An Early 20th Century Man with Advanced Tertiary Syphilis

Paleopathology Association's 36th Annual Metting, Chicago, 2009
Alexis Dunlop, M.Sc., Crystal Forrest, PhD, Dr. Ronald F. Williamson, Dr. Susan Pfeiffer, Dr. Olivier Dutour

This poster presents a case study of a man with advanced tertiary syphilis who was judicially hanged in the early Teaser image of conference poster.
20th century and was encountered during a 2008 archaeological assessment by ASI at the Old Don Jail in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Old Don Jail was in operation from 1862 until 1977. This individual was one of 15 men who were hanged and buried in the East Exercise Yard. The skeleton of Burial 8 exhibits classic manifestations of venereal syphilis, including frontal and parietal lesions, tibial involvement, and facial disfigurement. These features marked this individual as distinct within the skeletal assemblage. Through comparison of the osteological and archaeological data with newspaper accounts of the men executed at the jail, it was possible to positively identify the individual as a 43 year old machinist executed in 1922. The accounts of the man’s life and medical condition are a positive match to the skeletal remains.The advanced nature of the syphilis suggests little to no medical intervention, which would have severely affected the man’s quality of life. Newspaper accounts describe him as ailing from a condition that was quite severe and would have killed him if he hadn’t been hanged. While the remains have been reinterred, further work is being done on this case. Soil samples from the area adjacent to the skeletal remains and samples of the bones themselves were taken to test for levels of mercury and arsenic, which were used to treat syphilis before the widespread use of penicillin. Samples were taken for DNA sequencing and the remains were subject to a CT scan and radiography.

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