Sports scientists examine the medieval archers of the Mary Rose

A unique project about the historical warship the Mary Rose which is providing information about life in medieval times is benefitting from 21st century technology.

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 Henry VIII’s warship, which sunk in 1545, 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.

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).”

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.

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. The results of this research are expected this summer.

Whilst Mr Owen’s team were scanning the skeletons, the Mary Rose Trust was sourcing replicas of some of the skulls in their collection to create facial reconstructions. They approached the team to look at whether they could scan and print a 3-D skull rather than using more traditional methods.

The expertise gained at the University in conjunction with Newport Medieval Ship Project allowed the Mary Rose team to scan, post process and 3-D print a number of skulls from the collection with sponsorship from HP.”

The reverse engineering of the skulls was done using the in house 3-D laser scanner, and Dr Nick Lavery and Will Newton ‘printed’ the skulls on the College’s 3-D printer.

Alex Hildred said ”The remains of seven individuals intimately associated with clothing and possessions, which suggested specific occupations, have been selected as key characters within the new exhibition. Scanning of the skulls will enable facial reconstructions of a carpenter, master gunner, archer purser, officer and gentleman.”

The printed skulls are now being sent to Sweden where forensic artist Oscar Nilsson will recreate faces from the past.

See also Work begins on Mary Rose Museum

Source: Swansea University

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