Ghost sailors of Henry VIII's Mary Rose being brought back to life - in 3D

A skull being modelled by the researchers, and (right) an artist's impression of one of the Mary Rose sailors

Monday, September 26, 2016

Almost 500 years after the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship, sank to the bottom of the Solent at a cost of hundreds of lives, a group of scientists are now trying to bring the doomed sailors back to life using 3D reconstructions.

Members of a project known as Virtual Tudors are reconstructing a total of 10 skulls from the drowned crewmen, as well as shoes and tools from the ship, using a technique previously employed in films such as Avatar and Tin Tin.

The technique, known as photogrammatery, uses cameras to gauge spatial measurements and thereby facilitate the physical reconstruction of an object from an image. The researchers hope to allow a global audience to see and study the crew and cargo of the Mary Rose without having to move the ship from its base in Portsmouth.

Nick Owen, of Swansea University, is part of the team carrying out the research. He explains: “What we’re currently doing is modelling the skulls, creating a 3d photorealistic replica of the skull to see how useful it will be to osteology [the study of bones]. There’s a lot of information you can glean from the skull, and the Mary Rose ones are particularly well-preserved.

“When the ship sank it got overwhelmed with silt and created an environment where nothing decayed. The skulls can’t be taken out all the time to be examined, due to the risk of damage. People in different countries can’t access them, so we’ve created a virtual facsimile.”



To make the 3D models, the researchers capture around 120 high-quality digital still images on a Sigma DP2 Quattro camera for each skull – around 4.5 gigapixels of raw data. The images are then blended using Agisoft Photoscan software to produce the photo-realistic 3D object.

The research team is drawn from a variety of backgrounds – indeed Owen is a sports and exercise biomechanist. He tells talkRADIO: “We’ve worked with the Mary Rose at Swansea uni for five years. I’m a sports scientist so it’s not my normal type of work, doing archaeology, but I was contacted about five years ago by the then director of exhibits to see if I’d be interested in studying the biomechanics of medieval archers. It’s progressed a lot from then and we’re planning on putting a bid in soon to continue our research.

“We’ve printed skulls off in the past but we’re trying to create a skull so realistic that an osteologist can manipulate and analyse them it from their computer. We’re looking at visual data, not measurements, things such as the shape of the head or the depth of the brow.”



Owen says the project team hope to continue beyond their current brief.

“We’re just doing the skulls at the moment, because [the skull is] basically spherical and easier to image.  The next stage is looking at the long bones, bones of the arms and legs.

“We’ve got a whole range of other things we want to look at next. By using motion capture, we can estimate the forces acting on Tudor sailors. From that we want to work backwards and say ok, if you’d been a seaman, these are the forces that would have been acting upon you and they might have changed the shape of your bones. 

“Then my colleague, Dr Rich Johnson, does his bit and analysis the bones in his x-ray equipment.  We hope to build up a picture of life and health aboard a Tudor warship."

For more information visit the Virtual Tudors website.