See how syphilis ravaged a woman’s face 500 years ago, in an artistic interpretation

During the 16th century, a young woman lived with a face covered with sores that hinted that she likely had tertiary syphilis, a late-stage infection that can often lead to death. Her case of the sexually transmitted infection was so severe that centuries later, her skull remains riddled with bone lesions. Now, researchers have created a facial approximation of the woman as part of a new study (opens in new tab).

While not much is known about the woman’s identity, she lived to be between 25 and 30 years old and her body was excavated from a cemetery at the Skriðuklaustur monastery in Iceland about a decade ago. In addition to having syphilis, her skeleton revealed that she had osteoarthritis and dental enamel hypoplasia, a tooth defect caused by malnutrition in childhood, according to an analysis of a 3D model (opens in new tab) of the skull provided by the Northern Heritage Network, an online archive of historical skeletons.

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