Diving into the Mary Rose logs | The Mary Rose
Diving into the Mary Rose logs
Collections | 13 Feb, 2024 | The Collections Team
Digitising the archaeological archive

After completing the scanning of the catalogued images from the Mary Rose Archaeological Archive at the start of 2023, our incredible team of Collections Volunteers have just completed scanning the dive logs.  These paper-based records were filled out once a diver surfaced after their underwater excavation and work on the site.  Scanning this part of the archive is a significant leap forward for the project to digitise the archive to safeguard it for the future and make it more accessible. We thought this milestone would be a great opportunity to reflect on some of the items that have been scanned and why this unique collection of records is so significant.

The dive logs form the core of the Archaeological Archive – recording the excavation process, the information they contain includes when dives took place, objectives for each dive and what the outcomes of the dives were.

They often included sketches, measurements and a list of any artefacts that were recovered. The Mary Rose archaeological dive logs start from 1977 (as the project to recover the contents of the ship was scaling up). Dive logs were a crucial source of information for ensuring the authenticity of the Context Gallery at the Mary Rose Museum - where artefacts are displayed in their archaeological context in a mirrored version of the hull. These records continue to be a vital point of reference for the Mary Rose team in understanding and researching the collection.

Dive log recorded on a plastic bottle

Dive logs were typically recorded on paper; however, one resourceful alternative was found when those working on site did not have anything else to hand - this record was written on the back of a plastic bottle! 

Unfortunately, we no longer have the bottle, but we do have the photograph of it and can see the various underwater points of reference that were recorded at that point in time.

82A2577 - GCP Wine and Spirits Havant
As a document capturing where material was recovered form, the dive logs are invaluable.

Some dive logs (like 82/SC/0044) brilliantly illustrate how the layers of sediment accumulated over time, the oldest layer at the bottom and the newest at the top (this forms the site's stratigraphy).

The form, material, design and decoration of artefacts can help indicate their date, but stratigraphy can also be used to inform this. In the case of the ceramic jar fragment 82A2577, both these methods can be used – it clearly has post-Tudor text on it and was recovered from a layer identified as post-Tudor within the dive log (82/SC/0131AB). 

We can confidently note that this artefact would not be part of the original ship’s assemblage. However, a lot of the post-Tudor material is still interesting as it offers an insight into the social history of Portsmouth harbour!

80A0976 Culverin

It is important to remember that not all dives had the objective of recovering objects. In the case of 80/7/0201, a dive in May of 1980 documents that the diver’s objective was to measure and record a bronze gun and carriage in situ.

The bronze culverin (80A0976) was raised in June of 1980 and is now on display within the Museum’s Context Gallery.

81A0647 - gold crown

When people think of sunken ships, part of the romanticised image of them almost always includes treasure!

Although, the entire Mary Rose collection is incredibly precious, it must have been particularly special to have “found [a] gold coin” as noted in 80/7/0201 - in this case a Crown of the Double Rose - one of the 30 gold coins recovered from the wreck site.

1981/9/0596 A
Mr81/194/32T alt080818

Some dive logs give an impression of just how challenging underwater excavation could be – in this case a “tigg” or serving tankard had to be excavated one stave at a time.

The plan was to excavate it as a complete object but this turned out to be impossible due to its proximity to the remains of the ship’s dog (“Hatch”) and a chest.

Records like this are so important for explaining the process of excavation and understanding the archaeological associations of objects.

The reconstructed tankard and the chest can now be seen in the showcase for the Master Gunner at the Museum. The dog can be seen in the Carpenter's showcase.

Each and every dive log is a small story of discovery.  We are so excited to have completed the mammoth task of scanning them.  Thanks to the Collections Volunteers, we can continue to tell these stories into the future.