Skeletal evidence of two probable cases of treponematosis, caused by infection with the bacterium Treponema pallidum, from the northern Vietnamese early Neolithic site of Man Bac (1906–1523 cal B.C.) is described. The presence of nodes of subperiosteal new bone directly associated with superficial focal cavitations in a young adult male and a seven-year- old child are strongly diagnostic for treponemal disease. Climatic and epidemiological contexts suggest yaws (Treponema pallidum pertenue) as the most likely causative treponeme. This evidence is the oldest discovered in the Asia-Pacific region and is the first well-established pre-Columbian example in this region in terms of diagnosis and secure dating. The coastal ecology, sedentary settlement, and high fertility at the site of Man Bac all provided a biosocial context conducive to the spread of treponemal disease among inhabitants of the site. Co-morbidity with scurvy in both individuals demonstrates that malnutrition during the agricultural transition may have exacerbated the expression of treponematosis in this community.
- agricultural transition
- Southeast Asia