Boffins use space science to unlock the secrets of Suffolk Tudor tombs

By Richard Moss | 30 November 2010
a photo of a chap with a head torch looking at tomb sculptures
Dr Phillip Lindley examining the Renaissance sculpted tomb-monument of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk© University of Leicester
Staff at the University of Leicester are using space age technology to unlock the mysteries of a series of Tudor tombs in Suffolk.

The group of Renaissance tomb-monuments is being analysed with tools developed in space science to offer new insights into the Tudor Reformation.

Drawing together a variety of experts including space scientists, art-historians, archaeologists and museologists, the project borrows three-dimensional scanning and non-destructive materials analysis developed in space science to solve a complex set of historical, archaeological and art-historical problems.

The great Renaissance monuments of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk (d. 1554) and of Henry Fitzroy (d. 1539), Duke of Richmond, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, are under the spotlight.

“Both monuments seem to have been dramatically altered when they were moved in the middle of the 16th century from their original locations in Thetford Priory to Framlingham Parish Church, where they now stand,” explained Principal Investigator Dr Phillip Lindley, from the Department of History of Art and Film at the University of Leicester.

“Puzzlingly, pieces excavated at Thetford in the 1930s seem to have originally belonged to these monuments and this suggests that they used to look very different from what we now see.

“We shall virtually disassemble the monuments and reconstruct their original forms for the first time in half a millennium, trying to integrate the excavated fragments in our virtual reconstructions. It is as if we have two (or more) three-dimensional jigsaws: we need first to sort the pieces out and then put them back together.”

Materials analysis (using XRF, RAMIN, and other non-destructive techniques), also developed for space science applications, will provide information about the original painted surfaces.

The project has been funded by a major award of £497,000 from the Science and Heritage Programme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
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