Meet the Mary Rose archer

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The reconstructed face of the Mary Rose archer. Image: Swansea University
The reconstructed face of the Mary Rose archer.

An interdisciplinary team of scientists have reconstructed the face of a Tudor archer, almost 500 years after he drowned aboard Henry VIII’s flagship, the Mary Rose.

Some 92 skeletons were recovered when the wreck was raised in 1983 (CA 272). Since then, researchers at Swansea University have used cutting-edge motion-capture technology and computer modelling to identify which of these showed signs of repetitive stress injuries to suggest that they had been part of the elite company of longbowmen described in historical accounts of the ship’s crew (CA 276).

The researchers hope to identify what proportion of the crew might have been archers, however there is one skeleton, already identified as an archer, of particular interest.. Analysis of his skeleton suggests that he stood 6′ tall, well above average for the period — though a strong build would have been essential in order to use the powerful 16th-century longbow, which had draw weights of up to 90kgf — while high-status artefacts found on his person, including an ivory wrist guard, a pewter plate and a silver ring, could hint that he held a high rank in the company.

A model of the archer's skull was created on a 3D printer
A model of the archer’s skull was created on a 3D printer

Laser scans of the man’s skull were used to create an exact replica with a 3D printer. This was sent to Oscar Nilsson, a forensic expert specialising in reconstructing the faces of unidentified bodies for police investigations, who then built up an image of the archer’s appearance, muscle by muscle.

The archer's skull, recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose
The archer’s skull, recovered from the wreck of the Mary Rose

‘This is the face of an ordinary man, albeit in a crack regiment, and he hasn’t been seen for almost 500 years,’ said project leader Nick Owen. ‘Thanks to 21st century technology and expertise, we can bring him vividly back to life.’

The archer’s reconstruction, together with those of other members of the crew, can be seen at the new Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.


All images Swansea University




  1. They ought to hire this artist to do a reconstruction of Richard III. That ghastly one displayed shortly after the discovery of Richard’s remains ought to be hidden from view and never seen again.

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