Scientists studying remains from 1545 wreck

One of England best-known naval disasters is yielding clues about what life was like for troops on land nearly 500 years ago.

Skeletal remains recovered from the wreck of a King Henry VIII’s warship the Mary Rose are being studied to discover more about what sort of impact being an archer had on the human body. Archers, of course, pulled heavy bows.

The Mary Rose sank while leading an attack on a French invasion fleet in 1545, with the loss of more than 360 men.

It is known that there were archers aboard the ship when she foundered in the straits north of the Isle of Wight.

“These archers had specialist techniques for making and using very powerful longbows,” said Nick Owen, a sport and exercise bio-mechanist from the College of Engineering at Swansea University. “Some bows required a lifetime of training and immense strength as the archers had to pull weights up to 200 pounds.”

Owen told the BBC that archers were the elite athletes of the Tudor age, requiring great skill and strength to fire up to 12 arrows a minute, holding a heavy bow in one arm.

It is known that archers were on board but researchers don’t know which skeletons they would be, Owen said. “So we are analyzing the lower arm bones as those are the ones that are likely to show a difference.”

The wreck, raised in 1982, contained 92 fairly complete skeletons when it was recovered.

“In fact, on one of the skeletons we have looked at, the surface area of the joint between the lower arm and elbow is 48 percent larger than on the joint on the other arm,” Owen added.

In the Tudor age it was a requirement by law for every man and boy to practice archery regularly from an early age, according to Alexzandra Hildred, curator of ordnance at the Mary Rose Trust.

“Many of the skeletons recovered show evidence of repetitive stress injuries of the shoulder and lower spine,” she said. “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,” she added.

The team from Swansea’s College of Engineering are basing their research on the bio-mechanical analysis on the skeletons of the archers to examine the effect of a life of using very powerful longbows on the musculoskeletal system, the BBC reported.

The process involves analyzing the skeletons by creating 3D virtual images so that measurements can be taken from the remains without damaging them.

Research results are expected this summer and will be used to help with information for the new Mary Rose Museum, which is due to open in the autumn in Portsmouth, England.

(HT: A Blog About History)

2 thoughts on “Scientists studying remains from 1545 wreck

    • Thanks, J.G. It must have been a real shock to the Royal Navy, considering that the Mary Rose suddenly took on water at the start of the battle and sank quickly, seemingly without explanation.

      To this day, I’m not sure researchers agree on the exact cause of the Mary Rose’s sinking.

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