The Mary Rose – a Unique Glimpse Into Life in Tudor Times

Building bridges between science, history, and archaeology

After more than thirty years in service for the English crown, the Mary Rose – a famous warship belonging to the Tudor King Henry VIII – sank during a maneuver at sea in 1545. The ship was fully equipped at the time and had over 500 sailors on board.

For many years nothing was known about life on board. How did the sailors carry out everyday tasks? Where did they originally come from and what did their lives at sea look like?

Bringing the Mary Rose back to life

The Mary Rose lay on the seabed for 430 years before being raised again in 1982. The excavation of the ship provided a unique opportunity to learn more about everyday life at sea 500 years ago. However, the researchers’ first challenge was to conserve the ship and its equipment. These are now located in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

What would life on board have been like?

Various different conservation techniques have been used to stabilize the wooden ship over the years. Microscopic evaluation helped to analyze the wood, assess the extent of degradation, and detect minerals and crystals that can destroy archaeological materials.

We spoke to Eleanor Schofield, Head of Conservation and Collections Care at the Mary Rose Trust and an honorary professor at the University of Kent, about the challenges of conserving this historical ship for future generations.

Schofield became the Conservation Manager at the Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth in 2012. She is involved in overseeing the conservation of the ship’s hull and its many artifacts. Schofield conducts research into new conservation methodologies by developing preservation treatments, analyzing materials, and monitoring the stability of storage and display conditions.

“My job is ever-changing, with the goalposts moving constantly as we learn new things – that’s what makes it so exciting,” says Eleanor.

What does your job as the Head of Conservation and Collections Care involve?

Our responsibility is to look after the Mary Rose collection. In addition to the ship itself, we found over 19,000 artifacts, including clothes, personal belongings, cooking equipment, bowls, ceramics, and more.

Conserving and maintaining these items is important to us. They provide us with a unique snapshot in time concerning everyone on board, as well as giving us an unparalleled glimpse into life in the Tudor period. We want to tell the stories of the people on the ship.

Many items from the ship, such as plates and cups, are similar to the ones we use today. They worked five hundred years ago and they work now. It’s fascinating to have such a strong connection to these everyday people, and it’s mind-blowing to imagine what life onboard the ship was like.

I also set up research projects in cooperation with universities and work with PhD students researching various topics. The main goal in doing so is to find new techniques or materials that aid in the conservation. These new techniques or materials can then be used to provide state-of-the-art conservation for our Mary Rose collection. For one project, we sent an Erasmus student to the ZEISS Microscopy Customer Center in Cambridge with samples from the Mary Rose. We took a variety of different material samples – wood, brick, and anchor cable.

Our research is reactive to what the collection needs. Our major focus is currently on wood and iron because of the degree of degradation these materials are exhibiting.

What role do microscopes play?

We use various different microscopes for microscopic evaluations. A scanning electron microscope with EDS helps us to examine different materials and to see what is inside them. The ZEISS Smartzoom 5 digital microscope in particular helps us to analyze both textile fibers and iron cannonballs. We often need to know what is going on inside the materials to identify the best conservation technique.

System Administrator
A portion of a felted hat made of red wool imaged using ZEISS Smartzoom 5.

Of course, microscopes are important for our conservation work, but we also use microscopes to engage our visitors via outreach activities. For example, we did this during the last British Science Week. Our goal is to show people the importance of science in taking care of the Mary Rose collection.

Looking at our artifacts under a microscope really gets our visitors interested in the science behind our work. The more visitors we have, the more funds we get to put back into looking after our precious collection. We have showcased samples from the Mary Rose using ZEISS stereo microscopes and screens on several occasions. We had samples of wood and a head louse taken from a wooden comb from the Mary Rose, as well as a historical comb from the Tudor period – which looks just like a modern comb.

What is the most important thing in conservation and collections care?

Our ultimate goal is to keep the ship and its artifacts stable. To do that, we need to understand how degradation affects the stability of each material, and then stabilize them with conservation treatments.

We have also challenges to overcome, such as fungi or microbes damaging the different materials. We have to conserve not only wood but also leather, textiles, bones, iron, bronze, brass, pewter, and more.

The ship’s dog is one of the more popular exhibits at The Mary Rose.

More information on the ZEISS Smartzoom 5 digital microscope.

Check out the Mary Rose Museum on Twitter.

