The Mary Rose is a maritime archaeologist’s dream – a Tudor time capsule containing not only the structure of the naval warship itself, but more than 26,000 artefacts, providing invaluable historic insight. Raised in 1982 – 11 years after its discovery in the Solent – restoring and conserving the wreck and its many treasures required not only countless hours of work, but many ingenious scientific solutions.
1. Pond snails helped preserve the timbers
To prevent the growth of fungi and microbes on the wooden frame, the Mary Rose restoration team used common pond snails, which ate the wood-degrading organisms but left the wood untouched – as well as employing more commonly known methods, such as low-temperature storage and chemical preservation.
2. Its water was replaced with polyethylene glycol
A technician services the spraying system. Image: The Mary Rose Trust
To prevent the wood from warping, cracking and shrinking by up to 50% as the water evaporated, it was sprayed regularly with filtered, recycled water. In 1994, the conservation team began to gradually replace the water in the cellular structure of the wood with polyethylene glycol (PEG). A low-molecular-weight PEG was used for the first nine years, before seven years of spraying with a higher weight PEG to strengthen the outer layer. The remains were then carefully air dried – a process that was completed in 2016.
3. Crew members brought to life with virtual 3D reconstructions
3D virtual models of the crew and artefacts have provided a deeper look at Tudor history. Image: Pixabay
Mary Rose researchers used 3D technology to create virtual representations of crew members, clothing, and tools, to encourage scientists worldwide to participate in the project. Models have provided the opportunity to investigate the lifestyles led by the Tudors.
4. Intact cannons were found
Bronze and iron cannons found on the Mary Rose were preserved using different methods. Pictured are a bronze (front) and iron (back) cannon. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Gunpowder and heavy artillery became increasingly used in infantry and on ships around the time that the Mary Rose was built, so many of the cannons and guns found on board the ship were made from metals such as iron and bronze. These metals are difficult to preserve after submersion in fresh water. Bronze cannons were lightly bathed in a sodium sesquicarbonate solution, and iron preserved using hydrogen reduction, to prevent oxidation, which can lead to the corrosion of these artefacts.
Divers who have discovered around 60 shipwrecks in the Black Sea face a similar problem – perfectly preserved from the unusual anoxic conditions of the water – leading them to decide to study objects using 3D printing instead of bringing the ships ashore.
5. Part of the Mary Rose has been to space
The space shuttle Endeavour orbits the Earth. Image: Public Domain Pictures
For the shuttle Endeavour’s final trip to space in 2011, astronauts elected to take with them a parrel ball – used in sailing rigs – from the Mary Rose, as part of a long tradition of travelling in space with commemorative items. The shuttle took off from Kennedy Space Centre for the International Space Station on 16 May 2011. The artefact spent a total of 17 days in space, after an extended period of decontamination in preparation to make it suitable for space travel.
Interested in the Mary Rose? Why not register to attend Mary Rose - From Seabed to Showcase, the Making of a British Icon – our free Public Evening lecture with Helen Bonser-Wilton, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust, in London on 25 November.