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Digital research techniques to help unravel Tudor mysteries

Digital research techniques to help unravel Tudor mysteries as new Mary Rose project launched

 

For the first time human remains and other artefacts found on the Tudor warship Mary Rose are being released to a global audience as interactive 3D digital resources.

 

http://www.virtualtudors.org/

 

The images will be released on a website www.virtualtudors.org which will go live on 5th September with both a public and a research section.

 

These research-grade, highly accurate photogrammetry models of human skulls, together with a number of artefacts were generated for a Swansea University research project based in the College of Engineering, to assess whether photogrammetric images can be used by researchers around the world instead of the real remains.

 

While there are many projects that capture museum artefacts and rare collections digitally and make them available online, this project has created interactive 3D resources accurate enough for meaningful research to be gathered from the global research community.

 

The research section of the website will contain ten skulls from the Mary Rose which will be available to osteologists around the world, who will be encouraged to take part in this global research study in effectiveness of digital remains for performing osteological analyses. The images are of sufficiently high quality to enable researchers and osteologists to perform a digital osteological analysis of the skulls and complete a research questionnaire.

 

The public section will show interactive 3D models of:

• the skull of one of the Mary Rose

• a selection of his tools, including a wood-plane and a whetstone holder.

• Other objects from the Mary Rose, including one of only two wooden spoons found on board; and a beautiful carved wooden panel, which is also one of only two found on the ship.

 

 

Swansea University has partnered with the Mary Rose Trust and Oxford University on the project.  Swansea University first started working with the Mary Rose Trust about 5 years ago on a project blending sports science and osteology.

 

This first project investigated the biomechanics of medieval and Tudor archery.  The collaboration has developed over the years to include 3-D printing, molecular biology and imaging technologies.  The current project has evolved directly from imaging studies used to quantify differences of physical characteristics of bones from the Mary Rose collection.

 

The Carpenter

The Carpenter of the Mary Rose, based on a reconstruction of his face

The Carpenter of the Mary Rose, based on a reconstruction of his face

The carpenter who will be featured in the public project was found on the orlop deck, immediately below the Master Carpenter’s cabin with a number of woodworking tools next to him. A 2D reconstruction of his face has been created and an image of his face is on display within the Mary Rose Museum.

 

Analysis of his remains reveals that he was probably in his mid-to-late thirties. He was just over 1.72 metres tall (5ft 7 in.) and was a strong muscular man. His teeth were poor, with a build-up of tartar. An abscess in his upper jaw meant he could only chew on the right side.

 

He also had arthritis in his spine, ribs and left clavicle and a lesion across his right eyebrow which may be the result of an old wound. It is known from historical sources that a carpenter would be stationed on a deck below the waterline during battle so that he could repair any damage to the ship immediately.

 

Dr Alex Hildred Head of Research and Curator of Human Remains of the Mary Rose Trust said: “Excavating the cabin was like stepping into a deserted workshop – tools in baskets beneath a work-bench, half -finished projects, wood off-cuts – even the Carpenter’s backgammon set.  Finding one of the carpenter’s second set of tools on the deck below allows us to look into the face of one of the most important members of the crew; and the ship comes alive.”

 

The skull images and how they were captured

The reasons why such high quality images were vital to the project is that human osteology, which is the scientific study of human skeletal remains, relies on visual inspection of bones.

 

Sports and Exercise Biomechanist Nick Owen, of Swansea University said; “Sometimes for certain features a hand lens might be used but the majority of inspection or analysis is undertaken with the naked eye.  Osteologists are able to accurately estimate a number of human characteristics, for example, sex and ancestry, and identify certain diseases that the individual suffered from like rickets and scurvy.  Generally, assessment of characteristics is more robust with a complete skeleton, however there is much that can be derived from the analysis of a skull.”

 

Skull photographyThe current study involves the capturing of about 120 high quality digital still images on a Sigma DP2 Quattro camera, 39 megapixel effective resolution per image, for each skull.  These images are then digitally combined in Agisoft Photoscan software to produce a photo-realistic 3-D object. This meant that researchers collected about 4.5 gigapixels of raw data for each skull and combined elements of each image to produce the 3-D model.  Surprisingly, the resulting 3-D image contains only about 15 megapixels, which means it can be viewed and manipulated, in real time, on a laptop or tablet of modest specification using Sketchfab in a web browser.

 

The significance of the project

Dr Richard Johnston, materials scientist and engineer at Swansea University, said: “This is an important study as museums and researchers digitise more and more of their collections. An optimised procedure and a scientific evaluation of the effectiveness of photogrammetry for use in research studies is crucial.

 

“This technology, and the appetite of museums and researchers to open their collections to larger global communities, including the public, can have huge implications for both the investigations that can take place, and speed that science is done. It also opens valuable resources to researchers from diverse backgrounds.”

 

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