In 1545 the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s favourite warship, sank in the Solent during a battle with an invading French fleet.
Raised from the seabed in 1982 and now housed at the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, a section of the ship along with thousands of artefacts that were onboard have been surprisingly well preserved, giving a tantalising glimpse into Tudor history.
Now, a team of scientists using cutting-edge X-ray technology have made discoveries about the composition and production of the armour worn by the ship’s crew.
The team – led by Emeritus Professor Mark Dowsett of the University of Warwick, Mieke Adriaens from Ghent University and Eleanor Schofield from the Mary Rose Trust – have studied the surface chemistry of brass links, recovered from the ship’s hull, that are thought to be from the soldiers’ armour.
Synchrotron X-ray diffraction images produced during investigations into artefacts from the Mary Rose. Credit: Professor Mark Dowsett
“We used an extension of a common X-ray analytical technique – surface powder diffraction,” says Professor Dowsett. “For this experiment we used a Pilatus3 R 300K camera made by Dectris. The X-rays fall directly onto the sensor through a thin protective screen. Compared to a conventional camera, the sensor is huge, around 84mm by 107mm, and so are the pixels: just under 0.2 x 0.2 mm2. The performance is stunning.”
Through the diffraction images produced during this research, the team discovered that the brass links were made from an alloy of 73% copper and 27% zinc, suggesting brass manufacturing was well developed and controlled at the time of production. The research also confirmed that the conservation techniques used to preserve the links have proved effective.
The artefacts were analysed using an X-ray facility called XMaS (X-ray Materials Science) beamline, owned by the universities of Liverpool and Warwick but located at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France.
See more trailblazing science images in the July/August 2020 issue of the Journal