This paper reports a new case of treponemal disease in a pre-Columbian hunter-gatherer inhabiting the desert coast of South America.
A well-preserved adult male skeleton from the “Vertedero Municipal” archaeological cemetery, located near the city of Antofagasta (Northern Chile).
The skeleton was radiocarbon dated, and isotopic analyses were performed to assess diet and mobility. Lytic and proliferative lesions identified were evaluated macroscopically and radiologically.
A radiocarbon date of 1830 ± 20 BP and isotopic values indicating a marine diet and coastal residence were obtained. The cranium shows reactive changes as focal superficial cavitation, radial scarring and nodular cavitation, while the ribs, sternum, clavicles, and scapulae exhibit multiple lytic and proliferative lesions. The right femur has a node while both tibiae show mild anterior cortical thickening with a narrowed medullary cavity.
Cranial lesions are pathognomonic for treponemal disease while postcranial changes are typical, and highly consistent with this pathology.
The type, morphology, and pattern of lesions make this case a good candidate for venereal syphilis. The case is relevant to the origin of venereal syphilis due to the lifestyle, temporal and ecological context of the individual.
Diagnosis of venereal syphilis is based on skeletal lesions; thus, it must be confirmed by molecular analysis.
A comprehensive review of cases of pre-Columbian treponemal disease in South America as well as molecular studies are needed to confirm the presence of venereal syphilis in the New World before European contact.

Copyright © 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.