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The Mary Rose depicted on the Anthony Roll of Henry VIII’s Navy

Mary Rose Crew Exposed By Teeth Analysis

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A team of researchers in England have analyzed the teeth of eight crewmen recovered from King Henry VIII’s sunken ghost ship, the Mary Rose. Not only have the crew been dubbed a “multicultural” bunch, but the new research has even taken a stab at identifying each of their professions.

The Mary Rose was the famous carrack-type warship of King Henry VIII, known as the pride of the English Tudor navy. Over 33 years, the gallant oceanic war platform fought in several wars against France and Scotland and she was mostly rebuilt in 1536 AD. The Mary Rose served the crown of England for the last time on 19 July 1545 when, after attacking a French invasion fleet during the Battle of the Solent, she sank in the straits to the north of England’s the Isle of Wight.

Bringing the Mary Rose Crew Ghosts Back to Life

A new study by researchers from Cardiff University was recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, and it presents a detailed, and fascinating, analysis of the teeth of eight crew members who served on England’s most famous historic English warship. According to the Daily Mail, the conclusions of the new study suggest the favorite ship of King Henry VIII was a “multinational crew” comprising a mixed crew of Europeans and North Africans.

The remains of the Mary Rose shipwreck, where the Mary Rose crew remains were discovere

The remains of the Mary Rose shipwreck, where the Mary Rose crew remains were discovered. (Geni / CC BY-SA 4.0)

After 437 years lying on the murky-dark in the sea of the south coast of England, in 1982 the remains of the Mary Rose and her 19,000 artifacts were recovered. She is now displayed in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard . Dr. Alexzandra Hildred, from the Mary Rose Trust, said that over the years a number of artifacts recovered from the wreck were found that “were not” manufactured by English craftspeople, a discovery which led archaeologists to consider that perhaps some of the crew were foreign.

As part of the study of the study of the remains of eight members of the Mary Rose crew, researchers have examined their bones to try to reconstruct their biographies

As part of the study of the study of the remains of eight members of the Mary Rose crew, researchers have examined their bones to try to reconstruct their biographies. (Cardiff University)

Mapping the Genetic Origins of Eight Tudor Sea Warriors

The unpredictable result of the ship’s crew having “diverse backgrounds” was arrived at through a technique called multi-isotope analysis, which analyzed the genetic composition of the inner-teeth, and the calculus on their surface of the teeth of eight crew members who perished on the ship in 1545. The study of the crew’s teeth revealed hitherto locked data about their childhood diets, which in turn helped determine their geographical origins.

Three of the eight crew originated from warmer southerly climates, with the other five having come from the west of Britain. Lead author of the new paper, Dr. Jessica Scorrer, concludes that the British navy drafted its crew from “a diverse range of backgrounds” during the Tudor period. What this means, according to the researchers, is an advancement in the “ever-growing body of evidence for diversity in geographic origins, ancestry and lived experiences in Tudor England.”

Identifying Tudor Period Trades of the Mary Rose Crew

Co-author of the new study, Dr. Richard Madgwick, explained that by combining the latest scientific methods with insights from artifacts recovered from the ship, they were able to reconstruct the biographies of the eight people from the Tudor period. The “suspected” professional trades associated with each of the eight men were “a cook, a mariner, a Royal Archer, an Archer, a Carpenter, an Officer, a Gentleman and a Purser.” 

It should be added, however, that these professional attributions were not deduced primarily from the study of the teeth, but from the context in which each of the eight Mary Rose crew members were found. The researchers warn that this aspect of the study is “by no means certain as the material could have been displaced” over almost 500 years.

Putting the Mary Rose Crew Study into Context

To put this issue into context, have you ever considered what archaeologists would say about you if they hauled you up after 500 years underwater and analyzed your gnashers? Speaking personally, in my “multi-isotope analysis” results researchers from the future would see fresh potatoes, cabbage and hormone-free beef which would lead the team to conclude that I was brought up in Britain in the 1970s. However, an assistant might knock on the lab door and might say “sir, we just identified a lot of Iron-Bru in the molars,” which would help them determine that I was Scottish! What about you? What would your teeth say about your childhood?

Top image: The Mary Rose depicted on the Anthony Roll of Henry VIII’s Navy (1546), an illustrated inventory of King Henry VIII's navy. The remains of members of the Mary Rose crew have been analyzed in this new study. Source: Public domain

By Ashley Cowie



Bruce Nowakowski's picture

there are ways to tell, through this thing called DNA.  Plus they can recreate where people lived based on the composition of the teeth (diet, water content etc).  Its not far out of the realm of possibility to have North Africans escaping the Muslim caliphate or even just mercanaries being on the ship. 

Bruce Nowakowski's picture

No, we mock you because you are stupid. There are ways to tell where a person has lived based on their bones, especially their teeth. The foods you eat, the water you drink all leave a certain mineral signature.  You are not much different than that other racist on this site who thinks everything in Egypt must be black people.  There is evidence of Africans living in England at the time so having them in the military isn’t a stretch.

T1bbst3r's picture

What’s funny? I say they don’t give thorough evidence to support their findings, which if you read the paper properly were based on enamel wear, and you instantly jump to assumptions about Africans!? 

Anyway, even if the ship did go to North Africa and pick up some Muslim Moors or even Spain (not Africans), my point was that the ‘experts’ seem to be working on speculative evidence, acnowledged fully in the research paper you linked, which from my own further analysis seems to be able to point towards what sort of geological landscape people grew up in based on the mineral composition of the rocks etc. (all found in UK).

I don’t know why I got biased, social political assumptions (stereotypical behaviour of fools if you ask me) which lead you to be predjudiced towards me.

I was simply stating that being able to tell where people come from based on enamel erosion is pretty flimsy evidence and so is being able to tell peoples individual proffesions based on some fragmented artifacts I should also add although I expect you shall disagree…….

Bottom line is that although there is no smoking gun, based on situational neccesaties for the efficient running of a ship, people may have been coerced into joining the crew at sea or mercenaries hired during war, but to include Catholics or Muslims at the time seems a bit far fetched to me.

You can try to mentally simulate my moral character some more or try to look clever some how below if you like, although if it’s anything like your ability to read things properly and not jump to conclusions then I can expect something not too thoroughly thought out or well constructed as you go off half cocked.

I guess you don't do the whole “science” thing much…


it's a solid paper. 

what bothers you the most about this???? Africans on an English warship? Lol


T1bbst3r's picture

Sounds like a load of confirmation bias, like seeing faces on rocks to me. How do they even know the teeth were from North Africa, were they eroded by sand? Guess you will just have to trust the ‘experts’ then, without thorough explination……...

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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