Calvin Percival Bampfylde Wells (1908 – 1978) was an early pioneer of the study of palaeopathology. He was educated at Charterhouse and read Medicine at University College, London.  He was a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a fellow of the Royal Archaeological Institute, and studied anthropology under Grafton Elliot Smith. During WW2 Calvin served with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

After the war Calvin practiced medicine in Norfolk. During his career, spanning from 1955 until his death in 1978, he still managed to accumulate over 130 publications dealing with various aspects of palaeopathology (burials, cremations, mummies, non-human pathology, depictions of illness and surgical instruments in antiquity), as well as 50 skeletal reports for archaeologists.  Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester’s biography of Calvin in The Global History of Palaeopathology (2012, Oxford University Press) highlights the importance of Calvin’s bioarchaeological and contextual approach to disease in the past, which is particularly evident in his 1964 book Bones, Bodies and Disease.


In 1984 Calvin’s voluminous archive was donated by Calvin’s widow, Freddie, to the JB Priestley Library at the University of Bradford, where it is curated to the present day as part of the Special Collections. Some of the archive (skeletal reports and offprints of his publications amongst other materials) is also curated in the Biological Anthropology Research Centre, where it can be used for teaching and consulted by students and researchers.

Yesterday I visited the Special Collections at the JB Priestley Library to view some of Calvin’s meticulous notes he produced during his career to research a future cross-over blog post between Digitised Diseases and the 100 Objects from Special Collections at the University of Bradford blogs. Calvin’s archive is fascinating. It contains handwritten notes, correspondence, drafts of papers and unpublished reports. The Special Collections also curates Calvin’s extensive book collection:

“The book collection reflects Dr Wells’ interests throughout his career, and is therefore relevant to those studying anthropology, medicine and archaeology, as well as specialists in palaeopathology. The books include works on early humans, on ancient civilisations and on archaeological topics such as frost tombs. The medical texts, which date from the 17th century to the 1930s, cover a variety of diseases and conditions, with a particular emphasis on obstetrics, osteology and diseases of the ear, nose and throat.”

I was particularly excited by Grafton Elliot Smith and Warren Dawson’s 1924 publication on Egyptian Mummies, and the complete set of the Handbook of South American Indians edited Julian H. Steward, published by the Smithsonian between 1940 -1947.

Reference: Roberts, C. and Manchester, K. 2012. Calvin Percival Bampfylde Wells (1908-1978), in: Buikstra, J. and Roberts, C. The Global History of Palaeopathology: Pioneers and Prospects. Oxford: Oxford University Press: 141-145


Collection Level entry on University of Bradford library catalogue

Bones, Bodies and Disease: the Rare Medical Books of Dr Calvin Wells

Follow Special Collection on Twitter: @speccollbrad