Is Bow The Latest Piece Of Mary Rose Puzzle To Emerge From Solent?

By David Prudames | 12 August 2004
Shows a photograph of a pulley sheath being taken out of a bag by a diver.

The finds keep coming! A marine archaeologist shows off a pulley sheath once part of the Mary Rose's rigging. © 24 Hour Museum.

24 HM deputy editor David Prudames braves choppy seas to check out progress on the lastest dive on the Mary Rose wreck site in Portsmouth Harbour.

The latest excavations at the Mary Rose wreck site have added yet further pieces to the puzzle of the Tudor flagship, including what archaeologists believe are the lower sections of its previously lost bowcastle.

So far the archaeologists have undertaken 291 hours of diving over four weeks, bringing 123 artefacts and around 200 pieces of timber to the surface.

From a swivel gun, a priming tool and numerous pieces of shot, to pulleys, blocks and an incredible piece of leather shoe - "straight away you’re with somebody," exclaimed archaeologist Martin Read - the discoveries offer yet more evidence of what life was like in Henry VIII’s Navy.

Shows a photo of two hands holding a black shoe sole, which is partly rotten away.

A delicate piece of leather brought up from the sea bed provides a human connection and a reminder of the sailors who perished in one of the worst naval disasters in British history. © 24 Hour Museum.

"What we suspected last year has now been proved to be a reality," Mary Rose Trust Chief Executive John Lippiett told the 24 Hour Museum.

A month-long dive season in August 2003 revealed a 4.5 metre-long piece of timber, which was thought to be the stem, a major part of the ship’s bow.

This year that timber has been excavated to a length of 10 metres, while other timbers discovered on the sea bed offer a tantalising glimpse of what may have happened to the missing bow of the ship.

Long thought to have eroded away, large pieces of the port side of the ship have been found, while the position of some timbers indicates that the bow broke away from the rest of the ship either on impact with the seabed or during the salvage operation attempted immediately after it sank in 1545.

Shows a contemporary illustration of the Mary Rose.

This contemporary illustration is the only depiction we have of the Mary Rose. © Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge.

According to Alex Hildred, Project Manager on board the dive ship Terschelling, the discovery of the hitherto unknown bowcastle is just a matter of time.

"We now know where to look and we would just keep going deeper," she said. But whether or not Alex and her team get to go deeper in search of the bow is, as ever, down to funding.

This latest dive season was paid for by the Ministry of Defence and like last year’s was prompted by the Royal Navy’s plans for a £150-200 million redevelopment of Portsmouth Naval Base.

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 on the Mary Rose historic wreck site.

Shows a graphic diagram of the seabed at the Mary Rose Wreck site. A black outline drawing shows the ship, while contour lines mark the various depths of the sea around.

This diagram shows how the wreck would have been positioned on the sea bed, while contour lines show the hole left when it was lifted in 1982. Courtesy Mary Rose Trust.

As Ian Barnes, Head of the Historic Environment for Defence Estates (MoD), explained, the decision over which route to take depends on a lot of factors including the results of the latest excavations.

"What we are doing here is assessing all the options," he said. A decision on the route is expected in the next few months and, added Ian, "if they are still looking at having a direct line and this area is still on that line, this will be taken into account by English Heritage."

As a scheduled ancient monument, the wreck site is protected by law and any compromise of it will have to be approved by the Government’s historic environment watchdog.

"Because it’s a site of national importance the first option should be preservation in situ," said Ian, "the same as it would be on land. If there are no options like that then we will be looking to lift vulnerable areas, but that is a big if."

For John Lippiett, however, lifting is the option foremost in his mind: "I’d love to bring it up," he said.

Shows a photograph of a very corroded sword handle and pommel being held up by an archaeologist.

Yet another astonishing 500-year-old survivor - the remains of what must have been an officer's sword. © 24 Hour Museum.

"I’m confident that one day it will be reunited with the ship in its dry dock. The aim of the Mary Rose Trust must always be to bring all of the collection together and that includes remains on the sea bed."

"We are desperate for people to realise that the Mary Rose is still a project that’s underway," added John.

"First hand research is still underway on a weekly basis and we are learning more. It’s pioneering in our understanding of a medieval, Tudor warship because she’s unique: a national icon."

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