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The Mary Rose, 16th-century warship of Henry VIII, had multi-ethnic crew

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By Luke Hurst
The wreckage of the Mary Rose was raised from the Solent in 1982
The wreckage of the Mary Rose was raised from the Solent in 1982   -   Copyright  Associated Press

The Mary Rose, a flagship of Tudor England’s navy, may have been crewed by a more ethnically diverse set of sailors than previously thought, scientists say.

The ship has provided a wealth of archaeological and historical information since its discovery in 1971, and now researchers have pieced together information on eight of the crew members, whose remains lay with the wreck.

Sunk following a skirmish with French ships during the Battle of the Solent in 1545, it lay in waters north of the Isle of Wight until its recovery in what is thought to be one of the most ambitious underwater archaeological salvage operations in history.

Questions have remained over the makeup of the crew of such a ship, which fought battles during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547).

Studying dental samples from eight of the crew, scientists have determined that as many as three could have come from countries south of Britain, while one had characteristics of an African ancestry.

The researchers were able to reconstruct the childhood diet and origins of the crew members through studying isotopes in the dental records.

They say, in a paper published in Royal Society Open Science, that dental tissues do not remodel much from childhood, meaning dental samples can provide information about the childhood of the crew members.

Certain isotopes are “incorporated into skeletal tissues from diet” the authors write, which are principally related to the geology of the area where food was produced.

The findings “point to the important contributions that individuals of diverse backgrounds and origins made to the English navy” the paper says, adding to the growing body of evidence to show there was a diversity of geographic origins and ancestry in Tudor England.

The Mary Rose served for 34 years in Henry VIII’s navy, with its main purpose to fire its cannon on enemy vessels, thereby allowing English sailors to board.

The ship is now on display, alongside a number of the artefacts discovered on it, at the Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth.