Christopher Columbus
Syphilis was prevalent in central Europe long before Christopher Columbus was born Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Italian voyager Christopher Columbus could not have brought syphilis to Europe as thought before, a new study reveals. Scientists have found evidence that the disease was widespread in central Europe much earlier than Columbus's visit.

Researchers at the Medical University of Vienna have found several cases of congenital syphilis in skeletal remains, dating to the 14th century, excavated from Cathedral Square in St Pölten, Austria. The finding was made on the basis of defects in the structure of the teeth of skeletons.

"Dental defects such as the mulberry molar and a tapered, fang-like canine suggest a diagnosis of congenital syphilis," the study authors Kanz and Großschmidt said in the report published in the Journal of Biological and Clinical Anthropology.

All the remains examined dated back to pre-Columbian time between AD1320 and 1390. The period corresponds to earlier than the birth of Columbus who is believed to have been born between AD1450 and 1451. The new study clearly refutes the hypothesis that syphilis was carried by Columbus's crew from the New to the Old World, according to the researchers.

"In 1495, a 'new' disease spread throughout Europe: syphilis. Christopher Columbus is said to have introduced the sexually transmitted disease from his trip to America," the researchers said. They claimed that their findings were the first of their kind about congenital syphilis, which passed down from mother to child.

"This is the first probable case of congenital syphilis from pre-Columbian central Europe. Our findings contribute to the pre-Columbian theory, offering counter evidence to the assumption that syphilis was carried from Columbus's crew from the New to the Old World."