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University brings hidden medical archive to life


Researchers from the University of Bradford have started work on an exciting project to catalogue, digitise and promote the work of one of the UK's leading palaeopathologists.

The Calvin Wells Archive Collection, created by renowned palaeopathologist Calvin Wells (1908-1978), will be the focus of a brand new research project thanks to a grant of nearly £140,000 from the Wellcome Trust. It includes documents, images and films relating to the study of disease in the past, primarily from archaeological human skeletons.

The project which started in June and will run for 18 months, will undertake the cataloguing, digitisation and promotion of the Calvin Wells Archive Collection with the intention of creating a valuable resource for the study of palaeopathology and osteology.

Once catalogued and described, it is anticipated that Wells’ bone reports, associated research notes, and radiographic and photographic material will inform and motivate new and on-going scientific research.

The project is being led by Dr Jo Buckberry from the , School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences, and Alison Cullingford from , both based at the University of Bradford.

Dr Buckberry said: “Our multi-disciplinary team comprises of an archivist, palaeopathologist, osteologist, conservator, and librarian working together to unlock the research potential of the Calvin Wells Archive Collection. This will create an invaluable resource for the study of palaeopathology with the collection holding materials related to anthropology, archaeology, health studies, history, linguistics, and more.”

Alison Cullingford said: “This is a wonderful opportunity to realise the potential of a unique and hitherto inaccessible archive via cataloguing and digitisation. We are very grateful to the Wellcome for their generous support.”

In addition to making the catalogue accessible via the Archives Hub and digitising significant items, the team will be promoting the collection through museum workshops, specialist conferences and through social media.

Professor Charlotte Roberts, President of the British Association of Biological Anthropology & Osteoarchaeology said: “This archive will be invaluable for researchers interested in the history of the development of palaeopathology. Calvin Wells remains one of the most prolific publishers from the UK in this field today, who studied a diversity of subject matter from artistic representations of disease in the past to mummified remains. In many instances his publications were "firsts" and continue to be cited in our field today.”

Dr Tim Pestell FSA, Curator of Archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, said: “Dr Calvin Wells was a pioneer in the scientific study of archaeologically excavated human remains. This project will allow not only greater understanding of the material Wells put together in his life but make it more accessible to both scholars and the wider community. As a curator in the museum housing many collections first examined by Wells we are looking forward to working with the University of Bradford in making this resource fit for twenty-first century users.”

The project titled ‘Putting Flesh on the Bones’ received £137,517 from the Wellcome Trust. Delivering the project will be Project Archivist James Neill

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