SHARP Human Remains Team represented at Bones, Bodies and Disease Conference

The SHARP team continue to be busy working hard out of season.

In January, Dr Sophie Beckett (Cranfield Forensic Institute) gave a presentation at a conference held by the University of Bradford ‘Bones, Bodies and Disease - Conference and launch event for the Calvin Wells archive’.

Bradford University curate an archive of material that mainly relates to Calvin Wells' career as a palaeopathologist, which included writing over 300 skeletal reports, over 200 journal articles, 2 books, attending regular speaking engagements, and contributing to radio and television. Many of Wells' bone reports and palaeopathology articles were based on skeletal material excavated in East Anglia.

The SHARP talk was presented on behalf of the human remains team and was entitled ‘Ears through the ages – Inspired by Calvin Wells. A Bronze Age case of otitis media and mastoiditis?’

An article by Wells in 1962 refers to an example of ear infection in skeletal remains of a ‘male aged 35 + 5 from a Late Saxon burial ground at Sedgeford, Norfolk’.

The SHARP human remains team have been examining another skeleton, excavated by SHARP in 2009, that shows similar changes to one of the skull bones (temporal bone) and might also be evidence of ear infection. This skeleton has been radio-carbon dated and results indicate that this individual lived between approximately 2460 – 2200 BC, during the Bronze Age.

Computed Tomography (CT) scans of the Bronze Age skeleton have been carried out by Dr Sophie Beckett at Cranfield Forensic Institute. The SHARP human remains team will examine the CT data images, which can show the internal structure of bones, and try to determine if a diagnosis of ear infection is possible.

It is believed that the skeleton that Wells refers to in his 1962 article was excavated from the same middle Anglo-Saxon cemetery site from which SHARP investigated between 1996 and 2007 and excavated approximately 300 burials. The Bronze Age skeleton investigated by SHARP was discovered in the adjacent field to the cemetery site.

The current archive location of the Sedgeford Anglo-Saxon that Wells refers to is not known to SHARP. The human remains team hopes to explore the Calvin Wells Palaeopathology archive to see if it can provide any clues. If the individual’s remains can be located, it might be possible to carry out further CT scanning. It would be a unique opportunity to apply new techniques to compare these two people – distant in time but local in death.

You can explore the Calvin Wells Archive on Archives Hub here

Image 1 caption: Bronze Age crouched burial excavated by SHARP in 2009.

Image 2 caption: Skull bone fragment (temporal bone) from Bronze Age skeleton showing possible bone pathology relating to ear infection.

Image 3: Skull bone fragment (temporal bone) from Anglo-Saxon skeleton showing possible bone pathology relating to ear infection. Image from Wells’ 1962 article.

1) Wells, C., 1962, Three cases of Aural Pathology of Anglo-Saxon Date, Journal of Laryngology & Otology, 76(11), 931-933.