In Pictures: Ancient exhibits from the new Mary Rose Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 May 2013

In Pictures: Long awaited and costing £35 million, the Mary Rose Museum opens to the public at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Here are a few exhibits lying in wait...

A photo of the exterior of an ancient wooden ship
Before it was built, England customarily had ships with clinker-built hulls – overlapping planking. But the Mary Rose has a carvel-built hull, with planks laid edge-to-edge to give a smooth side to the ship, making the introduction of gunports much more feasible.

The Mary Rose was part of the first generation of ships to have gunports with lids. This helped revolutionise warfare at sea, as the ability to bring heavy guns lower in the hull made more layers of heavy guns possible.

A change in weapons shown in the inventories for 1514 and 1540/1546 and backed by tree ring dating proves that extensive changes were made to her structure.

Social status
A photo of an ancient bead from a ship
Five of these whistles were found on the Mary Rose, all made of silver. This particular example was found down on the Orlop deck, complete with its silk halter.

Contrary to popular belief, these calls were not exclusive to Bosuns; the presence of only silver calls may suggest these were badges of office for a high-ranking officer.

Admiral George Carew, the commanding officer of the Mary Rose when she sank, was apparently presented with a gold call, although this item has not been recovered.

A photo of an old backgammon board
Found in the carpenter's cabin, this hinged tabula, made of oak with larch (darker) and yew (lighter) inlay, is the forerunner to a backgammon board.

The counters are made of poplar, and although only eight were found, each player would have started with fifteen. The hinges have rusted away, but would have been made of iron.

The craftsmanship involved in making this would suggest this was a high-status item – certainly not affordable to ordinary sailors. But when the crew weren't hard at work, they clearly had time to play.

Medicine and health
A photo of a set of ancient medical implements
Both these pewter items were found in the Barber Surgeon’s cabin. Leeches weren't the most effective method of bloodletting. Blood would be extracted using a tool called a lancet, or fleem – a small triangular blade which would be inserted into the vein, which would be drained into a bleeding bowl for examination.

Mercury would be administered with a syringe made of bone or horn. While small traces of mercury were found in the Barber Surgeon's chest, there was no sign of bone or horn syringes, nor of the sorts of diseases that require mercury on the bones of the crew.

Pewter syringes were used for administering non-corrosive fluids, such as rosewater, or acidic ones such as wine or vinegar, used for flushing out wounds.

Grooming and hygiene
A photo of a set of mottled combs
A total of 82 nit combs were recovered. They were widely distributed around the ship, many with their owners and relatively few inside chests.

Thousands of these combs were imported from the continent at this time, made in boxwood and, occasionally, elephant ivory. They were used to remove nits and fleas as well as to style hair. There are even have nits in some of them.

England imported large numbers of these from the continent, showing the importance of trade not only for needed resources, but also for accessories.

A photo of a set of eating and drinking vestibules from an ancient ship
One gallon of ale was allocated per day for each crew member, due to the difficultly of storing water.

The remains of 17 relatively complete wooden drinking tankards have been recovered.

Henry built four brew houses in Portsmouth to supply his fleet.

  • The Mary Rose Museum opens on May 31 2013. Visit for full details.
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