions are recalled by Eve Cockburn.

Part two (pp. 28–56) contains six papers devoted to the modern cure of bone syphilis in adult and neonate humans, African treponematoses (bejel, yaws), and serological analyses in the Old and New Worlds. Part three (pp. 58–90) is composed of seven papers concerning the anatomical and histopathological diagnosis of osseous syphilis and bejel in modern pathology and paleopathology.

With parts four (pp. 92–156) and five (pp. 158–206) we really enter directly into the topic of this meeting, with eleven papers describing bone treponematoses in skeletons from pre-Columbian Europe (Italy, France, England, Poland), Africa (Egypt), and Asia. The most detailed account (pp. 120–46) deals with the Roman tomb of Costebelle (near Hyères) in which was found the skeleton of a pregnant woman: the foetus, studied by Jacques Berato, 0livier Dutour, and György Pálfi, shows osseous alterations resembling congenital syphilis. In the discussion, however, several intervenants objected that it could be another treponematosis. Concerning the possible occurrence of syphilis in the New World before 1493, seven papers (pp. 158–204) discuss data related to the United States (east and west), Mexico, Canada, and Peru. From these it is not evident that OTA (Osseous Treponematosis of the Americas) was really venereal. Paleopathological data obtained from the period after 1493 in the Old World are discussed in six short papers (pp. 206–37). A group of five papers labeled “historical data” contains an interesting one by André Froment suggesting (as E. H. Hudson did earlier) an African origin for the treponematoses, whereas another author (Louis J. André) suggests that the epidemic disease brought from America into Europe in 1493 might have been AIDS, a hypothesis redolent of science fiction.

The topics of the four round tables were as follows: (1) Ancient Bones, Syphilis and Treponema: Diagnostical Assumptions or Certainties? (2) Biology and Treponematosis from Today to Past: Present Diagnosis Methods; (3) Syphilis and AIDS: 1993 and 1493; and (4) 1493–1993: New Data, New Theories?

The conclusion drawn by the four editors stresses the fact that in spite of newly available data it is still impossible to be sure that the venereal disease introduced into Europe from America in 1493 was really syphilis. It is, moreover, well established that the latter was...

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