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New Project Protects Bone Collection For Future Generations

The University of Bradford has secured almost £750K to safeguard skeletons from world-renowned collections based in Bradford and London.

Bone collections are vital to Archaeological research

The project, funded by the ‘Joint Information Systems Committee’ (JISC), will use 3D laser scanning, CT scans and high resolution photography together with new clinical descriptions and historical illustrations to create a web-accessible archive of photo-realistic digital 3D models of pathological type-specimens.  The skeleton collections used in the project will be from internationally renowned collections that have restricted access and are therefore usually only seen by students and researchers.

The project will create a unique educational tool that will appeal to various disciplines including clinicians, medical trainees, medical historians, archaeologists, osteologists and palaeopathologists, as well as enriching the public understanding of anatomy and medical science.

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Project leader Dr Andrew Wilson, lecturer in Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, said: “The project will also play a crucial role in conserving a resource that is otherwise under threat from damage. Pathological specimens are often the most handled bones within skeletal collections and yet they are also the most fragile.

“Archaeological and historical skeletal collections are important because they offer the opportunity to observe pathologies in an era before effective therapy. The University of Bradford, Museum of London Archaeology and Royal College of Surgeons of England house internationally important skeletal collections and will each be providing pathological type-specimens for the project.”

Dr Andrew Wilson

Paola Marchionni, programme manager at JISC, said: “Digitised Diseases builds on the successful JISC-funded pilot digitization From Cemetery to Clinic, where the University of Bradford experimented with 3D digitisation of bones affected by leprosy. The team has now taken this approach further by setting up new partnerships, broadening the scope of the collections to include other chronic diseases and experimenting with innovative ways of delivering the models online.

“This project promises to have a wide-ranging impact by opening up access to material that has been so far the preserve of bona fide researchers.  The opportunity for pathologists to look back in time at archaeological remains in order to make assertions about future illness will, we hope, prove invaluable.”

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The project is a collaboration between Archaeological Sciences and the Centre for Visual Computing at the University of Bradford and project partners Museum of London Archaeology and the Royal College of Surgeons of England.  The project began in November and will be completed in July 2013.
The funding follows on from the successful JISC-funded pilot project entitled “From Cemetery to Clinic” which saw the rapid digitisation of bone lesions caused by leprosy (Hansen’s Disease) from individuals excavated from the Medieval leprosarium of St James & St Mary Magdalene in Chichester in conjunction with Chichester District Museum.

You can follow the project on Twitter: @digidiseases, or keep up-to-date via the project blog. You can also see examples from the pilot project, including this video!
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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
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