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The major aim of this project is the digitisation of pathological type specimens. A type specimen is a particular example that is the classic manifestation of a particular condition. A good example is Pott’s disease of the spine for Tuberculosis.

As we can’t scan everything in the collections (the BARC alone has over 4000 individuals), we have to choose the best possible examples for scanning.

We start the specimen selection process by pulling together the various teaching lists that are used to plan labs for our own MSc students on the Human Osteology and Palaeopathology course as well as the Palaopathology Short Courses.

These lists are all slightly different and have evolved over the years, but cover the range of pathological conditions in the collections.


Four different teaching lists, photo log, skull ring, highlighters and and iPad

I use these lists to find examples of pathologies in the collection and photograph the lesions. This means finding all the examples on the list.

We have Drawer Specimens, which are kept in the lab and are used extensively for teaching. These specimens are usually single or associated elements rather than the remains of an entire individual. The Drawer Specimens are sorted by pathology type (i.e trauma, infectious disease, metabolic disease).

The majority of skeletal material in the BARC is curated in a climate controlled store.  There are over 4000 individuals curated by the BARC. Each individual is stored in a box labelled with the site and skeleton number. The store is arranged by site – so everything from a particular site is stored together. The skeletons are sorted by skeleton number, which makes it easy to find a specific individual. You can find out more about the BARC Human Remains Policy, including curation and access here.

BARC Store

BARC Store at Bradford

So after I photograph the lesions I collate a document. This goes to Dr. Jo Buckberry and Dr. Keith Manchester who make the decisions on what will be scanned. We have a category system – from A to C – A being an excellent type specimen that must be scanned to category C – a specimen that may have an ambiguous diagnosis or extensive taphonomic damage not suited to scanning.

I photographed all the examples of Treponemal disease and non-specific infection in the collection last week. I took 439 photographs in total. Below is Blackfriars 77. This is an example of Treponemal disease (syphilis) in a young adult female.

Blackfriars 77, a young adult female showing caries sicca on the frontal bone

If this individual looks familiar you may have seen heron the cover of Donald Ortner’s Identification of Pathological Conditions in Human Skeletal Remains.

Dr. Rebecca Storm and Dr. Keith Manchester then take the specimens in category A and write clinical descriptors and lay descriptions. These descriptions will accompany the finished scan on the Digitised Diseases website.