Mary Rose shedding light on life in Henry VIII’s England

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A unique project about Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545, is providing information about life in medieval times, thanks to 21st century technology.

Mary Rose yields its treasure, shedding light on life in Henry VIII's England
A skull from the Mary Rose being analysed [Credit: Swansea University]

For the past 18 months the Mary Rose Trust has been working with sports scientists from the College of Engineering at Swansea University to discover more about the lives of the medieval archers on board the ship.

When the ship was raised from the Solent in 1982, many thousands of medieval artefacts along with 92 fairly complete skeletons of the crew of the Mary Rose were recovered.

Mary Rose yields its treasure, shedding light on life in Henry VIII's England
Bones of sailors and archers from the Mary Rose [Credit: Swansea University]

Nick Owen, Sport and Exercise Biomechanist from the College of Engineering at Swansea University said, “This sample of human remains offers a unique opportunity to study activity related changes in human skeletons. It is documented that there was a company of archers aboard when the ship sank, at a time when many archers came from Wales and the South West of England.

“These archers had specialist techniques for making and using very powerful longbows. Some bows required a lifetime of training and immense strength as the archers had to pull weights up to 200lbs (about 90kg).”

Mary Rose yields its treasure, shedding light on life in Henry VIII's England
One of the men who died when the Mary Rose sank in 1545 [Credit: Swansea University]

Alexzandra Hildred, Curator of Ordnance at the Mary Rose Trust explains, “It was a requirement by law for every male to practice archery regularly from an early age, and many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine. This could be as a result of the shooting heavy longbows regularly. Being able to quantify the stresses and their effect on the skeleton may enable us at last to isolate an elite group of professional archers from the ship.”

Mr Owen and his team are basing their research on the biomechanical analysis on the skeletons of the medieval archers to examine the effect of a life of using very powerful longbows on the musculoskeletal system.

Mary Rose yields its treasure, shedding light on life in Henry VIII's England
The remains of the Mary Rose’s hull. All deck levels can be made out clearly, including the minor remnants of the sterncastle deck [Credit: Swansea University]

Part of the process of analysing the skeletons involves creating 3-D virtual images so that measurements can be taken from the remains without causing any damage to the valuable heritage artefacts.

Source: Swansea University [November 16, 2012]

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