Work Placements at the Mary Rose - Part 1
Collections | 10 Jul, 2018 | Guest Blog
Gemma McDermott, an archaeology student from Leeds, talks about her experiences on a work placement at the Mary Rose

Being a student is a mixture of stress and excitement. At times, the stress out-weighs the excitement. When, in July 2017, I was faced with the job of finding a work placement for the third year of my BA Archaeology degree I immediately felt the stress. After applying to many Museums and archaeological groups only one got back to me, The Mary Rose Trust.

After talking via video chat to staff members, I made the big move down south from Leeds to Portsmouth. My first main job was sorting through 1000’s of boxes containing environmental samples which were brought up during excavation on the Mary Rose. So, after donning a pair of purple rubber gloves, I tackled over 100 boxes on my first day, which included opening each box, assessing its condition and logging its storage location on the computer. Fast forward 8 months and I have tackled over 4,000 samples and I am nearing the end of my work placement.

One of the main task I have been doing here is sorting out the Environmental Samples Store. My job includes logging each sample on the database and making the existing number on the sample container more visible for future researchers. During the eight months I have been working on this with my fellow university student, Jessica, we’ve logged around 4,334 samples! These samples include:

  • Environmental remains
  • Pitch and tar
  • Concretion
  • Soil samples (including sand and gravel)
  • Ballast
  • Textiles.
Red Deer Antler
Red Deer antler with tool marks

Discovering artefacts like this Red Deer antler made working in the Mary Rose environmental store so exciting. It is artefacts like this that are one of the reasons why the environmental store kept us on our toes - one minute we’re logging sediment samples and the next we discover an antler!

On further inspection, we discovered some work marks. Even after additional research, the reason for these marks is still open to interpretation.

The samples listed above account for most of the items present in the Environmental Samples Store but occasionally I come across some interesting finds. For example, one of the most exciting samples was two red deer antlers. These finds were fascinating to handle: to see the work marks on the ends of the antlers was an experience I will never forget. Being able to touch history and handle (with care) objects that were on the Mary Rose in 1545 is one of the, if not THE, best experience of my student career thus far. Whilst examining these fascinating objects, I had numerous opportunities to theorise why these objects were on board or even what these objects could have been used for. By talking about ideas with professionals you can start to build up stories of the people on board and get a real sense of how they would have lived, both on board and off the ship.

Obviously, working with environmental samples involves working with mud, sand and gravel. This is not a bad aspect, in fact it is quite the opposite. Coming from Leeds I didn’t get to visit the sea often so working with samples that come from the bottom of the Solent, where the Mary Rose lay for 437 years, has given me a real insight into the geology and stratigraphy (layers of deposit) of ocean floors. I have gained a real interest in maritime archaeology just by analysing these environmental samples.  

Not only have I had the absolute pleasure of sorting and arranging the environmental store I have also had the opportunity to work in the actual museum. Before I took on the role I had very little experience with children, but by helping in the activities I have found a new love. There was nothing more rewarding in this role than having a child become so interested in history that they come back with more questions. Many of these children would walk into the activity being incredibly shy, but by the time they left they could talk your ear off about how amazing the Mary Rose is!

Of course, this wasn’t the only experience with the public I had working at the Mary Rose… 

Find out more in Part Two, coming this Thursday!