Mary Rose gets conservation boost from new x-ray technique

  • University of Sheffield-led research team has used a new x-ray method to discover the structure of potentially harmful substances within the remains of the Mary Rose
  • Researchers discover zinc-containing nanoparticles lodged within the ship’s wooden hull that could lead to degradation
  • New x-ray technique enables potentially harmful substances to be studied without causing damage to the priceless artefact for the first time
  • Development can inform how the Mary Rose and other important archaeological remains are conserved for future generations

The Mary Rose – Henry VIII’s favourite warship whose remains were brought to the surface in a massive salvage operation broadcast to over 60 million people around the world 39 years ago this month – has received a major boost to help conserve the ship for future generations.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Serena Cussen from the University of Sheffield, has used a new x-ray technique available at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) to discover the presence, location and structure of nanostructured bacterial byproducts lodged within the ship’s wood that could contribute to Mary Rose wood degradation.

The remains of the ship are currently on display in a purpose-built museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, but they are vulnerable to degradation after spending more than 400 years at the bottom of the sea where harmful deposits collected inside the ship’s wooden hull. These deposits originate from degradation of metal fixtures and artefacts after centuries spent under the seabed and the activity of anaerobic sulfur-reducing bacteria and can lead to the formation of harmful acids.

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