Conservation of a Tudor warship:
: investigating the timbers of the Mary Rose

  • Eleonora Piva

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Mary Rose is the only Tudor warship in existence, and as such is an important archaeological artefact. Since she was raised in 1982, and since then has undergone conservation treatment to preserve her structure while on display in the Mary Rose Museum. Displaying an artefact which has been waterlogged for 500 years, in this kind of environment, presents a number of unique challenges relating to the structure and chemistry of degraded archaeological wood. This thesis outlines several approaches to monitoring the state of the Mary Rose, and consequently the progress of her conservation treatment. This monitoring relates to both her macroscopic structural state, as well smaller scale structure, and the distribution of moisture throughout her hull.

An overview of the Mary Rose and her history, of wood characteristics, degradation causes in waterlogged environments and archaeological wood behaviour, of conservation techniques, their application to comparable artefacts and of investigative techniques used with cultural heritage is first given.

The methods and materials used in this thesis are then described. The Mary Rose is monitored for her MC% with core samples. The structural survey is carried out with a Total Station and a new manual method involving laser pointers for the understanding of global movements taking place on the hull. A manual survey focused on local movements is also described. Neutron imaging is used on Mary Rose wood samples to better understand the behaviour of PEG treated archaeological wood when drying. Neutron radiographies of the samples are taken during drying simulations of the conditions on the Mary Rose hull.

The monitoring shows that the hull of the Mary Rose has reached MC% below 15% throughout the depth of the timbers. The structural survey shows movement taking place in the entire hull: the Decks of the ship are shifting in opposite directions, the Starboard side is folding into the Port side and the structure is moving downwards. It is also possible to relate the cracks on the ship’s timbers to the fast initial loss of free water and the loss of bound water from the timbers when the ship started drying in 4 2013, but structural movements are likely connected to the lack of structural integrity.

Neutron imaging underlined the peculiar drying behaviour of PEG treated wood, showing a uniform drying front rather than preferential paths following the wood structure. The method also confirmed the ability of PEG in reducing wood shrinkage upon drying.

Future work is suggested, both in terms of the ship monitoring and with regards to the further analysis of drying behaviour of treated archaeological wood.
Date of AwardSept 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorEleanor Schofield (Supervisor), David Begg (Supervisor) & Nikos Nanos (Supervisor)

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