Experts Excited By Extraordinary Find At Mary Rose Wreck Site

By Jon Pratty, Editor, 24 Hour Museum | 18 August 2003
shows divers breaking the surface in a wet bell.

Photo:divers come up to the surface carried within a 'wet diving bell.' The team includes several marine archaeologists from the successful 1982 effort to raise the ship. Photo Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

Divers exploring the wreck site of the Tudor warship Mary Rose have found a 4.5 metre section of the stem, part of the bow of the ship.

Experts at the Mary Rose Trust now think it possible the stem timber may lead them to the remaining undiscovered portion of the ship - the bowcastle, where archers and cannon would have been based.

shows a near contemporary view of the Mary Rose sailing with flags streaming from each of the four masts.

Photo: the bowcastle perched above the bow of the Mary Rose. © Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge

John Lippiett, chief executive of the Mary Rose Trust, described the find as 'extraordinary' at a press conference aboard the dive ship Terschelling over the wreck site.

Over the past month marine archaeologists based on the Terschelling have been re-aquainting themselves with the site of the wreck, clearing debris from the successful salvage operation in 1982, preparing for a detailed survey of the site planned for September.

shows a diver's tablet, complete with drawing of the stem section.

Photo: here is a diver's tablet with an underwater sketch of the stem timber. Photo Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

"What we found was beyond our expectations, an extraordinary and remarkable find, almost certainly the bow or stem of the Mary Rose," explained John Lippiett.

"What we don't know is does this lead us to the whole of the bow, or the whole of the foc'sl or bowcastle? I don't know, but we very much hope so!"

As reported exclusively on the 24 Hour Museum website in June this year, the dive season was prompted by the Royal Navy's announcement of a £150-200m redevelopment of the naval base at Portsmouth.

The scheme will allow the harbour to accommodate the Navy's new generation of massive aircraft carriers and as such will require the dredging of a new approach channel. While plans are yet to be finalised, one of the proposed routes will impinge quite seriously on the Mary Rose historic wreck site.

shows diver Chris Ison holding wood from the seabed.

Photo: diver Chris Ison holds up a timber from the wreck. Over 400 artefacts have been brought to the surface in the last month, many of Tudor origin. Photo Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

shows a tiny pocket sundial, about the size of a wristwatch, found on the seabed.

Photo: another find - this fascinating pocket sundial just needs a brief clean up to reveal it's secrets. Photo Jon Pratty © 24 Hour Museum

The President of the Mary Rose Trust, HRH The Prince of Wales, was also very excited by the news.

"As President of the Mary Rose Trust, I was thrilled to hear about this latest find." explained the Prince.

"The story of the Mary Rose has intrigued generations of people and I am confident this latest discovery will reignite people's interest in the gem of maritime history. I hope that ongoing excavations will continue to add to our knowledge of this important ship."

Since the raising of the ship in 1982 conditions at the wreck site have deteriorated. "There has been dramatic change at the sea bed. We were very surprised," explained John Lippiett.

"Up to a metre in depth of fine silt has covered everything. We don't know why that has come about."

Teams of divers preparing for survey work in September by hydrographic ship HMS Gleaner checked through spoil heaps left on the Solent sea bed after the raising of the ship.

"Down there we're working mostly at around nine or ten metres depth, sometimes going down into a pit around fifteen metres deep where the ship hull was raised," said Marine Archaeologist Doug McElvogue.

"The main menace, apart from low visibility is the strong current and the clinging seaweed it carries. After twenty minutes clearing a stretch the seaweed gets in and you start to look like a Christmas tree!"

The next step for staff at the Mary Rose Trust is intriguing. If the bowcastle is found, according to John Lippiett, the Trust "must inevitably return to the site and try to bring it up."

Bearing in mind that raising the part of the ship now on display cost in the region of £ 20 million in 1982, what would the cost be in today's money of raising a very substantial and fragile part of naval history from the Solent?

"If we find it, we must try to reconnect the bowcastle to the rest of the ship," said John Lippiett. In the meantime, however, the trust carry on the delicate, patient and expensive task of spraying the existing ship remains with Glycol preservative in the fascinating Mary Rose Museum.

"We're by no means home and dry with what we have now," said Lippiett. "I need public support to raise half a million pounds to complete spraying. The way the public can help is to come and visit us, or join the friends of the Mary Rose - and we'd love to hear from people who'd like to come and help as volunteers."

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