Capability for Human Bioarchaeology and Digital Collections

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Life Sciences


The University of Bradford has an immense digital heritage collection, generated from its world-leading collection of human skeletal remains, 3D replication of heritage sites and museum collections, and large-scale marine surveys of lost landscapes. However over time the analysis of and access to this collection has become limited by the technical infrastructure. By upgrading this infrastructure it will be possible to integrate our digital collections and share them online with researchers and the public, allowing much greater use of this data for research and education. Upgrading will involve two main components, upgrading the data sharing technology and upgrading the data capture technology.

The University led on use of digitised data online through its Digitised Diseases project, where researchers accessed images of bone modifications that resulted from a range of diseases. This catalysed our digital heritage capabilities that are today highly regarded in multi-disciplinary research. Almost a decade later, technology has moved on and to ensure researchers continue to have useful and quality access to our collections, investment in refreshed digital infrastructure is of critical importance. By upgrading our IT capacity we will be able to share a majority or our collections with researchers and educators through a stable and secure online platform.

The starting point for Digitised Diseases was the sharing of data on human skeletal remains by the Biological Anthropology Research Centre (BARC). BARC, a focal point for international research, specialises in the analysis of modern and ancient human skeletal remains. These are a fragile resource that can be accidentally damaged through handling and sometimes need to be destroyed as part of complex analysis procedures. As a result the management of such a collection involves the careful evaluation of conservation and research requirements and needs access to facilities of the highest standard to maximise benefit while minimising handling.

When capturing digital data from human remains it is very important to ensure two things are considered. 1) Resolution - Digital copies need to capture the finest details possible so that they can be analysed instead of the original sample 2) The techniques used are appropriate and optimal - so that the limited and fragile resource is not wasted. This project therefore aims to upgrade our biochemical analysis facilities along with microscale 3D documentation methods. By upgrading our x-ray capabilities to a dedicated CT and micro-CT facility we will be able to capture much more information with minimal handling of specimens, improving our world-class capability as a leading hub for imaging in human bioarchaeology research.

Bradford has pioneered prospection for wide-ranging heritage needs encompassing UNESCO World Heritage Sites; complex historic environments - covering dense urban settings; diverse rural landscapes environments; trans-national scale marine surveys interacting with commercial and national heritage agencies. We work with past heritage landscapes, the historic environment and the contemporary environment today. We have immense collections that need to be supported by rapidly changing technology that is fuelled by the questions from the research community.

Integrating data sharing and digital capture facilities is the core goal. By increasing the data available from the human remains collection and combining it with environmental and site data in our collections a rich digital discoverable and searchable research environment will be created. This specifically allows capacity to place our biological collections within real-world or reconstructed digital environments, providing a rich virtual environment for researchers and educators.


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