In addition to the items mentioned, fine pewter dishes, plates, tankards, spoons, books, and even clothes were found on the wreck. The collection tells us a great deal about life in Tudor times. The bones of a total of 179 individuals were found during the excavation of the Mary Rose, including 92 fairly complete skeletons – around 45% of the crew. Analysis has shown that all were male and that up to 80% of them were under 30 years old. Researchers are continuing to investigate the skeletons by carrying out DNA and isotope analysis. Chemical analysis of the bones can tell us whether an individual had an illness, as their bones would have been affected and potentially be broken or damaged. Bones also provide information about people’s professions, or about injuries they may have sustained. This research is regarded as invaluable in understanding many diseases. Even the ship’s dog, kept on board to catch rats, was found. According to DNA work performed on the dog’s teeth, he was between 18 and 24 months old, with a light- to dark-brown coat. He may have spent his entire life onboard the Mary Rose, rarely if ever going ashore. Sadly, he suffered from a hereditary disease called hyperuricosuria, a uric acid defect that causes kidney and bladder stones.

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Microscopes Are Taking Over the Measuring Lab

Pooled expertise in microscopy and metrology to create ZEISS NEO pixel software

Dr. Robert Zarnetta. Image: Quality Engineering, Carina Zarfelder, Fotostudio Tom Oettle

The new ZEISS NEO pixel software for measuring microscopic images, especially in combination with the ZEISS Smartzoom 5 digital microscope, now offers the operator comprehensive measuring functions. Dr. Robert Zarnetta, who is responsible for Industrial Microscopy Solutions at ZEISS, sat down to discuss the range of applications for this new functionality.

Measuring technology for microscopes – what exactly does this mean?

First of all, just think about how we analyze microscopy images today. Let‘s say you‘re looking at an extremely small electronic component and want to know if the dimensions are right. In this case, you zoom in as far as possible, manually draw the angles or distances and hope that you can actually measure very small differences correctly. Or maybe you want to determine the diameter of a circle in an image. So, you use the mouse to select three points along the edge of the circle, and the software determines the corresponding value. However, this isn‘t sufficiently precise, can‘t really be repeated and simply is no longer up to date.

With ZEISS NEO pixel, we now offer a software function for our ZEISS Smartzoom 5 digital microscope that identifies, on its own, where the edge of a circle or an object within a specified area is located. Then you just click on the features that have been identified and a selection menu appears. You can decide if you want to calculate the diameter of the circle or measure the angle between two edges. In addition, you can also define features like roundness for circles and, for the first time, measuring tools reference each other. If you see two holes as circles in the image, NEO pixel enables you to quickly and easily select the circles yourself and, for example, measure the distance between their two center points with great precision.

Basically, we‘re making everything available for microscopy which has long been part and parcel of metrology solutions.

What led to combining ZEISS Smartzoom 5 and ZEISS NEO pixel?

ZEISS Smartzoom 5 is the microscope best-suited for metrology applications – both from our own portfolio and as compared to our competitors‘ offerings. It‘s completely calibrated and features the best optics. At ZEISS Research Microscopy Solutions, we have 170 years of experience, which is plain to see in this technology. However, we were lacking the right measuring software – until now.

It simply was not possible to perform repeatable measurements in the images captured by the microscope. This is where our metrology colleagues from Industrial Quality Solutions got involved. They have 100 years of experience in their field and, thanks to their ZEISS NEO expertise, had already developed the standard metrology software solution at ZEISS.

The new ZEISS NEO pixel software brings metrology functionalities to microscopy – providing higher quality and better productivity.

Instead of reinventing the wheel, we decided to make this already well-known and tried-and-tested functionality available for the ZEISS Smartzoom 5, which produced ZEISS NEO pixel.

What‘s the added value for the user?

You can answer this question in two ways.

On the one hand, microscopy customers have the chance to analyze their images with measuring technology. Just like a picture is worth a 1,000 words, a measurement value says volumes about an image.

On the other hand, measuring technology is increasingly expected to inspect smaller objects, such as in the electronics, medical industries and any other field where there‘s a trend toward miniaturization.

Thanks to this solution, operators faced with this challenge have an outstanding microscope for their measuring jobs. And they, in particular, also benefit from the trend analysis enabled by ZEISS NEO pixel. Quality assurance is one typical application. Here, companies examine and measure the same parts over and over again. The ZEISS Smartzoom 5 with ZEISS NEO pixel and its statistics function can store the previous ten or 100 measurements. This way, operators can monitor the results to see if quality either increases or decreases over a specified period of time. And the user-independent results are always precise. Different operators can reproduce images on this calibrated system under exactly the same illumination conditions and with identical magnification. They are supported by intuitive, workflow-controlled menu navigation so that each user achieves optimum results immediately.

