History is about to be rewritten and the Europeans that first “discovered” America are off the hook for bringing disease to the New World.
Well, tuberculosis at least.
A study published in Nature found that seals are actually to blame for bringing TB to the Americas and that the disease probably beat Europeans arrival on the scene by several hundred years.
The study began with the finding of three ancient Peruvian skeletons that contain DNA from strains of TB. Since the skeletons predate the Europeans’ arrival by about 500 years, scientists had to find where the disease came from.
Prof. Krause told BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science program that he and his team even joked about how the disease got to Peru. “We were joking: ‘Was it flying? Was it swimming?'” Krause said. “But then we saw it was indeed swimming. It was disseminated by seals.”
Krause and his team found that the TB strain found in the skeletons is the same that is found in seals and sea lions today. This finding led scientists to theorize that seal meat was the contributing factor in spreading TB. Krause explained, “There is evidence of seal exploitation on the coast of Peru. Seals have been a very important economic factor. They were hunted, their hides were used, their meat was used, the oil was used. They were really quite an important animal there.”
This trade in all things seal spread the disease up and down the Americas.
Yes, European settlers did bring new strains of TB to the New World but it was seals that brought it here first.
Makes you not want to eat seal ever again, doesn’t it?
What? You can’t eat seal?
Huh. Guess I now know why.