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Archaeology and the Mary Rose

The wreck of the Mary Rose isn’t just helping us understand Tudor times; it has also furthered knowledge that is helping with other historic wreck sites around the world.

Furthering expertise

Staff involved in the archaeological work at the Mary Rose are helping to build skills and knowledge around the world. A number of staff now sit on government committees, teach or work in the media, providing information and direct help to many other historic wreck sites across the UK and around the world.

The wealth of objects found on the Mary Rose also helps to date similar objects found on other sites, either by sight or by detailed chemical, biochemical and molecular analysis.

The work at the Mary Rose site has also been instrumental in developing ‘experimental archaeology’, whereby experts try and recreate activities such as manufacturing or cooking from the past. Examples include shipwrightry, cooking, gun manufacture and the production of shot. Historians have also recreated the manufacture of a wide range of domestic and personal possessions, which has enabled them to understand the working methods of artisans in Tudor times.

Underwater archaeology

From the outset the divers and archaeologists on the Mary Rose strove to achieve the best archaeological practice available. They sought out the very latest techniques, approaching the leading institutions and companies for advice, expertise and equipment. The standards used at the site have been second to none.

The Mary Rose wreck site was one of the first underwater sites in England to be archaeologically excavated by a team of professionals. It was probably the only site to have been excavated by open area excavation rather than by discreet trenches. It was also the first underwater project in England to have a full-time team on shore to record and analyse all the finds.

Specialists from around the world

Specialists worked with the archaeological team right from the beginning. From structural engineers to osteologists (bone experts), from mechanical engineers to explosive specialists, the work pulled together a diverse set of skills to ensure success.

The team invited specialists from around the world to take part in the excavation, benefiting from their expertise and knowledge. The project necessitated a wide variety of skills, from photography to record the hull and its objects, to surveying and draughtsmanship. We either employed people who had these skills, or trained people in the team to become adept.

Changing archaeology for the future

The project was extremely important in helping further scientific understanding of how marine sites degrade over time, and how to preserve objects and structure during excavation. The site pioneered the use of terram, a protective material to cover and preserve the wreck site for future generations.

The project has achieved a number of ‘firsts’ in the world of archaeology:

  • First site in England to be found by sub-bottom profiling
  • First site in England to be positioned using underwater acoustics linked GPS

It also led to the creation of the Protection of Wrecks Act, and contributed to the HSE Diving Regulations (1981).