A Face From the Past

You can be excused for thinking the face pictured above is a modern mugshot of some dude who just robbed a Piggly Wiggly. In fact, it’s an archer who died in the sinking of the Mary Rose,  a ship from the fleet of Henry VIII (spit). The Mary rose was sunk in 1545, discovered in the 1970s, and raised in 1982. Her recovery and preservation was a groundbreaking effort for its day.

The reconstruction was accomplished with a mixture of old and new techniques, from 3D scanning and printing to more traditional forensic reconstruction methods:

Researchers at Swansea University, working with a Swedish expert, have revealed how they reconstructed the face of one of Henry VIII’s elite archers, who drowned aboard the warship Mary Rose in 1545. The reconstruction of the face is based on technology and expertise ranging from 3D scanning and printing to modern forensic and artistic techniques.

It reveals a man in his 20s or 30s, who stood over six feet tall. The archer may have been a captain: he was found with an ivory armguard, a silver ring, and a bag containing a pewter plate, all of which indicate he was of high status. Tests also revealed signs of repetitive stress injury, likely caused by working in a profession where one is pulling a longbow with a force of up to 90 kilograms.

The team at Swansea University’s College of Engineering analysed several skulls from the Mary Rose. They produced an exact 3D copy of one of them. Swedish expert Oscar Nilsson, who works with the police on reconstructing the faces of unidentified bodies, then used the copy to build up the man’s face muscle by muscle.

The work is part of a wider project involving Swansea University and the Mary Rose Trust. When the warship was raised from the Solent in 1982, 92 fairly complete skeletons of the crew were recovered. Ten skulls came to Swansea for analysis, including the skull of the man whose face has been reconstructed.

We had a family friend who was with the British admiralty and involved in the Mary Rose project in the 1980s, so I was a charter member of the preservation society and got to see the remains of the ship while it was still being treated for preservation. It’s remarkable that, after all these years, the find keeps turning up new treasures.