Syphilis in South America: A Closer Look at Pre-Contact Bolivia


The origin of syphilis, the apparently new venereal epidemic that swept Europe in the sixteenth century, is a longstanding question in the history of medicine. Treponemal diseases are among the most widespread infections found in humans, and may have affected hominines since the Pleistocene. Venereal syphilis, caused by Treponema pallidum ssp. pallidum, was especially dreaded because of its insidious contagion and its painful, disfiguring, and potentially lethal course. This article presents findings from an interdisciplinary study of the Loma Salvatierra archaeological site. The findings contribute to this discussion by further clarifying a likely origin and route of transmission of syphilis from the Old World to the New.