As part of Enrichment Week Year 8 were taken back in time to nearly 500 years ago to investigate the stories of the artefacts and men that resided on board the Mary Rose, one of Henry VIII’s English naval warships.

The Mary Rose sank during battle with the French in 1545 where of the hundreds of men on board only 34 survived. Volunteers worked on excavating the sunken ship between 1979 – 1982 before it was finally raised from the sediment of the Solent in 1982 by the crane Tog Mor. After years of preservation using polyethylene glycol jets, they were finally turned off in 2013 the Mary Rose was kept in a “hot box” to dry the ship out before the museum fully opened in 2016 where the ship can now be viewed fully through glass windows.

Pupils began their day carrying out experiments to investigate the reactivity of various metals from the 25,000 artefacts found on board the Mary Rose when it sank. Metals were added to metal salt solutions to demonstrate the effects of being submerged in sediment and seawater for 437 years. The metals decreased in reactivity starting with magnesium being the most reactive, then zinc, iron, copper and lastly silver. An example of one of the reactions students carried out was placing an iron nail in copper sulphate. The iron nail turned a pinky/orange colour due to displacement of copper – a less reactive metal – from the reaction producing instead iron sulphate. This is a ‘displacement reaction’. Other metals found on board were bronze (an alloy made from copper and tin) and gold, both with low reactivity, thus, when these were brought ashore they were found in a much better condition.

The day’s events continued at the Mary Rose… First with a game of ‘Would I Lie To You’, where students were given a replica of an artefact found on the Mary Rose and in their groups they were tasked with imagining two different ways in which it could have been used. The real function was enclosed in an envelope at their table. The rest of the class then voted out of the three options of which one they thought was the most believable. The team demonstrated with an item that was either a game, a calendar or a compass – it was in fact a ‘traverse board’, a method used to determine direction and speed of a vessel at sea. Some items in the groups included a captain’s wooden ink pot, an arrow spacer, and a ‘linstock’ used to light the ship’s guns. There were some very imaginative answers and some very convincing actors.

Next we learned all about how teams on the Mary Rose worked on facially reconstructing some of the people who died on board the Mary Rose. Through DNA analysis all members were found to be male and mostly young adults, with 80% being under the age of 30. Although originally it was hypothesised that most members were local or of English origin, DNA analysis disproved this and some crew members it was discovered, came from as far afield as Africa. Isotopes in the water were indicative of the regions that the native English crew members grew up in during childhood. These isotopes were identified through teeth and bone analysis and gave a closer look of that individual’s personal geographical history. Etiological analysis also found that many members on the ship suffered from back deformities or issues, most probably caused from moving guns and cannons around from a young age. Members of the team also managed to gain a closer look at the ship’s dog – Hatch. After speculation the dog was found to be a young male, between 18 – 24 months and was a small dog such as a whippet or terrier.

The day was concluded with a tour around the Mary Rose viewing the exhibits of the artefacts as well as seeing the structure of the ship itself, fit with visual projections of the crew and where they would be found on board. Some of the weapons were also on display, including 120lb long bows which some of the students and staff tried their strength on. A packed day full of history and chemistry, and a thoroughly enjoyable day out for all.

by Miss Munday, Science Technician