Tag Archives: Palaeopathology

So, what is a palaeopathologist?

We’ve been asked this question several times over the last week or so.  Why?  The University of Bradford has been in the news with an archives project that is fascinating journalists, academics, and members of the public.  The project, ‘Putting Flesh on the Bones‘, is a Wellcome-funded joint endeavour between Special Collections the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford.

male and female brow images m7

We are investigating the life and work of, yes, a palaeopathologist,   Dr Calvin Wells.  A palaeopathologist is a scientist who studies ancient pathologies (injuries, disease).  Dr Wells was a pioneer in this discipline, reporting on skeletal finds from many archaeological sites.  The people whose remains he studied led often difficult, violent and painful lives – all shown in the growth of and damage to the bones.

Coverage so far includes:

There will be much more to discover as we delve deeper into this rich archive.  Keep in touch with project developments via the project blog.

Our Archaeological Sciences colleagues are expert palaeopathologists, using old and new techniques to unlock the secrets of the bones.  Which brings me to the pleasant task of welcoming a new colleague, our Project Osteologist, Michelle Williams-Ward.  Michelle is working on burials in medieval Norfolk for her PhD student at the University. Her project role involves making sense of the many images of bones in the archive.  This requires considerable expertise.  Michelle’s insights have already proved most helpful!


Collection of the Month October 2008:”Bones, bodies and disease”

Calvin Wells (1908-1978) is often referred to as the father of palaeopathology: he used his medical training to shed light on the diseases and physical problems found in skeletal remains. Special Collections holds his archive and his library of over 800 books. The title of his well-known work, “Bones, bodies and disease”, sums up many of the books e.g. 17th and 18th century medical texts, particularly on gynaecology and obstetrics, by authors such as Thomas Sydenham, Francois Mauriceau and William Smellie.

This illustration depicts “Emblems of Immortality”, caterpillar to butterfly and acorn to oak, from “Philosophy of medicine” by Robert Thornton, published 1799-1800.

Emblems of Immortality

Emblems of Immortality

The collection also includes modern works on archaeology and anthropology, practical medical and nursing works, and books on exotic travels. A few recurring themes: ear, nose and throat medicine, the archaeology of Norfolk, where the Wellses lived in later life, ancient tribes such as the Aztecs, and medical biography, whether of doctors or of famous individuals. All these books appear on the Library Catalogue, and can be easily found using keyword search and limiting by Special Collections.

Web page for the Calvin Wells Archive and Book collection