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Teeth of Columbus' crew flesh out tale of new world discovery
Date:3/19/2009

e someone lived as a child.

Three of the individuals whose teeth were subjected to isotopic analysis by the Wisconsin group were males under the age of 40 and who had carbon isotope profiles far different from the rest, suggesting an Old World origin. "I would bet money this person was an African," Price says of one of the three individuals whose teeth were subjected to analysis.

It was known that Columbus had a personal African slave on his voyages of discovery. The new analysis could mean that Africans played a much larger role in the first documented explorations of America.

The strontium isotope analysis, Price notes, is not yet complete, as samples from the teeth of the presumed sailors remain to be matched with strontium profiles of Spanish soils. However, such matches could open an intriguing window to the personal identities of individuals buried in La Isabela.

"All of these sailors their place of birth, their age were recorded in Seville before they left on the second voyage," Price explains. "One of the things we're hoping to do with the strontium is identify individuals."

The skeletons also exhibit evidence of scurvy, a common affliction of 15th century sailors who lacked vitamin C on their long voyages, as well as signs of malnutrition and physical stress. Chronicles of the voyage noted that most of the Europeans, including Columbus himself, fell sick shortly after landfall on Hispaniola, and many subsequently died, perhaps becoming the first to be buried in the La Isabela church graveyard.


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Contact: T. Douglas Price
tdprice@wisc.edu
608-262-2866
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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