The Myth of Syphilis:
The Natural History of Treponematosis in North America

Edited by Mary Lucas Powell and Della Collins Cook

Foreword by Jerald T. Milanich, Series Editor
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"An outstanding glimpse into treponematosis in prehistoric life. . . . Successfully synthesizes the efforts and research of many professionals (past and present) who have explored the presence of treponemal infection in North American populations."--Anne L. Grauer, Loyola University, Chicago

"A one-of-a-kind compilation of research data and interpretations on treponematosis in North America."--Elizabeth Miller, California State University, Los Angeles

Exploring the long-standing question of the origins of syphilis, this book proposes a new understanding of the dynamic interactions of disease and culture in the New World. It brings together a complete picture of the diverse pathological evidence of a bacterial disease--treponematosis--manifest in the North American archaeological record at the time of Christopher Columbus's first journey, and it presents a strong argument against the earlier identification of modern venereal syphilis with indigenous North American treponemal disease.

For almost 500 years, native North Americans have been blamed for "giving the world syphilis" and by implication accused of sexual immorality. Contributors to this volume identify and investigate the origins and various manifestations of all ranges of treponemal diseases across the continent and show that the true picture of disease evolution is both different and far more interesting than past scholarship suggests. They summarize current archaeological and historical information from a variety of regions and times, both before and after 1492, and consider closely the specific question of whether evidence exists for the presence of the venereal form of treponemal disease that would be equivalent to the venereal syphilis that ravaged 16th-century Europe. Their investigation challenges the unequivocal identification of all pre-Columbian treponemal disease as venereal syphilis and shows that endemic treponemal disease was present at varying levels throughout North America for at least two millennia before the late 15th-century trans-Atlantic voyages of discovery.

Mary Lucas Powell is former director of the W. S. Webb Museum of Anthropology, University of Kentucky, and current editor of publications for the Paleopathology Association. Della Collins Cook is professor of anthropology at Indiana University.

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…a welcome addition to a recent and notable trend in the bioarchaeological literature of intensive and extensive exploration of a single disease… The great value of this volume is in the approach taken by Powell and Cook in designing explicit reporting guidelines for their authors to follow to ensure that results from each geographic region will be comparable. Southeastern Archaeology

"Challenges the unequivocal identification of all pre-Columbian treponemal disease as venereal syphilis and shows that endemic treponemal disease was present at varying levels throughout North America for at least two millenia before the late fifteenth century trans-Atlantic voyages of discovery. Indian Artifact Magazine

"A really fine text on the natural history of Treponematosis in North America." Journal of the American Association of Forensic Dentists

"I was really impressed with this book. All university libraries should purchase it, and we should all use it in our student teaching. Powell and Cook have certainly moved forward our understanding of treponemal disease evolution, and also raised the standard as to how an edited conference volume can thoroughly and comprehensively analyse an anthropological topic." --Piers D. Mitchell, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, UK International Journal of Osteoarchaeology

"A magnificent paleopathological perspective on treponemal research." "A valuable resource for archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, and an attractive resource for readers coming from other social sciences or biomedical fields and interested in unraveling the mysteries of microorganisms that have ravaged humankind for millenia." HOMO--Journal of Comparative Human Biology

"This volume is the new benchmark for research on precolumbian syphilis and a must read for any scholar interested in the subject." Journal of Anthropological Research

…a welcome addition to a recent and notable trend in the bioarchaeological literature of intensive and extensive exploration of a single disease… Southeastern Archaeology

…challenges the unequivocal identification of all pre-Columbian treponemal disease as venereal syphilis and shows that endemic treponemal disease was present at varying levels throughout North America for at least two millenia before the late 15th-Century trans-Atlantic voyages of discovery. Mankind Quarterly

…an excellent example of research and scholarship in the field of anthropology. American Indian Culture and Research Journal

" A valuable resource for archeologists, anthropologists and historican, and an attractive resource for readers coming from other social sciences of biomedical fields and interested in unraveling the mysteries of microorganisms that have ravaged humankind for millennia." HOMO - Journal of Comparative Human Biology

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