The Life of Christopher Columbus, From His Own Letters and Journals (Illustrated)

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Severe scurvy struck Columbus's crew during his second voyage and after its end, forensic archaeologists suggest, likely leading to the collapse of the first European town established in the New World.

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Two years later on his second voyage, he and 1, colonists founded La Isabela , located in the modern-day Dominican Republic. The first permanent European town in the Western Hemisphere, La Isabela was abandoned within four years amid sickness and deprivation. See " Columbus's Cursed Colony.


Historians have long blamed diseases such as smallpox, influenza, and malaria for the town's demise. But a study of graveyard remains from the town site, reported online in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology , suggests that an ancient seafarer's scourge—scurvy, a severe vitamin C deficiency—plagued Columbus's first colony and worsened the illnesses behind their town's collapse.

Since the s, archaeologists have been unearthing the bones of La Isabela's inhabitants from graves behind the abandoned village's small churchyard, and storing them at the Museo del Hombre Dominicano in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

8.1—Exploration & Interconnection

The skeletons are of sailors and colonists from La Isabela who were buried in the Catholic tradition, laid on their backs with their arms crossed. We had to clean the bones to proceed," Tiesler says. One of Tiesler's co-authors, her husband and colleague Andrea Cucina, is a National Geographic Society grantee, on a separate but related project. Tuberculosis, syphilis, and other diseases that historians believe struck La Isabela would leave their mark on skeletal remains. Tiesler and colleagues examined 27 of the skeletons, all but one belonging to men.

At least 20 bore signs—striations carved in the outer lining of bones—of what the study called "severe scurvy. The study "shows convincingly that the crew members of Columbus who were buried at La Isabela had suffered, but also had healed, from scurvy before they died," says scurvy expert George J.

Scurvy remained the scourge of seafarers until the 18th century. In the second voyage, a magnificent fleet, equip-ped with all that the royal service could command,crowded with eager adventurers who are excitedby expectations of romance and of success, goeson the very same adventure.

In the first voyage, Columbus has but justturned the corner after the struggles and failuresof eight years. From an old print. In the second case,Columbus is the governor-general, for aught heknows, of half the world, of all the countries he isto discover; and he knows enough, and all menaround him know enough, to see that his domainmay be a principality indeed.

Marco Polo

Success brings with it its disadvantages. Theworld has learned since, if it did not know it then,that one hundred and fifty sailors, used to thehard work and deprivations of a seafaring life,would be a much more efficient force for purposesof discovery, than a thousand and more courtierswho have left the presence of the king and queenin the hope of personal advancement or of roman-tic adventure.

The life story of Christopher Columbus

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