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  1. ITV Report

Scientists piece together remains of Mary Rose crew

For the first time in 500 years, scientists examining human remains from Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose will be able to determine which bones came from the same people.

Research by Dr Garry Scarlett, a DNA expert at the University of Portsmouth, should enable museum staff to recreate accurate skeletons of some of the crew.

Only a handful of the ship’s 500 crew survived when Henry VIII’s flagship was sunk in the Solent in 1545. Remains of about a third of the crew have been found, with the rest lost to the sea.

The men on board the ship included officers, soldiers, gunners and mariners.

Many of those whose remains were found were found in groups, making it difficult to identify individuals by physical observation alone. So far, it has been possible to partially reconstruct 92 skeletons by a physical study of the bones. This study is an attempt to match bones belonging to individuals using molecular biology.

Eventually, Dr Scarlett’s research might also be able to shed light on where some of the crew came from.

The bones are being studied by scientists Credit: ITV

It’s wonderful that science can help find new ways to engage people in the life of the ship, its fateful battle and in history.

I hope, once we have determined for certain which bones belong with which, some whole skeletons might be able to be reassembled.

– Dr Garry Scarlett

Dr Scarlett’s earlier research determined the sex of the ship’s dog, whose skeleton was also found inside the ship’s hull in 1981. He was also able to identify which modern breed she was most closely like.

The ability to recreate individuals from bones from DNA analysis rather than having to rely on physical matching has huge benefits; unless key parts of the skeleton of an individual are present it is difficult to associate a skull with a body, or an upper body with a lower body. Only about a third of our 92 partially reconstructed skeletons have skulls, yet we have 179 skulls.

This technique should enable us to recreate the faces of many more of our crew. Enlarging the number of re-constructed skeletons means we can tell more about them – height, age, provenance, wounds they sustained, diseases they may have had.

– Alex Hildred, Mary Rose Museum