Famous Tudor-era ship devoured alive – but scientists have a solution
The year was 1545 and Henry VIII’s favorite warship – the Marie rose – was involved in a battle with a French armada off the south coast of England when the ship took a risky turn and caught a deadly gust of wind.
Within moments, the 34-year-old ship collapsed sideways in the Solent Strait, knocking over 500 crew members into the murky depths – of which only 35 survived. The Marie rose itself sank deep to the bottom of the ocean where it would sleep for over 400 years until scientists and conservatives dredged it in 1982.
For the first time since its recovery, scientists are now able to use new X-ray scattering and chemical analysis techniques to see into the desiccated wood itself and directly identify conservation risks.
Eleanor Schofield is responsible for the conservation and maintenance of collections at the Mary Rose Trust and co-author of a new paper article. She says Reverse that even though the ship has survived its waterlogged rest, it is certainly worse for wear and tear. Unlike in its heyday, the Marie rose is now plagued by cellulose-eating bacteria from the depths of the ocean that are destroying the ship’s wooden hull from the inside.
In an article published Wednesday in the journal Question, scientists are now in a race against time to identify and target these microbes before it’s too late – and so far they are winning.
“Some of the compounds we’ve found in wood can eventually break down and degrade the components of wood, causing irreparable damage,” says Schofield. “If we can map what is there and where it is, this is invaluable information for developing future conservation strategies. “
What’s new – While this study revealed previously unseen details about the ship’s wooden hull, that doesn’t necessarily mean the ship or its preservatives have been inactive since the 1980s, Schofield explains.
“Marine archaeological wood has to go through a conservation consolidation process to account for the loss of wood… and then dried in a controlled manner to remove excess water,” says Schofield. “The early years saw a lot of work on understanding wood and the type of treatment it would require, then active conservation took place until 2016.”
It was only after the completion of this first process that conservation scientists were able to delve deeper into the impact of “hundreds of years under the sea” on wood. Not to mention that the x-ray scattering technique used in this study was simply not available in the 1980s.
“It’s a bit like a treasure hunt.
In fact, it was not developed until 2013, the study’s first author and associate professor of chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, Kirsten Jensen, tells Reverse.
“The first article on the technique came out in 2013 … and it’s still in development,” says Jensen. “Our study is the first to use the technique for the studies of cultural heritage objects, it opens up for many others to do!
Why is this important – Beyond the simple preservation of the Marie rose, Schofield and Jensen say what’s particularly exciting about this study is how this new technique could be used for other artifacts as well. This includes the many Tudor items recovered from the Marie rose, says Schofield.
“The sinking is of enormous importance because, alongside the remains of the hull, we have lifted over 19,000 objects representing the life of the Tudors,” said Schofield. “It ranges from large wooden wagons and cannons to personal items such as combs and shoes … you find items representative of all levels of society on board the ship.”
What is X-ray scattering?
To gain this new idea, Jensen explains that the technique isn’t too different from the type of CT scan you might have at the doctor’s office.
“By projecting x-rays at an object from different angles, we are able to get images of what is in it,” Jensen explains. In this case, the team ran x-rays on samples of the ship’s hull.
“The difference, however, is that instead of getting an image where the pixels are represented with colors like in a normal scanner, we get a lot more information … For the nanoparticles that we identified in the wood. , we were able to identify their composition, structure and size ”
This technique allows Jensen and his colleagues to scrutinize the structural information of compounds in the wood itself, like a blueprint. Using this data, the team can separate hazardous compounds from “normal” compounds to target their elimination.
There is, however, a catch: this method “sees” so much that it is not always easy to find what they are looking for.
“The measurements produce very large data sets, so the first time we analyze the data, it’s kind of like a scavenger hunt, except we don’t know what we’re looking for,” says Jensen.
Fortunately, the team was finally able to identify several of the compounds, including zinc sulfide nanomaterials responsible for “acid attacks” in wood.
And after – This is only the beginning of Marie Rose ‘s glow. The next step on the team’s agenda is to develop methods to target and eliminate these newly identified compounds. One way to do this is to develop magnetic treatments that can target and remove particular harmful nanoparticles, like a strip of pores pulling blackheads.
Hopefully, these techniques will help restore Henry VIII’s favorite ship to some of its former glory.
Abstract: Preserving the Mary Rose oak shell for future generations is a major challenge due to the highly heterogeneous nature of waterlogged wooden artifacts, which contain polycrystalline, amorphous and nanostructured materials that test traditional characterization methods. Effective conservation requires detailed knowledge of the distribution and chemical nature of these species to develop strategies to prevent multiple pathways of chemo-mechanical degradation. Here, we apply total diffusion computed tomography methods based on the Mary Rose keelson wood synchrotron which provides valuable structural information resolved in position on several integrated species of different length and concentration scales. We identify 5 nm zinc sulfide nanoparticles in wood, possibly deposits of bacteria operating on the sulfur energy cycle under anaerobic conditions on the seabed. These are identified as precursors of acid attack on wood during its elimination in an aerobic environment. This information not only informs next-generation conservation strategies, but also the efficacy and unforeseen problems of previous treatments.