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Bringing the Mary Rose back to life

The Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth, built around the remains of the 16th century warship The Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth, built around the remains of the 16th century warship Ron Ellis
How the SIGMA dp2 Quattro camera is adding an extra dimension to our understanding of life on the Mary Rose during the 16th century

Geographical Partner ContentSometime in the late afternoon of July 19, 1545, the Mary Rose, one of the largest of Henry VIII’s great ships, heeled to starboard and sank. As the King watched from his encampment on Southsea Common, scarcely a mile distant, he could not have realised what an unparalleled insight into his life and times this catastrophe would ensure. Mary Rose represents both a living community and a state-of–the-art fighting machine, fully manned and equipped for war. A 34-year old veteran, built in Portsmouth, she sank whilst engaging a French invasion fleet larger than the Spanish Armada of 43 years later. To date no marine excavation has attained the scale of the Mary Rose project, nor captured the imagination of the public so completely.

In association with... SigmaIn a partnership between Swansea University, Mary Rose Trust and Oxford University, the Mary Rose is being brought back to breathtaking life through the creation of staggeringly detailed interactive 3D models, created by harnessing the power of SIGMA’s dp2 Quattro. Nick Owen, a senior lecturer in Biomechanics at Swansea University, is part of the team heading up the research. He says: ‘The brief we had for the Mary Rose Photogrammetry Project was to produce the highest quality 3-D photogrammetry images possible. The purpose of producing such images was to investigate if highly detailed, 3-D images could be used by osteologists (scientists who studies post mortem, usually historic, bones) instead of the “real thing” for a full osteological analysis. Consequently we needed the best image quality possible, both in terms of detail (resolution) and colour reproduction.’

Owens says that the team chose the SIGMA dp2 Quattro for a number of reasons: ‘The camera lens had a focal length of 30 mm thus producing and image that was close to human-eye perspective (the equivalent of 45 mm focal length on a full frame 35 mm camera). The colour reproduction was superb and the use of a Foveon sensor, with three discrete, stacked colour layers meant that the dp2 Quattro doesn’t use an anti-aliasing filter. All of this meant that minimal post-processing was needed (for example, edge sharpening and colour matching) to produce the final images to be used in the photogrammetry software – an important consideration given that each photogrammetry file might use over 300 individual photographic stills images for its production. By incorporating the SIGMA dp2 Quattro into our work flow, I believe that we produced some of the most detailed photogrammetric images to-date.’

Initial results from the study are encouraging, indicating that 80 per cent of the information that can be derived from the analysis of ‘real’ bones is available in the photogrammetric images. ‘The use of photogrammetry in the analysis of archaeological human remains could help protect our cultural heritage by reducing the amount of handling necessary for certain types of analysis,’ says Owens.

Analysis of the skull’s remains reveals that this was a man, probably in his mid-to-late thirties. He was just over 1.72 metres tall (5ft 7in.) and was a strong muscular man. His teeth were poor, with a build-up of tartar. An abscess in his upper jaw meant he could only chew on the right side. He also had arthritis in his spine, ribs and left clavicle and a lesion across his right eyebrow which may be the result of an old wound.

Over 280 nearly complete shoes were found during the Mary Rose excavation, providing a snap-shot of shoe fashion at a specific moment in Tudor history. This shoe was found close to the body of the carpenter.

Twenty-two planes were found, 18 of these either within or just outside the cabin belonging to the carpenters situated on the main gun deck in the stern. Many were found in chests belonging to individual carpenters.

Found on the deck just above the carpenters’ cabin, this is one of only two small spoons carved in maple. It is incised with a Z or a reversed N at the back of the neck. These are small and light, and other spoons made of wood or horn are likely to have floated away or perished. Only three other eating spoons were found, all of which are pewter.

Nineteen whetstones were found, two with wooden holders. 14 were found in or between the surgeon’s and carpenters’ cabins which were close to each other on the main gun deck. This is made of poplar and is decorated with panels of incised cross-hatching. It has a triangular handle and a convenient cut-out so that a finger can be inserted to access the stone.

Small octagonal mirror made of beech wood, one of only two found. Both are turned wooden discs, flat on one side with raised circular ridges on the other. Traces of corrosion and a white substance may be the remains of the mirror and fixative. Both were found in the stern close to the carpenters’ cabin.

Maple or cherry wood knife handle. Handle portion from a scale tang knife with remains of the metal rivets which held the two scales together through the blade, about 20 of these were found. The blades have corroded, leaving only the scales and fixings.

This is a section of one of the many ropes that would have been part of the Mary Rose and is probably part of the rigging. It is covered with tar and mud but if you look closely at the ends you’ll be able to see the individual fibres that the rope is made from. The anti-boarding ‘nets’ that trapped so many of the crew when the ship sank would have been made of similar rope.

Found in a chest belonging to one of the carpenters, this knife handle is incised with a personal mark; two intersecting Vs with a vertical line between the intersection and a horizontal line below.

One of only two carved panels found, this incomplete panel is carved in oak to show a female head in profile facing right behind an arch. She is wearing a coif and depicted a very classical style, typical of the first half of the 16th century. This panel has been partially destroyed by worms, probably Teredo worms, with holes clearly visible along one edge.


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