Does this create new applications for microscopy?

We certainly think so. With ZEISS NEO pixel, we‘ll become part of the production process. ZEISS Smartzoom 5 is compact, and you can also install it close to your manufacturing equipment. And then you have the option of capturing high-resolution images of your product, measuring it and performing any correction directly on your production machinery. And also important in production – monitoring incoming goods. With our software, creating a measurement plan is easy: when the order arrives, place the object under the microscope and start the measurement. Should something be amiss and you have to negotiate with your supplier, you‘re armed with watertight arguments in next to no time.

More information on the ZEISS NEO pixel measurement software

More information on ZEISS Smartzoom 5

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What do Metallographers Actually Do?

The microscope as the most important tool

Metallography is a field of material science and literally means “metal description”. It was invented at the Lette Verein Berlin over 110 years ago, where it can still be learned today.

Develop new materials and make existing ones safer

Metallographers establish, for example, which material is right to build stable bridges or which metal is needed to construct motorcycles safely.

They mainly deal with the microstructure of materials and contribute to quality assurance. This also includes mechanical-technological and non-destructive material testing, material development, and research of high-quality materials as well as damage analysis. They are employed in the testing laboratories of industry, such as the automotive, aircraft, railway, micro-electronics, mechanical and turbine engineering industries, as well as in private and public research institutions. These include, for example, the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, the Helmholtz Institute, the Fraunhofer Society, the Max Planck Institute, as well as universities and colleges.

The profession of metallographer is very interesting. You can help to develop new materials and make existing ones safer.

Toni Vegaz Nguyen, who himself trained as a metallographer at the Lette Verein Berlin

Microscopes in metallography

Many metallographic analysis methods are defined according to international norms and standards. This applies, for example, to the determination of non-metallic inclusions (NMI) in steel or the determination of grain sizes and phases. A microscope system equipped with appropriate software modules enables precise and automated analysis of these parameters.

We use high-quality microscopes in training, many of them are from ZEISS. This is the only way we can ensure that the best possible graduates enter the job market. In addition to individual support, our students also appreciate the modern facilities at the Lette Verein Berlin, so training is fun.

Gundula Jeschke, head of the department for metallography and materials testing at the Lette Verein Berlin

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ZEISS Instruments in the ECR Quality Lab

Producing engines for champions requires absolute precision

ECR Engines is a high-performance engine production and development company that has earned over 250 victories in NASCAR racing series including the legendary Daytona 500. The company extracts the maximum performance from conventional V8 engines by relentlessly engineering parts to find every possible bit of incremental improvement and through systematic quality inspection of all failure prone parts. Over the last few years, ECR Engines has replaced their equipment from other vendors and is now operates exclusively with ZEISS instruments.

The two best things about our experience with Zeiss have been the quality and dependability of the tools and the level of service and support that we’ve received. It’s been far past our expectations. Both of those things have translated to competitive advantage for us on the race track.

Jim Suth, Quality Manager – ECR Engines

Gain more insights:

ZEISS Microscopy Systems for Inspection, Surface Analysis, and Materials Research

Like auto racing, research also deserves the best tools to help to identify those all-important, incremental performance improvements in materials and processes. Learn more about the unrivaled ZEISS portfolio of high-precision instruments used in the ECR quality lab:

ZEISS Stereo Discovery.V20 stereo microscope for:

  • New component visual inspection
  • Defect analysis, e.g. contamination, corrosion pitting, scratches, mechanical damage
  • Automated acquisition of large-area images

ZEISS Smartzoom 5 digital microscope for:

  • Component wear inspection
  • Inspection of super-finished reflective surfaces
  • Correlative microscopy to define regions of interest for further SEM examination

ZEISS Smartproof 5 confocal microscope for:

  • Non-contact surface finish characterization of soft materials
  • Defect and porosity analysis of bearings
  • Correlative measurement in combination with tactile methods

ZEISS Axio Observer 7 integrated metallografic microscope system for:

  • New material and coating characterization for critical engine applications
  • Particle analysis, e.g. alloy cleanliness, dry-film lubricants, hard thin film coatings

ZEISS EVO MA 25 scanning electron microscope for:

  • Failure analysis of components like springs, bolts and valves
  • Particle analysis, e.g. piston skirt wear, bearing wear, valve seat wear, oil pump wear
  • Chemical analysis

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